Leigh Stuart is a versatile cellist who thrives on performing music from a wide range of styles and genres. She has toured the U.S. extensively as a chamber musician, performing in venues such as Alice Tully Hall, Bargemusic, Carnegie Hall, the Deer Valley Music Festival, the Library of Congress, the Lied Center of Kansas, the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, and countless others. She has also appeared with tap dancing virtuoso, Savion Glover, at the Spoleto Festival in Italy, songwriter Sufjan Stevens at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Jay-Z, Beyonce, and The Roots at Radio City Music Hall. Leigh is a founding member of the boundary-breaking new music group, Fireworks Ensemble, described as “adventurous and ahead of the curve” by the Washington Post and “musically fearless” by Time-Out New York. With Fireworks Ensemble, Leigh has premiered over one hundred new works by emerging and established composers, including a recent commission by Pulitzer-prize winning composer, David Del Tredici. Recently, Leigh has recorded for Cuneiform, E1, and Rough Trade. She also recorded Faure’s Elegy for an episode of the internationally broadcasted show, Law and Order: SVU and has since appeared as a cellist in dramas on CBS, NBC, in a music video for British pop star, Lucie Silvas, and in the Warner Brothers film August Rush.
How did you get started playing your instrument, and how did it turn into a career?
I began playing cello in fourth grade at my public school in Wilton, Connecticut. I was dreaming of learning the French Horn in fifth grade, but a couple months into the school year during fourth grade the school orchestra was still short on cellos. The director visited each classroom and asked if anyone would be interested playing cello. I’m not sure what made me raise my hand, but I volunteered. It immediately felt like my instrument, and while I did end up playing French Horn for eight years, the cello was my favorite. Going to graduate school and living in NYC definitely helped me to make connections and start my career. Also, some of my earliest professional concerts were with the Fireworks Ensemble.
Talk about one of your most satisfying musical performance experiences.
Some of my most satisfying musical experiences have performing Raymond Scott tunes with Fireworks Ensemble. I love the music, and it’s a thrill to perform it from memory as a group. I feel such a connection with the other musicians and incredibly energized by the music. I think it is also music that audiences emjoy, and it’s easy to feel an exchange of energy between those of us on stage and those who are listening. The other musical experience that continues to both terrify and inspire me is improvising, and I jump and any chance I get to do it these days.
What gets you interested in/inspired by/excited about playing a new piece of music?
I am most interested to learn a new piece once I find some way to connect to it emotionally. Once I feel like I can communicate something through the music, I can’t wait to perform it and this provides the inspiration to learn it.
What is your listening “guilty pleasure?”
My current listening pleasure these days is jazz, especially (in no particular order) Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Sara Vaughan, Stephane Grappelli, Thelonius Monk, Art Tatum, Fats Waller, and Esperanza Spalding. But the list goes on and on. I want to absorb as much as I can of this music as soon as possible!
What projects do you have coming up that we should know about?
In early 2011, I’ll be playing some shows at The Iridium Jazz Club in NYC with The Mahavishnu Project. Fireworks Ensemble also has a week-long residency at the Clefworks Music Festival in Montgomery, AL, and the ensemble will also release its recording of chamber rock pieces by Frank Zappa on the E1 label.
Please answer: If I were not a musician, I would be a ________, because _________.
If I were not a musician, I would be a journalist/writer, particularly one who would travel to other countries for research. I’m very social, I enjoy learning about people, places, and cultures that are foreign to me, and writing is another one of my passions.
Leigh will be premiering Bloom for cello and electronics on Thursday, November 18th at Roulette.