During the Cleveland Orchestra’s recent visit to Bloomington, Project Jumpstart caught up with Principal Cellist and IU alumnus Mark Kosower to discuss his impressive career.
Mark Kosower embodies the concept of the complete musician, performing as concerto soloist with symphony orchestras, in solo recitals, and as a much admired and sought-after chamber musician. He is Principal Cello of the Cleveland Orchestra, a scholar and teacher of cello at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and the Kent/Blossom Music Festival.
Kosower is known for varied traditional and contemporary repertoire. His many honors include an Avery Fisher Career Grant, a SONY Grant and was top prize winner in both the Rostropovich and Pablo Casals International Cello Competitions, among others.
He also launched Bach for Humanity in 2018, a three-year commitment to the greater Cleveland area bringing the cello suites and his arrangements of the violin sonatas and partitas to both conventional and nonconventional venues, including educational institutions, community centers, senior residences, and the concert hall.
PJ: Welcome back to Bloomington! What were some of your biggest takeaways from your time at IU studying with Janos Starker?
MK: Janos Starker taught all the principles of music making and instrumental playing. He is regarded by many as the greatest pedagogue of the twentieth century. For me he paved the road that led to a life of cultivated and higher music making.
PJ: You’ve had such a tremendous career. What was your transition from being a student to a professional like?
MK: I was already playing concerts as a professional while attending IU. However in 2003 I officially stopped being a student graduating from Juilliard and it really did feel different. It took a little time to adjust to the idea of being on my own needing to make a living and support a family (my wife). But it soon became a great source of pride and satisfaction.
PJ: After almost a decade with the Cleveland Orchestra, how have you seen the orchestra change? How do you all adapt to connect with your audience?
MK: The changes I’ve seen in The Cleveland Orchestra are very much related to changing times. However, the best way to connect to an audience is by having something special and of great meaning to communicate through your music. In other words the quality needs to be as high as possible. I think we all have to be careful to never overlook this. The Cleveland Orchestra has uncompromising artistic standards which is why I love being a part of this ensemble. Additionally, TCO has become a leader in reaching out to new audiences and developing one of the youngest audiences as well. All of us have shared and in many cases implemented new ideas to reach new audiences and to vitalize existing ones.
PJ: You recently launched Bach for Humanity. What led you to begin this initiative?
MK: It was a dream of mine to play the violin sonatas and partitas of Bach on the cello because this music really spoke to me and provided a totally different angle on the composer from the cello suites. I wanted to reach out into my community individually in a similar spirit to what The Cleveland Orchestra was doing.
PJ: What’s next in store for Bach for Humanity? Do you have a vision to continue this or other projects in the future?
MK: Bach for Humanity continues this spring after a successful launch last year. This year I am focusing on the C major and C Minor cello suites, the A minor violin sonata, and the B minor violin partita. I am performing in some different neighborhoods including for the Louis B. Stokes Veterans Hospital in Cleveland. Bach for Humanity is a three-year commitment to the greater Cleveland area. This is now year two. I can definitely see this project being a foundation for future projects.
PJ: As a teacher, how do you mentor your students to hone a unique voice and become relevant in today’s musical world?
MK: This is definitely challenging, but again, I like to point out that if the musical message is powerful – if a person really has something important to say to their listeners – the music will be relevant provided that they are also engaged with the world around them (something I try to encourage.)
PJ: You’re a performer, teacher, and organizer. How do find balance in your career?
MK: I actually find all three aspects synthesize into one musical life. I strive to be a complete musician in every aspect including all types of music making (orchestra, opera, chamber music, solo playing), being involved in my community, and being in touch with people in the field both nationally and internationally. I also try to find balance in my life since this is the key to happiness and longevity.
PJ: Do you have any last advice for Jacobs students?
MK: You have to follow your beliefs and convictions as a musician and human being and continuously put yourself in positions where the possibility of opportunity exists. If opportunity doesn’t come your way be creative, have fun, and make your own opportunities. You won’t be disappointed.
Project Jumpstart partners with the Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the IU Kelley School of Business.