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Richmond Symphony Principal Cellist Neal Cary gets his turn in the spotlight 

Going Solo

When Principal Cellist Neal Cary prepares his rosined bow to begin Haydn's Cello Concerto in C major during the Richmond Symphony's upcoming "Springtime" Masterworks concert, it will be the culmination of more than 30 years of preparation. For Cary, the process has involved more than music — it has meant a lifetime dedicated to the performing arts.

"A performance is more than playing the notes on the page," Cary says. "If it doesn't come from the heart, no one is going to be interested."

Cary has spent his life disciplined by music. Guided toward the orchestra by his band-teacher father, the Wichita, Kan., native picked up the cello in the fourth grade after being persuaded that the double bass, the cello's much larger sibling, was too impractical for such a young man. Cary's innate talent and commitment to practice were rewarded by his admission to the prestigious Julliard School in New York, where he studied for his undergraduate degree with premiere cellist, Leonard Rose. It was at Juilliard that Cary got his first exposure to the grueling schedule of the professional musician — a full day of undergraduate course work combined with six to eight hours of private rehearsal each day.

"You have to live with a piece a long time in order to adequately prepare it," says Cary. "Performance is all caught up in interpretation — it's an extensive process. You have to do more than play like a trained monkey." And that requires an extensive and varied method of preparation.

Cary began preparing for his upcoming solo this summer while working with the Greensboro, N.C., Summer Music Festival. "The first thing I do if I've played the piece before, as I have with this concerto, is to play through my score to see how I used to do it," he says. "Then, I like to listen to recordings of the work I am playing, recordings both of others and myself." Once he has regained "technical familiarity" with the piece, Cary says, "I like to practice in the performance space alone, the hall itself is an important part of any performance."

This helps him find the life and heart of the piece, or as Cary says, "The mood of the music guides the artist and shows us how it all fits together."

Cary, who has done stints with orchestras in Kansas City, Tulsa, Okla., San Antonio and Denver, has been a core member of the Richmond Symphony for the last 13 years. The life of a musician, Cary notes, "can be hard." Although the Richmond Symphony offers its core of 35 musicians full-time employment, most symphony members must supplement their income. For Cary, this means that in addition to 30 hours with the symphony a week and four hours of private practice a day, he spends 14ø hours teaching at The College of William and Mary every Tuesday, and up to six hours a week giving private lessons in Richmond. "At times," Cary admits, "it feels like a NASA scientist teaching fourth-grade math." Musicians, he says, "are obligated to teach for financial reasons, rather than artistic fulfillment."

Even more discouraging, Cary says, is that Richmond has yet to show its commitment to its symphony by building a symphony hall, a place to showcase all this hard work.

"I was disappointed to see that a symphony hall was not part of the plan for Richmond's proposed downtown arts complex," he says. "I know this isn't Chicago or Philadelphia … but all of us [in the Richmond Symphony] long for the day when we have adequate backstage facilities — we're playing in an old movie theater now. We all want the best for Richmond."

Cary will offer his best when he takes the stage, raises his bow and strikes the opening notes of Haydn's Cello Concerto. Until then, he continues his preparation. "I spend a lot of time playing in front of a mirror to make sure my presence is OK," he says. In the end, you change the way you perform a piece for the conductor, the hall, the orchestra and the audience.

"Given that most of the audience [at the Carpenter Center] is at ankle level," he says. "I'm thinking of wearing some flashy
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