Pop Rocks: Violist seeks to tell stories through music

Arthur Ross will perform a concert on Nov. 2 at St. John’s United Methodist Church. SPECIAL

One of my favorite questions as an interviewer is about epiphanic moments, those moments of clarity and desire I believe everyone experiences that ultimately change the course of their life. Mine came at my sister’s college graduation where, after some years of drifting, I decided I would write.

 

For Arthur Ross, the moment came a few years ago.

Prior to his moment – Ross was a working musician who also was part of the administrative team at Symphony Orchestra Augusta. His moment came when he decided he needed to pursue music full time. As a result, he quit his job with SOA – in the offices, not the orchestra – and eventually began working on a series of concerts he calls Listening Laboratories. The first of these free concerts takes place Oct. 28 in Asheville, N.C., a second on Oct. 31 in Greenville, S.C., and he will bring the performance to St. John’s United Methodist Church, 736 Greene St., on Nov. 2. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m.

Both ambitious and purposefully stripped-down, the concerts – which feature only Ross and his instrument – in fact come with a lot of moving parts. His goal is not just to play beautiful music for an appreciative audience, but also to tell stories from his own life, guide people through the chosen pieces and in doing so, encourage thoughtful consideration of how and why certain music affects the listener.

Ordinarily, I might argue that Ross’s stew has a few too many ingredients and his ambition outstrips the reality of how much an audience is willing to invest. But I do not believe that is the case with the Listening Laboratories – for a couple of reasons.

The first is Ross’s chosen instrument – the viola. While many understand its place, tucked there sonically between the violin and cello, it rarely makes an appearance as a solo instrument, It’s kind of the outlier of the string section, a sound that people don’t really pay attention to but would certainly miss if gone. Bringing that rich sound forward means engaging people in a new way as soon as bow hits string.

The second is the unforceful force of Ross’s passion, personality and instinctive intellectual approach to music and its effect on him and others. To listen to Ross speak about his artistic and philosophical approach to music generally and performance specifically is a pretty amazing experience. Not only does he bring a lot of ‘a ha’ moments to the table, but the warmth and depth of his personality make intellectual ideas feel less like lecture than moments in an ongoing conversation.

None of this, of course, guarantees success and, to be honest, I’m not sure how Ross might measure that. I do believe that he would like these initial concerts to serve as a springboard to more shows. Still, he recognizes that this new model for a classical music performance is an experiment, an experiment with an as-yet unknown result. But that’s fine, because that’s what laboratories are for.

 

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Wed, 12/13/2017 - 21:35

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