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Stulberg-Winning Cellist Returns For Concert With Junior Symphony

David Klein

Cellist Zlatomir Fung is only 15 years old, but he has the musical resume of a performer far beyond his years. Fung won Kalamazoo’s renowned Stulberg International String Competition last November, and his talents have taken him from Carnegie Hall to Portugal. He returns this Sunday to perform Schumann’s Cello Concerto with the Kalamazoo Junior Symphony Orchestra. The concert is billed as a celebration of Stulberg to commemorate the competition’s 40th anniversary.

CARA LIEURANCE: So when you prepare a concerto to perform with an orchestra you haven't played with, what requirements do you set for yourself to have done a good job in preparing?

ZLATOMIR FUNG: Certainly, I try to do my best technically to get the piece up in good enough shape to be presentable in front of a public audience and also to be at a high enough level as to please the conductor and the orchestra members. But also I think it requires a certain type of preparation in understanding the score. For this performance in particular one of the first times I've really studied the score in depth and tried to get a sense of how the solo cello part fits into the larger picture of this sort of more symphonic type of goal that Schumann had when he wrote this piece.

LIEURANCE: So then you come to town and meet with Andrew Koehler, the conductor of the Kalamazoo Junior Symphony. And the two of you have to agree on certain things on how to present the piece. And Andrew, I'm sure, understandably, a soloist's needs is important to you. 

ANDREW KOEHLER: Well, I think that's just it. A conductor's role, in lots of ways in these sorts of circumstances is to be a generous colleague for the soloist. Truth be told, obviously I spent a lot of time studying the concerto. But Zlatomir knows it from a whole different standpoint, being inside the solo cello line as he does. He also knows, uniquely well, what he wants to say with his particular part and how h is best able to express that. That is to say if this moment needs a little bit of time, or if this moment has this impetuous energy that must rush forward, something like that. You know, these sorts of nuances that really he has given so much time to. And it's the goal of any conductor to try as hard as you can to respect that.

LIEURANCE: Zlatomir, you've played with a youth symphony for a few years until just recently. So I imagine going into Sunday's concert with the Kalamazoo Junior Symphony, you have a lot of empathy and understanding for their experience.

FUNG: It's great to be playing alongside people who are your peers. People you can learn from by watching them. In a youth orchestra especially, there's a special sort of energy that comes with young people. There's this intention and spark that sometimes is lost later in life.

KOEHLER: I'm laughing a little bit, because doesn't Zlatomir sound like he's 15 going on 40? It's amazing, he's talking about the energy of young people as a fifteen-year-old. He's so right though! Even I know that having played in professional orchestras that do that same kind of rehearsal schedule, one week and a bunch of nights, if I'm learning a new work, there are many colleagues of mine who will say, "What was that movement we played two weeks ago? I can't remember anymore." Yet those works that I played as a youth orchestra musician myself, as a violinist in a youth orchestra, still stay with me today. I still can imagine every bar of them. It's born of necessity, of course, because a youth orchestra needs that time in order to get to understand the work. But the result is a really beautiful thing. Because it's a much more profound connection to music.

Fung will perform with the Kalamazoo Junior Symphony this Sunday at 3:15 p.m. in Chenery Auditorium. 

Cara Lieurance covers local music with live morning interviews, and produces WMUK's Let's Hear It weekday mornings at 10 am Mon-Fri, showcasing local interviews and performances. She also produces The Pure Drop, an hour of Celtic music, with musician Dave Marlatt.
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