Exuding calm concentration and thoughtful attention to the music he selected for the noon time concert in Preston Bradley Hall of the Chicago Cultural Center, 21-year old cellist Oliver Aldort regaled the audience with selections by Schumann (Adagio and Allegro, Op. 70), Fauré (Aprés un rêve) and Beethoven (Cello Sonata No. 3 in A Major, Op. 69).
Taking a break from his concentrated summer studies at the Steans Music Institute at Ravinia and accompanied by Israeli pianist Ron Regev, Aldort’s flawless performance seemed to make time stop. We were transported into the cello’s soulful sound. Although very short, Fauré’s “Aprés un rêve , which Aldort in a pre-performance conversation had described as “melancholy” perhaps epitomized the essence of our experience listening to him play as we were taken over, pleasantly, by his bow.
“Tender” and “beautiful” were other words that Aldort had used to describe the music he chose for the program and indeed these feelings came across. Like many Dame Myra Hess concerts, this performance seemed to lock away all the concerns of the day.
Having had a chance to talk with Aldort before the concert it was easy to imagine how his formative years in bucolic Puget Sound Orcas Island in Washington State had nurtured the focus that was so much on display during his performance. Oliver is the youngest of three brothers. His parents had moved to the small Orcas Island, population 5,000, before Oliver was born. They had sought a rural environment to raise their family in that would allow their children to experience nature in total safety.
With his two older brothers, Lennon and Yonatan, Oliver was home-schooled. That meant less exposure to peers than is typical until he moved away to go to Colburn Conservatory and later the Curtis Institute, from which he just graduated a few months ago and where he made many friends. Growing up, Oliver had ample time to hike the San Juan Islands, a pastime that he lists as one of his favorite things to do, along with reading, to this day.
If you think that because young Oliver was home schooled that he spent more time on the cello than other up-and-coming musical prodigies you would be wrong. At most he practiced two hours a day, except for a very short period where he doubled his hours.
Exposure to music however did start very young. His mother, Naomi Aldort, a noted author of a book about child rearing and child rearing coach, has a musical background that she was apparently eager to share with her children. Oliver recounts, “We knew how to read music by the age of six. My mother was very good at teaching us and we thought we were just playing games but actually we were learning music as we played. It was a very musical home. We’d do games at the piano and improvise. She had cards that taught us to read notes and it was always fun."
Aldort says that he decided to become a musician when he was only six, and that he never wavered from that decision since then. Technically piano was his first instrument, which he started playing when he was only 3 ½ . Why he chose the cello is difficult for Oliver to recall, but he does remember that a chamber performance in his summer tourist destination hometown in 1998 by cellist Desmond Hoebig, Principal cellist in the Cleveland Orchestra , made a huge impression on him. Oliver’s first formal cello lesson was when he was six. Oliver’s first concert performance was when he was just seven in a hometown theater with 230 seats rented for the occasion.
The calm concentration, perhaps innate or perhaps cultivated in the scenic and somewhat isolated rural nest that was his boyhood home, is likely no small factor in the feat Oliver has accomplished by landing a spot in the Boston Symphony Orchestra that he starts in the fall. He will be the youngest member of the Boston Symphony. As Curtis dean of artistic programs, David Ludwig comments, "If you think about what it takes to go out and win one of these auditions, what kind of poise it takes, it's amazing. He's 21. It's crazy."
For Oliver Aldort perhaps the Dame Myra Hess concert was just a short pit stop in a busy career already launched at full speed. How lucky for us that we got to enjoy this performance and similar treasures every Wednesday at 12:15 in beautiful Preston Bradley Hall of the Chicago Cultural Center, also simulcast on WFMT (98.7).
All of these concerts are free, running from 12:15 – 1:00 PM every Wednesday. For information on upcoming performances visit the Dame Myra Hess Concert Series web pages.
Photos courtesy of Oliver Aldort, unless otherwise indicated