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Madelyn Kowalski on her Classeek Ambassador Programme Experience

We got to know the young cellist in advance of her Classeek recital on March 28


On March 28, The Violin Channel will be coming to you from the Classeek recital space in Switzerland for a unique solo cello recital by Madelyn Kowalski.

A recipient of the Beatrice Huntington Award for Cellists and ABRSM International Postgraduate Scholarship, Madelyn was invited by Steven Isserlis to give a recital at the Sommets Musicaux de Gstaad in 2023. There, her performance received the André Hoffmann prize for the best interpretation of the commissioned work for the festival by composer Diana Syrse. A 2023 and 2024 fellow at the Lunenburg Academy of Music Performance in Nova Scotia, she joined the artist roster of the Classeek Ambassador Programme for the 2023-2024 season.

We had the chance to talk to Madelyn about her upcoming program, her inspirations, and what she has coming up!


How would you describe your Classeek experience so far?

Everyone at Classeek has been extremely friendly and helpful! The whole team is very supportive and has wanted to do whatever they can to help, with whatever I’ve brought up. I’m so grateful to all at Classeek for their generosity, and their desire to make the opportunity work the best it can be for each individual. Having the space to do this concert has been wonderful, and I really enjoyed the whole process building up to the day. I’m very grateful.


What went into programming your upcoming recital with Classeek? It seems very ethereal and whimsical!

I had such a pull towards wanting to programme the second sonata by Saint-Saëns. This work is a noble, expansive, and large-scale sonata – yet it also holds extremely magical, intimate and intricate worlds. I wanted to elaborate on this, and so, for the middle of the programme, I chose three pieces that follow one another in succession: two by Fauré, his Romance and Papillon, and a selection from Saariaho’s Sept Papillons. For me, the Romance is like the journey of a single thought; the Papillon, the journey of a single butterfly as it flies through hills and valleys; and the Saariaho Papillons, like intricate views into different scenes of life and nature through the lens of a delicate and ephemeral being, the butterfly. The opening piece, the first movement ‘Les eaux’ from Adès Lieux retrouvés, felt like the ideal piece of music to open and reveal the worlds of this whole programme – it holds both a magical intricacy as well as tumultuous vastness as the cello and piano journey together through the experience of water, from minute and intricate ripples to the vast and wild sea.


For readers who don’t know the work, can you tell us more about Kaija Saariaho’s Sept Papillons?

Kaija Saariaho wrote Sept Papillons in 2000. Sept Papillons is made up of seven miniatures for solo cello, and I imagine each of the seven miniatures exposing a different view of life through the lens of an ephemeral being, the butterfly. In this programme, I play Papillons I, III, and VI. For me, Papillon I invites scenes of a butterfly exploring flowers in a garden – at one moment landing, its wings slowing, and at another moment being carried gently by a breeze; Papillon III evokes echoes and shadows of the past; and in Papillon VI, I see the strong northern sun, where in the end, the butterfly breaks away from the earth and disappears into the shimmering distance.


What is your practice schedule like for a recital like this? What are you most looking forward to on the day?

My practice schedule was somewhat the same as usual, except that I’m currently moving around quite a bit from place to place, so my practice changes scenery a lot – but I like to think that it gives me more perspectives than I’d have if not. What I’m most looking forward to on the day would be playing the music. And the food while staying in Aubonne is absolutely delicious so I looked forward to every meal!


When did you start playing the cello? Can you walk us through your musical background?

I began with violin at age six, following in the footsteps of my three older siblings. But when I turned seven, I wanted an instrument completely of my own, and decided on the cello. I believe I was drawn very much to its sound. My parents aren’t musicians, but since my older siblings had been playing violin since I was born, it was somewhat natural for me to pick up an instrument. I grew up in America, and ended up in Scotland, completing my undergraduate and postgraduate studies in 2022 with Alison Wells at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.


What are your main inspirations when it comes to cello playing?

I think a lot of things inspire me when it comes to playing cello. It’s a bit challenging to pin down. My inspirations are always changing from one moment to the next – at one moment it could be the lighting on a specific tree, or it could be a stranger I met walking through a train station.


We see that you have premiered multiple new works. Why do you think that is an important facet of your career?

For example, the Errollyn Wallen concerto, which was a Scottish premiere, was special as I got to meet and work with Errollyn, who is such a wonderful person. Having the ability to communicate directly with a composer is such a wonderful aspect to have as a musician.


What projects do you have coming up that you’re most excited about?

I’m excited to be returning soon to both the Prussia Cove masterclasses with Steven Isserlis and the Lunenburg Academy of Music Performance in Nova Scotia. I always treasure my lessons with Steven – they make everything more clear to me and are always a source of inspiration. And I can’t wait to spend six weeks in the small seaside town of Lunenburg playing chamber music with wonderful musical friends and mentors.

upcoming events

may 2024

06may01junQueen Elisabeth Violin Competition12:00 am - (june 1) 11:59 pm Flagey ASBL-VZW, Pl. Sainte-Croix, 1050 Bruxelles, BelgiumEvent Type :competitions Event Tagscompetition,Queen Elisabeth Violin Competition,violinFOLLOW

27mayAll Day31New York Classic Violin Competition(All Day) Manhattan School of Music, 130 Claremont Ave, New York, NY 10027Event Type :competitions Event TagsClassic Violin Olympus International Competition,violin competitionFOLLOW

june 2024

06junAll Day13Khachaturian International Violin Competition(All Day) Aram Khachaturian Concert Hall, 46 Mesrop Mashtots Ave, Yerevan, ArmeniaEvent Type :competitions Event TagsKhachaturian International Competition,violin competitionFOLLOW

08junAll Day16Premio Paolo Borciani International String Quartet Competition(All Day) Romolo Valli Municipal Theatre, Piazza Martiri del 7 Luglio, 1, 42121 Reggio Emilia RE, Italy Event Type :competitions Event TagsPremio Paolo Borciani International String Quartet Competition,string quartet competitionFOLLOW

17junAll Day22Primrose International Viola Competition(All Day) Colburn School, 200 S Grand AveEvent Type :competitions Event TagsPrimrose International Viola Competition,Primrose Viola CompetitionFOLLOW


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