Writ­ten by Lau­ren Car­rane

Over the last few months, we’ve made an effort to do a pro­file of each of the mem­bers of Civ­i­tas, to give you a lit­tle win­dow into the peo­ple behind our music.

We start­ed the inter­views with pianist Win­ston Choi, clar­inetist J. Lawrie Bloom, and vio­lin­ist Yuan-Qing Yu. This week, we talked to our final mem­ber: cel­list Ken­neth Olsen.

Olsen, 35, is a native of Albany, NY, who stud­ied at the Cleve­land Insti­tute of Music, Bard Col­lege and the Juil­liard School of Music before join­ing the Chica­go Sym­pho­ny Orches­tra in 2005. Olsen won first place at the Nakamichi Cel­lo Com­pe­ti­tion at the Aspen Music Fes­ti­val and sec­ond prize at the 2002 Hol­land-Amer­i­ca Music Soci­ety Com­pe­ti­tion.
Here’s what he had to say:

How old were you when you start­ed play­ing music?

I start­ed play­ing music when I was 8 years old, in third grade. It was in ele­men­tary school, and we were only allowed to pick a string instru­ment. I want­ed to play the vio­lin, but my teacher said that I was taller than every­one else, so I had to play the cel­lo, and I’ve been play­ing it ever since

Were your par­ents musi­cians?

My par­ents were both jazz musi­cians. My dad plays jazz trom­bone and my mom is a singer, so I grew up around a lot of live music. Sur­pris­ing­ly, I’ve nev­er been able to do what my dad does and impro­vise music. I just don’t have that tal­ent.

What kinds of music were you exposed to as a kid?

We didn’t live far from Tan­gle­wood, so we would go see per­for­mances there, like the Philadel­phia Orches­tra, and we would lis­ten on the lawn. I con­nect­ed with that for some rea­son.

When did you know that music was some­thing that you want­ed to pur­sue pro­fes­sion­al­ly?

In high school, I spent a few sum­mers at music inten­sives, and after my junior year, I went to the Aspen Music Fes­ti­val School for the whole sum­mer, and after that, I knew this is what I want­ed to do.

What is your favorite music to play? Do you have any favorite com­posers?

Well, Beethoven and Bach pro­duced some of the great­est music ever writ­ten. I love play­ing Mahler and Richard Strauss with the Chica­go Sym­pho­ny Orches­tra. For cham­ber music, I love Mendelssohn, Beethoven, and Brahms.

Why do you enjoy play­ing with Civ­i­tas?

I love play­ing cham­ber music in gen­er­al, and with Civ­i­tas, it’s great because we’re all very close friends. There’s a lev­el of com­fort and trust­ing each oth­er on stage when you’re that close and inti­mate with the peo­ple you’re play­ing with. I think the audi­ence sees that, too.

What kinds of things do you do for fun out­side of music?

I have two dachs­hunds that take up a lot of my time. I love tak­ing them for walks. I love sit­ting on my couch and watch­ing TV with my dogs in my lap. My social life usu­al­ly con­sists with going out to eat with friends, and luck­i­ly I have some friends who are very good cooks and often invite me over. I love trav­el­ing, too, and see­ing dif­fer­ent parts of the world.

What has been the most excit­ing moment of your career so far?

Well, the day I got my job at the Chica­go Sym­pho­ny Orches­tra. I’d been try­ing for a while, and at every audi­tion I would get to the very end of the process and they’d say, “Thank you, but no thank you.” But then to final­ly have the hard work you’ve been putting in pay off was great.

Oth­er great moments were get­ting to play Bruckner’s Sym­pho­ny No. 8, con­duct­ed by Bernard Haitink, and recent­ly doing Verdi’s Mac­beth with Ricar­do Muti. That was amaz­ing.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *