It’s time to hear great music live again! Get out your lawn chairs and blankets because on May 8, 2021 at 2 pm, the Candlelight Concert Society will present Baltimore’s own Mount Vernon Virtuosi in Concert at the Chrysalis in Symphony Woods Park in Columbia, Maryland. The concert will include music from Mozart, Barber, Haydn, Ennio Morricone, Tchaikovsky, and Piazzolla.
Mount Vernon Virtuosi is a Baltimore-based orchestra led by the cellist, Amit Peled. Founded by Peled in 2018, the group is respected for their innovation and notable talent, and have included guest musicians. Peled will also perform two solo pieces as well as conducting. Mount Vernon Virtuosi have used both their voices and their instruments with works by Bach in concert. Their mission is “bring music to concert halls, schools, hospitals, and other local community venues.”
I had a chance to interview Amit Peled recently.
Praised by “The Strad” magazine and “The New York Times,” internationally-renowned cellist Amit Peled is acclaimed as one of the most exciting and virtuosic instrumentalists on the concert stage today. He has performed in many of the world’s most prestigious venues, including Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall at the Lincoln Center in New York, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C., Salle Gaveau in Paris, Wigmore Hall in London, and the Konzerthaus Berlin. Peled has released over a dozen recordings on the Naxos, Centaur, Delos, and CTM Classics labels. He is on the faculty of the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and has performed in and presented master classes around the world, including at the Marlboro and Newport Music Festivals and the Heifetz International Music Summer Institute in the US, the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival in Germany, International Musicians Seminar Prussia Cove in England, and Keshet Eilon in Israel. Embracing the new era of the pandemic, Peled has established the Amit Peled Online Cello Academy, reaching out to cellists all over the world. Moreover, his home studio in Baltimore has turned into a virtual art gallery promoting and supporting local artists while teaching and livestreaming to a worldwide audience.
Raised on a kibbutz in Israel, Amit Peled began playing the cello at age 10. He performs on a cello made by the Italian master Giovanni Grancino (c. 1695), on generous loan from the Roux Family Foundation. Amit Peled is represented worldwide by CTM Classics.
What drew you to the cello over other instruments?
It’s actually a funny story. I grew up in a kibbutz in Israel. When we were in fourth grade and I was 10 years old, I had to choose an instrument. I was really into basketball and not into music, but I picked the cello, because a girl who was four years older than me played the cello. I kind of had a crush on her. So, I thought if I played whatever she played (I could not even say the name of that instrument), she would probably marry me. Sure enough, even though I never talked to her during school, I did end up playing the cello like her. I fell in love with the cello right away and was told to practice. This was love from first sight. It was because of a girl.
Can you tell us more about Mount Vernon Vituosi?
MVV stands by its namesake, Mount Vernon Place, which is where the Peabody Institute is located. I’ve been the cello professor at Peabody for the past 18 years. Through those years, I’ve taught extraordinarily talented students from all over the world — literally from all continents. I was always kind of sad to see them leaving Baltimore because they had so much fun here. In a way they wanted to stay. So I thought, how can I create an organization that will support them financially and at the same time will offer concerts to our community, free of charge as much as possible. By creating this non-profit organization, we accomplished our two, big missions which is to keep those extraordinary musicians who just finished college in our area, hoping that they will settle and live here, and at the same time, creating this educational platform for young kids in Maryland schools by playing classical music concerts for free to the public. We have expanded our horizons from just playing free concerts for adults to adding concerts for kids. We also have concerts with a pizza party for kids and their parents afterwards. We started playing in schools and have been playing for them via Zoom during the pandemic. We have a piano initiative where we send pianists to schools. Our “Every Child Deserves a Voice” program sends our musicians into the public school system in Baltimore to teach students how to play instruments. We have bought instruments and sponsored those lessons. It is all free of charge for the kids. It became sort of an umbrella for all my dreams of how to give back to the community and, at the same time, to make sure that those great musicians will stay here with us.
Which composer or composers are your personal favorites to perform and why? Are these also most satisfying to perform on the cello?
The composers I love the most are the ones I am playing. The piece that I play at that moment is my favorite piece and composer. It doesn’t matter if I am conducting or playing the cello. Because we are like actors, we are on stage presenting a piece of art to the public. If we don’t find a way to make it our favorite while we are playing it, the piece won’t sound like this to the audience.
Do you like playing or conducting more and why?
That’s similar to the previous question. When I conduct, I like conducting. When I play the cello, I like playing the cello. If I don’t focus on that, I strongly believe the audience will feel it. If I want to convey the message 150%, I have to love what I am doing at the time I am doing it. Conducting came later and I had studied it in school. I only started conducting professionally with establishment of MVV. It gives me a lot of joy now because it’s a chance to expand my musical horizons and work with more people other than just my students and just cellists. But there’s something to be said about creating sound with your own hands and the cello that will never be surpassed by conducting. I would say the combination of the two enriches me the most as a musician.
How many hours do you practice a week?
When I was in high school, I would practice five hours every single day. I mean an hour of actual playing, for instance, not just sitting with a cello for an hour. Practice is really more than five hours with the instrument. Now, because I have less time, it really depends on my schedule. I do try to practice four hours every day. Ninety minutes is set aside just for exercises, scales, patterns, and etudes. I treat myself like a musical athlete, and I need to do stretches like an athlete playing a sport. A lot of the practice we do involves playing exercises and scales. We need to make sure that the muscles we are using are trained in the right way, as well as our bodies and minds. Four to five hours of practice a day is sort of the standard if you want to make it your career.
To find out more about Mount Vernon Virtuosi and Amit Peled, go to to this link. Tickets for the May 8, 2021 concert presented by the Candlelight Concert Series can be found here. For more information on the Candlelight Concert Society go to their website.
Note: If the weather is inclement, the show may be cancelled and your money will be refunded.