German-Canadian cellist Johannes Moser has a passion for classical outreach, hoping to get those unfamiliar with, or resistant to, classical music to embrace an art form many regard as elitist. He’s done this by visiting schools and even prisons over the years, but his latest foray takes him across America on a six-concert tour with stops that include New York, Detroit and Southern California. Among the dates is a sold-out concert this Sunday at Pepperdine University, where he’ll play everything from Bach to Stockhausen.
His partner in this endeavor is Phyllis Chen, a pianist he met last year, when his representatives and hers thought such a pairing would enhance this project. But Chen, a student of André Watts, is no ordinary pianist – her specialty is performing on a toy piano. Moser, in keeping with the spirit, will be using an electric cello for some of the program.
It was clear he needed a collaborator, Moser recalled by phone from New York recently, “How much can you do with cello solo for a whole evening? Then someone brought Phyllis to my attention. So I saw some videos on YouTube and was fascinated by how musical and serious she could be on this instrument. She’s a highly trained musician, but she’s chosen this as her voice. And I think that’s pretty brave. Generally, we perform in different environments – I play more traditional venues, and she plays more offbeat ones – so there would have been no place we would have met in the normal course. This tour was the perfect way to bring us together.”
Though their programs are now posted online, they were reluctant to announce the repertory too far in advance, hoping to keep things as spontaneous as possible. “After all, she has a toy piano, and I have an electric cello," said Moser. "These are instruments you want to play around with.”
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— David Mermelstein
Photo: Cellist Moser and toy pianist Chen. Credit: Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times