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Think of all the great cellists, past and present. Where did they all come from? Well, all of them were born, of course. Few emerged from the womb fully formed, however. Just how much work is involved in transforming a young person with still-pliable bones into a cellist--or any other musician--only those who undergo the process and those who teach them can know for sure. But we know, for sure, that when a young person emerges from a studio to play a full program of classic works and does so with hardly a misplaced note or bow-stroke, then that person and his or her art is worth some attention. On July 1, we heard a young cellist at the new Chapel Hill Bible Church (the temporary Chapel Hill home of the NC Symphony, incidentally, while Memorial Hall is being renovated) who has, in a sense, emerged, although he's been emerging for some time. He played the first three Bach cello suites in public last December, and in May, he did them again, along with two more. On July 1, he played most of the Sixth Suite, in D, S.1012, omitting only the Prelude, along with music by Popper, Beethoven and Boccherini. The young artist-and indeed he deserves that appellation-is Alan Toda-Ambaras, and he was born in 1991. He's still not much larger than his 3/4-size cello, but he makes it sing handsomely and with great technical skill and musicianship. His Bach, which he played from memory (as he did all the pieces except the Beethoven), proved remarkable by any standard. His realization of two Popper etudes enabled them to come across to the small audience of fifty or so people as much, much more than mere studies. With pianist Misako Toda, his mother and a staff artist at UNC, he gave a fine reading of Beethoven's first Cello Sonata. Two movements of a Boccherini sonata (which are all that are generally played from the one in A Major) brought the formal part of the recital to a close. The encore was Daniel Van Goens' Scherzo.
In the audience were a larger-than-usual percentage of artists, some of the first rank. One of these positively gushed, commenting on the vast improvement in Toda-Ambaras' playing over the past year. Like many others, we were impressed, and the magnificence of his accomplishments prompt us to post this short review, in the hope that readers will look for announcements of other programs involving this young master and go to hear him. In the sense that he is still working with a teacher (in this case, Leonid Zilper, of the NC Symphony), this performance was a student recital. In no other sense of the customary meaning of that term however did it qualify as one of those. Instead, the recital gave genuine pleasure, much as a handful of other local artists have done early in their careers. Nicholas Kitchen comes immediately to mind, although he was a bit older when we heard him for the first time. Toda-Ambaras is worth seeking out and hearing. Chances are those who do so will remember him at this stage well into the future and chuckle (fondly, of course) as they recall him when he wasn't much larger than his pint-sized cello!