Meet the Musician – David Liam Roberts

News 2021-06-03

Meet the Musician – David Liam Roberts

Meet cellist David Liam Roberts! On June 29th, the young musician will share the stage with principal cellist and former teacher, Yuri Hooker as the featured soloists in our special summer concert, Concerto for two Cellos.  They’ll be performing works by Antonio Vivaldi and Carlo Alfredo Piatti.

David Liam Roberts  


How has the pandemic impacted you in terms of your studies? And how have you gotten through it?

I’ll be honest and say that I’ve barely gotten through it — like everyone else, it’s taken a huge toll on me mentally and emotionally, and I know I can’t even complain compared to what many others have had to go through during the past year. I’ve been able to move from Toronto (I’m studying at the Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory of Music) to my parents’ home in Winnipeg and continue my studies remotely. My cello teachers, Hans Jørgen Jensen and Andrés Díaz, have both been incredibly supportive and involved in my artistic growth throughout this time.  


Can you tell us about your relationship with WSO principal cellist Yuri Hooker?

I was Yuri’s student for eight years, from when I was 10 to 18 years old. For a few years before entering Yuri’s studio, my grandparents would send me for a lesson with him once a year, and I would also study with Yuri during the summer at his Intensive Cello Institute (which became the precursor to the Rosamunde Summer Music Academy). I always came away from every lesson with more ideas not only about the cello and music, but also life and worldview. I can safely say that I wouldn’t be the cellist or artist I am today if Yuri had not been my teacher all those years!  


What is it like collaborating and performing with him? And playing with the WSO?

It always feels really special performing alongside someone like Yuri who has been a mentor to me for so much of my life. Many WSO musicians, in fact, have been some of my biggest mentors and supporters, so it’s always a bit of a thrill playing with the WSO. Gwen was a founding director of the prestigious Morningside Music Bridge summer program, which I attended for three summers and where I had some of my most formative training; I was in Dan’s youth orchestra for years, and that experience made me fall in love with orchestral music; Elation has been another mentor and supporter as artistic director of the Rosamunde Summer Music Academy, where I grew a lot as a musician — there are many other WSO musicians that have been so supportive of me over the years, and I think it just shows that the music community in Winnipeg is incredibly nurturing of aspiring professional musicians. I’m always reminded of how lucky I am to have grown up in Winnipeg surrounded by such a supportive community.  


Can you tell us about your cello?

My cello was a commission from Winnipeg’s own luthier, Garth Lee. It was made in 2017 and is the third cello Garth has made (he has since made many more). It was modeled after a 17th century cello by the Cremona-based luthier Francesco Rugeri, and I love it! I am particularly taken by its powerful and rich lower register.  


Tell us about the two pieces you’ll be playing with Yuri.

We are playing two works by Italian composers: Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Cellos in G minor, RV 531, and Piatti’s Serenata for Two Cellos. Vivaldi’s G minor Concerto for Two Cellos is probably the most well-known double cello concerto. It has an irresistible rhythmic drive and melting beauty that seems to inevitably attract listeners. I first played this piece as a student at Yuri’s Cello Institute, and I still clearly remember Yuri coaching me and another student on the first movement when I was 9 or 10 years old. The Piatti Serenata is particularly virtuosic and shows off the range and capabilities of the cello. Piatti himself was a fantastic cellist, and wrote a lot for his instrument, including many solo caprices and other virtuoso pieces. In many ways, he could be considered to the cello what Paganini was to the violin! The Serenata we are performing is not very well-known, but it’s very fun.  


Is there a particular piece of music that you absolutely love performing?

Romantic symphonies in general — any Romantic symphony that has a cello section solo automatically has my heart, but a piece I would take any opportunity to perform again is Dvorak’s 8th Symphony. The cello section solo at the beginning never fails to stir up a crazy amount of emotion in me.  


You have been the leader of the ‘Back to Bach’ project since 2016. What is this project all about and why is it important to you?

It’s really important to me to give back to the community in whatever way I can. The Back to BACH Project is a global outreach initiative comprised of accomplished young musicians, and our mission is to inspire young students to learn a musical instrument. We mainly visit elementary schools, where we perform and give presentations on a range of topics. One of our main intentions is to teach the value of vision and determination in setting and achieving goals. I started a chapter of the project in Winnipeg in 2016, and in 2018 planted another chapter in Toronto. It’s exciting to make such a positive impression on the students we interact with. Most recently, I led an online presentation for students in Costa Rica, Ecuador and the US, as part of the Back to BACH Soloists outreach program.  


What is something people might be surprised to know about you? I am a proud citizen of the Manitoba Métis Federation! One side of my family is Red River Métis and has deep roots in St. Boniface and Ste. Anne. I can trace my musical roots to both sides of my family: On the Métis side, my great-grandfather was an amateur fiddler, while on the other side, I come from a line of German Lutheran church organists.  


Background Check: 

I have been playing the cello for 18 years (my entire life minus 3 years). I just completed the 3rd year of my BMus (Hons) cello performance degree at the Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto.

Hometown: Winnipeg, MB

Favourite thing about Winnipeg: The forests, rivers and bike paths around the city, and the expansiveness of the prairie landscape.

What are you obsessing over right now?  The London music scene — a lot of my favourite artists right now are based in London (UK). I’m particularly obsessed with Reuben James, Connor Albert and Loyle Carner. I’ve also recently been obsessively listening to a song by Linda Diaz called Green Tea Ice Cream — it won the 2020 NPR Tiny Desk Song Contest and has been a big part of my Spring 2021 soundtrack. I’m reading a history of the Métis Nation by Jean Teillet (great-grandniece of Louis Riel) called “The North-West is our Mother” and have been gripped with fascination by the history of Red River and how my ancestry fits into that history. I’ve also recently gotten into kayaking on the Seine River (I live very close), and it has become a ritual of mine to get out on the river without my phone or any other distraction and simply take in the beauty, look for turtles and imagine my voyageur ancestors paddling in the same place.

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