ancy Ives, Oregon Symphony principal cello since 2000, has built a career of such spectacular diversity that no summation will do her achievements justice. The broad strokes include teaching chamber music at Lewis & Clark College, becoming increasingly active as a composer, and playing locally with Palatine Piano Trio, Rose City Trio, Fear No Music, Chamber Music Northwest, 45th Parallel Universe, Portland Piano International Summer Festival, Third Angle, Pink Martini, and Portland Cello Project. She’s performed with Laurie Anderson, Gal Costa, and Naná Vasconcelos, in an off-Broadway production of Orpheus in Love, and with a touring production of Phantom of the Opera. While on that tour, she performed a comedy routine about the cello in aids benefits across the country. Ives is also a founder of Portland’s Classical Up Close, has served on the board of directors of the Oregon Symphony, spent a year as “Cellist in Residence” with OPB Radio’s State of Wonder, and appears regularly on All Classical Portland to preview upcoming performances.
Nancy Ives at Lewis & Clark College’s Agnes Flanagan Chapel, one of her favorite places to spend an evening enjoying one of the many concerts held here. The chapel is home to an 85-rank Casavant circular pipe organ, the only of its kind with nearly all of its 4,000 pipes suspended from the pinnacle of the ceiling. The stained glass windows were designed and crafted by Gabriel Loire of Chartres, France, an artist renowned for his work worldwide. Photo by Jennifer Alyse.
When and why did you start playing?
I was six years old. My mom studied violin and wanted her daughters to have the same opportunity.
Is the rest of your family musical?
I would say that music is my family’s “thing.” My mom plays viola in a community orchestra, and one of my sisters is a school orchestra director.Another sister went to Eastman to study violin but hasn’t pursued it as a career, and the other sister is a fine amateur singer. We all sing together, as a matter of a fact. My dad came from a family with deep roots in the barbershop world and was himself bass-baritone as well as a coach and judge for The Barbershop Harmony Society. Long car trips meant singing in four-part harmony to pass the time!
If you had not become a professional musician, what would you be?
In high school, I thought it would be interesting to be a genetic engineer – whatever I thought that was – and that would have turned out to be a fascinating field. Most likely, I would have become a science fiction writer. Or both?
If we agree to define “classical training” in music as an “extended study and mastery of a complete system of techniques, pedagogy, musical knowledge, and repertoire,” make the case for this approach in our multimedia, digitally driven world.
Everyone should experience true mastery in something worthwhile. A pursuit that requires unity of mind, emotion, and body and is grounded in a deep historical tradition has a depth of meaning and reward that elevates one’s life. I would wish that experience for everyone, whatever the activity is.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Well, you probably don’t want to do what I did! I alternate between two ways of looking at how I built my career before winning my position in the Oregon Symphony. Either I was unfocused and wasted a lot of time, or I followed my passions and gathered a diverse range of experiences that feed my creativity – and appreciation – in my current professional roles. The thing is, when you’re developing as a musician, “you are what you eat,” musically speaking. The music you work on and the people you work with will mold you in many ways, both seen and unseen. Choose wisely!
Photo by Jennifer Alyse.
Does your mind ever wander when you play onstage?
Oh, yes. The mind is an unruly monkey, after all! There are internal distractions that are related to the music, i.e., “here comes that spot I messed up this morning,” and those that are completely extraneous, such as mulling over a difficult conversation or something mundane like a to-do list. Part of the mental conditioning required to perform is to strengthen the ability to bring one’s attention back to the music.
What constitutes an extraordinary live performance in your opinion?
There’s a kind of energetic connection between the performers and the audience that feels electric and profound. When the music is great and the players are firing on all cylinders and the audience is absorbed and “with us,” it’s absolutely amazing. This happens a lot at the Oregon Symphony, I’m happy to report!
In your opinion, is the symphony orchestra still relevant or is it a museum?
I am thrilled with the current trends in this area. I think symphony orchestras are more relevant than ever, while still providing an opportunity to revel in the masterpieces of the past. People crave an immersive communal experience, and nothing beats an orchestra concert for that. Additionally, the current trends in composing and in interdisciplinary collaborations are broadening the range of issues to be explored and bringing fresh ideas to concert halls in very appealing ways. I also love the way our orchestra leverages its cultural capital to lift up others in the community.
Which famous musicians do you admire? Why?
Well, no surprise, I admire Yo-Yo Ma to the hilt. He is the essence of personal and artistic integrity and is an amazing ambassador for the cello to the world.
How do you handle mistakes during a performance?
If I have the bandwidth, I’ll file it away for later correction. I sometimes have to expend real energy countering my tendency to beat myself up about it. The most important thing is to keep my mind moving forward and not letting that mistake cause another one!
Artslandia’s theme for the 2019/2020 Season is A Night Out. Describe for our readers your perfect night out.
It can be challenging to find time to attend concerts when you play as many of them as I do, but when I can, I love to hear the performances given by my friends, colleagues, and students. It’s especially ideal to attend an afternoon concert and then go out to a leisurely dinner with my sweetheart and some friends. Being able to linger over a meal with wine (I can’t have any with dinner before playing a concert!) is a real treat – in fact, I’d say it’s one of the great gifts of civilization!