Cellist Priscilla Lee

We are delighted to profile our cellist Priscilla Lee because we love making music and spending time with her, and think you will enjoy getting to know her better, too. Priscilla will perform at our Mozart and Schubert Spring Festival on Sunday, June 3. A graduate of Curtis, Priscilla is a highly respected chamber musician who performs in the Naumburg Award-winning Trio Cavatina, which she founded with violinist Harumi Rhodes and pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute. She was a member of Lincoln Center’s Chamber Music Society Two and has performed at the Marlboro, Santa Fe, Seattle, Delaware, St. Denis in Paris, Kingston, Lexington and Taos Festivals. She is a recipient of the Avery Fisher Career Grant, and premiered Osvaldo Golijov’s “Ayre” with Dawn upshaw, soprano, in performances in New York, Boston, London, and Paris.

Throughout our interview I was interested to learn new things about my friend Priscilla.

Mimi Stillman: What was studying at Curtis like for you?

Priscilla Lee: Curtis was an incredible and enriching experience for me. I fell in love with playing chamber music. Mostly because I wanted to play with as many people as I could (everyone was so talented!), but also because my dear teacher, the late David Soyer, was an incredible force in the Guarneri String Quartet. I learned so much from him. He defined the cellists’ role as being the bass line and he knew how to support the melodies of the upper strings with such character and beauty. From my first year at Curtis (I was there for 5 years), I think I played in at least 6-8 chamber groups a semester. I definitely spent more hours rehearsing chamber music than practicing by myself!

Mimi: You’re a member of the highly acclaimed Trio Cavatina. How did the ensemble come about?

Priscilla: When we founded Trio Cavatina in early 2005, Ieva, Harumi and I were all living in New York City. We knew each other from before (Ieva and I were at Curtis and Mannes together, Harumi and Ieva knew each other from Kneisel Hall, a festival in Maine). We were all at the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont together in 2003. We hung out a lot that summer, and when Ieva approached me with the idea of forming a piano trio in the fall, we naturally thought of asking Harumi to be our violinist. We met a couple of times to read through some Mozart and Haydn trios, and while sipping tea around the kitchen table we decided to form Trio Cavatina.

Mimi: Who are your favorite composers?

Priscilla: That is a hard one! There are too many to name but I love Beethoven (he was truly a genius; to me his music comes straight from God). I also love Schubert and Bach.

Mimi: Your husband, Burchard Tang, violist of The Philadelphia Orchestra, and I both came to Curtis in 1994 and have been friends and musical partners ever since. When I founded Dolce Suono Ensemble in 2005, I asked him to be our violist. As you and I and audiences know, he is a marvelous musician. What is it like playing chamber music with your husband?
Priscilla: Playing chamber music with my husband,  Burchard, is fun! When I was younger I was very intimidated by him because he is such a great violist. I think the first time we played together was at the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont. We played Verklarte Nacht by Schoenberg and I had frantically practiced my part while he sight-read (perfectly) at the first rehearsal!
Mimi: What do you do when you’re not playing?
Priscilla: When I’m not playing the cello, I am busy looking after my two daughters, ages 3 and 1. They are a handful but truly a blessing and joy! My life is fuller having these beautiful little ones. My role as a mother has definitely been the most rewarding and challenging.
Mimi: What do you think about Philadelphia as a cultural city, and home?
Priscilla: Philadelphia is my home. Even though I grew up in California, I moved here when I was 18 and just fell in love with the city. It is hard to imagine myself living anywhere else. It’s a special city to me, I met and married my husband here, I studied at Curtis and made life-long musical friendships. And I LOVE the food!