At 22, few musicians expect to be performing with an orchestra for the second time. Or for that matter, performing a work like the first Shostakovich cello concerto for the second time.
But Lev Mamuya will be doing just that this month, in two appearances with Newton’s New Philharmonia Orchestra.
Recently graduated from Harvard, and finishing the master’s component of a joint degree with New England Conservatory, Mamuya did indeed perform once before with the New Phil—he was just entering high school, and played a movement from the great Dvorak concerto. And in this upcoming performances, he will take up the first Shostakovich concerto—one of the most daunting in the repertory—for the second time.
“We kind of came up with a repertory choice based on what I had played before,” he says about the work. “I’ve been living with this concerto for a while now. I played it when I was 14, and I had a devil of a time.”
If Mamuya sounds like an experienced musician, he is. He gave his first recital at age five, and appeared with the Cape Symphony Orchestra at eight. As a student at Roxbury Latin School he studied with Boston Symphony Orchestra cellist Michael Reynolds. He continued his studies with Paul Katz at NEC, and now works with Yeesun Kim. He was a soloist on the popular radio program “From the Top,” and appeared in a live performance with that program at Carnegie Hall.
He also been active as a chamber musician, and as a composer. It’s a breathtaking sweep of musical experiences, for someone who is still deciding on a career.
“I did this dual degree in history and literature, and now as a performance major,” he says of his joint Harvard/NEC experience. “I’m doing my best to get gigs, and I have a couple of music students of my own, but I have not abandoned my love for the culture industries of the 20th century. It’s just a matter of seeing what happens. I could envision myself as a musician, or getting a fellowship and following a different path.”
The path to the upcoming concerts seems pretty clear—overcome the great musical challenges of the Shostakovich concerto. Written in 1959 for the composer’s friend Mstislav Rostropovich—who reportedly memorized the piece in just four days before the premiere—it stands among the most virtuosic works for cello.
Its structure is also unusual—featuring a prominent timpani part, and an entire cadenza movement for the soloist (the third). Along with all its musical intricacies, the works also bears witness to Shostakovich life-and-death struggle with Soviet authorities—even though it was written years after the death of his greatest tormentor, Stalin.
“Playing Shostakovich is a reminder, from the details, that music can never be divorced from the cultural context,” Mamuya says. “I think the classic faux pas with this piece is to play it too aggressively. You have to know how to climax, how not to give too much away. It’s tempting in telling the story to do that.
“It’s a stamina problem too. In the cadenza movement you rarely get a rest, and you’re always paying attention to detail. It think that figuring out the small differences, that might be the first step.”
The program, conducted by New Phil music director Francisco Noya, also includes Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3, and Strauss’s suite from his opera “Der Rosenkavalier.” Performances are Saturday, Nov. 17, at 8:00 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 18, at 3:00 p.m. in the First Baptist Church, 848 Beacon St., Newton Centre. Call 617-527-9717 or visit www.newphil.org.