‘The melodies just stayed with us for months’: An Interview with cellist Raphaela Gromes

Raphaela Gromes and Julian Riem

‘The melodies just stayed with us for months’: An Interview with cellist Raphaela Gromes

Cello–piano duo Raphaela Gromes and Julian Riem begin their Irish tour next week. Gromes spoke to The Journal of Music about their approach to duet playing, the rare Italian work they will be performing, and her excitement over a new work by Kevin Volans.

Raphaela Gromes was competing in the Richard Strauss Festival in Bavaria when she first met Julian Riem. Riem was the official pianist for the festival competition and both were struck by the musical synergy between their playing.

Musically, it was like we had known each other … It was like we shared some musical world, which does not happen that often. He was also astonished by how well it worked together.

Gromes won the competition and the two performed a prizewinner’s concert and also made a recording together, but even if she had not won, she feels they would have decided to stay together musically.

For Gromes, the most important thing about a cello–piano duo is that the cello ‘is not leading all the time and the piano is not just accompanying – because that’s not the way the composers meant it.’ 

Composers wrote dialogue for these instruments as equal partners. Julian and I always try to interpret a piece before playing, because sometimes the cello line is the most important, sometimes it’s accompaniment, sometimes it’s counterpoint, and sometimes it’s in the middle… 

We always come to a point where we say: OK, this is our way of playing it now, but then, in a concert, one or other of us can have an idea and it go in a totally different direction. Julian always feels what direction I am going in, so I can be totally flexible in a concert.

Giving life to instrumental music
Both of Gromes’ parents, Wilhelm and Astrid Gromes, are cellists, and she had her first lessons with her mother at the age of four, before studying in Leipzig, Munich and Vienna. Raphaela and Julian Riem have made four recordings together, including a 2012 album of Strauss and Mendelssohn cello sonatas and Serenata Italiana from 2017, which includes some of the works they are performing on the Music Network tour.

The Cello Sonata by Giuseppe Martucci (1856–1909) is a work they are particularly pleased to bring to a wider public. He was an Italian instrumental composer who was working at the same time as great opera composers such as Verdi and Puccini.

In Italy, music after the Baroque period was mostly opera – you have all these great names: Rossini, Bellini, Verdi. Martucci was the only one who didn’t write opera, but instead wrote instrumental music. He was known as the first Italian composer to give life to instrumental music after Vivaldi. In Italy, he is quite well known for this. He was unique at the time.

Gromes and Riem first discovered Martucci’s Piano Quintet, which compelled them to research more of his work. 

The melodies just stayed with us for months. We were singing them all the time. We said we had to dig into his repertoire and look at other works. And then we discovered his Cello Sonata. 

New Volans work
As well as the Martucci, the duo will perform works by Busoni, Rossini, Offenbach, Martinu (his work ‘Variations on a Theme of Rossini’, which they recorded on Hommage à Rossini in 2018) and a new Music Network commission from Kevin Volans, about which Gromes is particularly excited. 

It’s very short because it’s fast … It’s a great dialogue between piano and cello. There are some parts that feature the cello, and then the piano plays the same part – it’s like throwing balls to each other, and that’s why we love it already. It has this pulsing rhythm. The whole piece is very rhythmic  and exciting…. We will play it a lot after [the tour] because it’s a really good piece.

The duo will visit seven venues on their Irish tour, but it’s not Gromes’ first time in Ireland. Her parents did a cello duo tour when she was just five years old and she travelled with them. She doesn’t remember the details, but can recall the trip: 

I remember a lot of green and very beautiful landscape, and very good food, so I’m looking forward to visiting again 

Raphaela Gromes and Julian Riem’s Music Network tour begins on 3 April at St Finian’s Church in Dublin before visiting Cork School of Music (4 April), Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny (6 April), Pavilion Theatre, Dún Laoghaire (7 April), Linenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar (8 April), The Large Room, City Hall, Waterford (10 April) and National Opera House, Wexford (11 April). For booking details, visit  www.musicnetwork.ie.

This tour preview is supported by Music Network.

Published on 30 March 2019

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