Classically trained Lucia Micarelli gaining in the pop, rock and jazz world
Violinist Lucia Micarelli had mixed feelings when she first performed at Carnegie Hall.
It was something that her mother had always wanted, but there was a little twist.
"I was on tour with Jethro Tull," Micarelli said with a laugh during a telephone call to The Park Record from her home in Los Angeles, California. "I mean, I was finally playing at Carnegie Hall, a place my mother always wanted for me, but not exactly how she envisioned it. So, I wasn’t sure if I should feel happy or feel like I was disappointing her."
The classically trained violinist will show Park City audiences why she was selected to go on tour with the Grammy Award-winning English progressive-rock band when she performs at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, Feb. 21.
The evening will be a mix of classical works, pop works and some surprises, Micarelli promised.
"In the past 10 years, the majority of things that I have done weren’t in the classical realm, but I still think I have a very classical approach," she said. "At this point, I’m fairly comfortable improvising and playing different styles of music."
In addition to Jethro Tull, Micarelli has performed with singer Josh Groban, jazz trumpeter Chris Botti and the rock ensemble Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
That’s a far cry from when she started playing violin at age 3. At 5, she performed as a soloist for the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra.
" the time I was 6, I had been playing classical repertoire that went all through my childhood and adolescence," Micarelli said. "I went to the Juilliard School Pre-College Division when I was 11, and I was there until I was 17."
From there, the musician entered the Manhattan School of Music and studied with Pinchas Zukerman.
"I was only there for a year, but all the way up until then, I was still studying all classical," Micarelli said. "In fact, I only listened to classical, but that began to change."
The violinist met some musicians who were classically trained, but also knew how to improvise and play other styles like rock and jazz.
"One of whom, Dave Eggar, will play with me when I play at Park City," Micarelli said. "He also has a classical background and plays piano and cello and double-majored at Juilliard."
Eggar has performed with jazz greats Ornette Coleman and Michael Brecker and even rocker Alice Cooper.
"When I met Dave, it was the first time I saw anyone play a Shostakovich String Quartet and turn around and jam and play a bluegrass tune," Micarelli said. "I wanted to know how to do that and he opened that world to me."
Micarelli began listening to jazz pioneers Miles Davis and Bill Evans and classic rock icons.
"I had never heard [Led] Zeppelin or Pink Floyd before and I wanted to figure out how I could apply my classical technique to other music," she said.
The biggest challenge for Micarelli is to play rock tunes on her violin breaking free from the structures of classical music.
"I have felt and still feel that classically trained musicians have this crazy-high level of technique, but since it’s a different approach to, say, rock or jazz, the connection between it and being creative and expressive in an individual way isn’t quite there," she explained. "If a classically trained musician can find a switch to be free with their technique, they could come up with all of this crazy stuff. So, I still feel like I’m always trying to be freer and be more comfortable in a less-structured musical environment.
"In the classical world, the musicians and audience holds the text sacred and I totally respect that," she said. "But I don’t personally subscribe to that. I want to find a little more room for personal expression, even when I’m playing classical rep."
Another surprise for Micarelli was realizing some non-classical works could be very difficult to play.
"There are a lot of violin concertos, especially the more modern ones like Bartok and Shostakovich that are very technical and there has been some Cajun and bluegrass fiddling that have been is harder than I first thought," she said with another laugh. "I remember hearing that stuff for the first time. I wanted to play it so when I sat down, I realized, ‘Oh my God this is so hard.’"
Micarelli also found the rhythms in non-classical pieces to be challenging.
"These are complicated coordination-wise," she said. "Learning a Coltrane or Miles solo and trying to shape phrases with that kind of nuance and detail is hard. You try to play those notes and it’s hard to always have a beautifully shaped phrase."
Still, the versatility has opened many musical doors for Micarelli.
"I never thought I would play at Madison Square Garden, but I did," she said. "I remember playing there with Josh Groban and feeling how weird it was. It wasn’t anything I ever thought about doing that. As a violinist, I don’t think you ever think about playing a venue like that."
She’s also performed with Botti at the Newport Jazz Festival.
"I remember looking over towards the monitor guy and standing right there was Herbie Hancock," Micarelli said. "I walked off stage and he came up to me and told me what a good job I did."
Another highlight was performing on Botti’s "In Boston" PBS special.
"[Cellist] Yo-Yo Ma was one of the special guests and I remember coming off stage after I played and Yo-Yo Ma and [Aerosmith’s] Steven Tyler were at the side of the stage," Micarelli said. "When I was a kid, I certainly didn’t think I would play violin with a jazz trumpet player in the same show as Yo-Yo Ma and Steven Tyler.
"It was so weird, but I think these days, the cross-pollination happens a lot more, she said. "I’m thrilled I ended up with a broader music scape than I originally planned."
Nowadays when Micarelli isn’t working on her music, she is developing an acting career. She is known for her role as Annie Talarico in HBO’s series "Treme" and landed a role in WGN’s "Manhattan."
"That is the weirdest thing," Micarelli said, giggling. "I never expected to act."
The Park City Institute will present violinist Lucia Micarelli at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd., on Saturday, Feb. 21, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $20 to $69 and are available by visiting http://www.ecclescenter.org.
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