“An extraordinarily prodigious young cellist who is already taking the classical music world by storm.”
We bring you the young and talented Shahrzad Shakeri – a Persian-Canadian cellist who has performed in various solo recitals, chamber music ensembles, orchestras, and festivals across Europe, the Middle East and North America. Having lived in three different continents, each with diverse cultures, languages, and religions Shahrzad is all set to conquer the world with her music. She believes that music has the power to unite us despites all the differences. Read this exclusive interview with Shahrzad and know more about her and her music.
Tell us about your education.
I started playing music professionally when I was eleven years old. After I graduated high school at the Tehran Conservatory, my passion for the cello led me to France, where I began pursuing my studies in cello performance. Although France held (and always will hold) a special place in my heart, I decided to move to Montreal to study with the virtuoso cellist Matt Haimovitz. It was equally as magical; I was presented opportunities I had only dreamed for, such as working with Matt Haimovitz on his album Philip Glass. I earned my masters degree there, at McGill University, in cello performance.
What are some of your best childhood memories?
Since I am an only child, I spent a lot of time around my extended family. One day, in Kindergarten class, my teacher asked me if I had any siblings. I remember telling her that I had many, and then I named all of my uncles and aunts. I didn’t understand why she was laughing at me; I really thought that they were my siblings!
Can you describe your musical beginnings?
When I was a child, I was shy and reserved – the complete opposite of who I am now. This perplexed my mother. She knew that there was some hidden fire in me, and that I just needed a different outlet of expression. She sent me to music classes when I was five years old. It turns out she was right. I became a different person once I got my hands on an instrument. At such a young age, I channeled all my energy into music. So much so, that in a very short period of time, I made huge progress in music. My teacher was shocked and advised my parents to push me to become a professional musician for my future career. I am so glad she did, because music remained the closest thing to my soul ever since.
Who or what has been your biggest musical influence as a young musician?
There are too many to name! But, some of my favorites are Daniil Shafran,Jaqueline Du pre, Lynn Harrel.
How did you end up playing the cello?
As a matter of fact, I was supposed to play violin when I first started at the conservatory! But on the first day of school, I noticed that the overwhelming majority of my class was playing violin and piano. The day of the audition (the day we had to choose which instrument we wanted to play), I coincidentally saw a girl playing the cello. I was mesmerized; I immediately fell in love with it. It felt like I no longer had a choice, like the cello chose me. I was not afraid to be the odd one out choosing the cello, and I have never doubted my decision ever since.
What does the cello mean to you?
Well, surely this is one of those questions for which you know the answer, but you just can’t describe. Cello means everything to me. And without it, I simply wouldn’t be me. Nothing can express my feelings better than my cello. My cello has been through everything with me, and has given me the best moments of my life.
Tell us about your family support?
I’m so lucky to have such a great family.They’ve been unconditionally supportive in the choices that i’ve made. They believe in me even when I don’t always believe in myself, so I am extremely grateful for them.
Could you talk to us about your experience with your teachers?
In music, teachers are not just teachers. They are your mentors, your support, your inspiration, and it is a very unique relationship. I have always been given fantastic opportunities to work with well-known cellists and teachers at school, festivals and masterclasses. Some of my favorite mentors have Philippe Muller, Jerome Pernoo, Matt Haimovitz, Raphael Pidoux, Johannes Moser, Richard Aaron, and Helene Dautry…
I especially love how these amazing cellists are all different in their own way. I learn bits and pieces from all of them, and each of them opened a new door in my life.
What do you think makes the cello a special instrument?
The cello repertoire is very vast and provides, in my opinion, the most stunning solo pieces. It has a majestic deep, bass sound that touches my heart, but I could also play a higher register for a more melodious and sweet tone. The cello is truly an amazing instrument, capable of performing multiple musical roles. This versatility is the reason its rich tone has crept into almost every musical genre.
Do you intend to tell a story with your music?
Of course. Although some musicians prefer to be very exact and precise in playing, this is not how I am able to play. It is just impossible for me to separate my emotions and experiences when I play my cello. Every note I play expresses one of my feelings within the story. To me, stories are nothing without music.
What special preparations do you make before a performance?
There are many ways I prepare myself before a performance. Most importantly, I try to get good sleep the night before the performance. I also try to eat healthy foods that will give me energy, like bananas and dark chocolate. Lastly, an hour before the performance, I put my phone away to minimize distractions. If possible, I try to stay alone and meditate during that time.
What do you like to do when you are not playing the cello?
I adore photography and fashion. My mother is a professional photographer, so I love to design the sets, coordinate the outfits, and model. I am also fond of poetry, especially when I’m listening to my favorite songs on repeat. But at the end of the day, nothing beats getting pizza and drinks with my close friends.
Do you have any cello heroes?
Yes, many. However, the most influential cellist to me is Jaqueline Du Pre, no doubt.
What is your most memorable performance experience?
When I was fifteen, my closest friends and I decided to participate in a competition as a piano trio. Many sophisticated groups also participated, and we were one of the youngest groups. We played a contemporary piece that we only spent a month preparing for, and my solo started first. When I started to play, I felt like I was playing with a different cello. I got so distracted from my cello’s sound that I totally forgot I was performing in a competition. I was in a total daze, and I don’t know how, but my cello had its best sound ever. After the performance, my trio and I were so nervous waiting for the results. We held each other’s hands so tightly, even though we had little hope that we would win since the other participants were older and more experienced. We ended up winning the competition. Now, whenever I feel intimidated, I look back on that amazing experience.
What musical projects are you currently working on?
I am moving to Toronto in September to work with my new chamber music group. We had plans to start working and touring in Canada, Europe, and the U.S. Unfortunately, that has all been postponed due to COVID-19. For now, I am working on my new repertoire. I hope to record it in September and make a music video for it shortly after.
What would you like to achieve further?
I would love to play with more chamber music ensembles. It’s always a great experience for me because I learn something new each time I work with a new group of people.
Now, tell us about where you live and what you like about the place?
I currently live in Montreal. I love it because I can get a little bit of everything here.
Downtown is filled with skyscrapers, yet Old Montreal looks just like Europe.
There’s a district for whatever mood I’m in.
What are some of your favourite hangout places where you live?
It’s too hard to choose! I’m happy wherever there is a nice terrace.
Your message for us at CiiN.
I love how CiiN is a perfect mixture between the arts and style and showcases artists around the world. Thank you!