How Do I Choose the Best Cello Solos?

Wanda Marie Thibodeaux

Choosing the best cello solos requires looking at what the cellist is capable of drawing from the instrument. It also requires considering the timbre and range of the instrument. The venue and audience for the solo also are important. Repertoire lists are good sources for finding solos once a player has taken these factors into account.

Johann Sebastian Bach, born in 1685, was a German composer of the Baroque period whose works included his cello suites.
Johann Sebastian Bach, born in 1685, was a German composer of the Baroque period whose works included his cello suites.

The first thing to do when choosing cello solos is to determine the playing level of the player. Beginning cello solos, for instance, may focus on particular bowing techniques or center around one string. Advanced cello solos, by contrast, might switch quickly from pizzicato, or plucked playing, to arco, or bowed playing; require shifting from string to string with ease and have faster passages with more articulations.

After selecting the player's level, determine the venue for the cello solos. Certain spaces are not appropriate for solos that stay within the bottom of the cello range. An example is outdoor playing, such as might occur at a wedding. Other spaces, such as churches, are more resonant and thus allow people to hear even the bottom pitches clearly.

Connected to the venue is the audience. For instance, people who know the cello only as a classical instrument may expect something such as the cello suites by Johann Sebastian Bach. Others may realize that the cello can be "electric" or amplified and is used effectively in pop and rock music. A concert with the objective of showcasing modern cello techniques may have audience members who expect to hear methods such as harmonics and wah. Very young and old audiences may not be able to sit through long solos.

Another consideration in selecting the best cello solos is periods of rest. In accompanied solos, the cello player has the opportunity to take a break, as the pianist or other supporting instrumentalists can play interludes between the showcase of the cello. This becomes increasingly important the more difficult the solo is, as harder solos typically require more in terms of finger and arm control. In an unaccompanied cello, the cellist doesn't get this chance to recuperate. Unaccompanied solos also can make the player nervous because he cannot hide behind his accompaniment, but conversely, these solos are good opportunities to truly focus attention on the cellist.

Once one knows what he is looking for in terms of playing level, venue, audience and rest periods, examining repertoire lists of other cellists provides clues as to specific solos to try. Cellists should consider pieces seen frequently as fairly standard repertoire, while pieces that occur only rarely may be more contemporary or have a harder level of difficulty. The more well-known a piece is, the more critical it is that the player perform flawlessly, as the audience will be better able to recognize mistakes.

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