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The cello is the only instrument he can think of that one wraps his arms around and hugs, he said during a recent phone interview from his Texas home.
“All the vibrations are placed on your heart,” he explained. “So as you play, you feel it, you hear it, you experience it, you become one with it.”
Bailey will join Maryland Symphony Orchestra Music Director Elizabeth Schulze and the MSO this weekend for “Famous Last Words,” the first Masterworks concerts of the orchestra’s 31st season. The concerts feature the last notable works of revered composers Edward Elgar, Joseph Haydn and Jean Sibelius.
Bailey will perform Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor, a work on which he and Schulze have previously collaborated.
Schulze is excited about the program. “Zuill is one of those artists who puts it all out there,” she wrote in an email. “He’s totally involved in the performance in a way that draws everyone into the sound world he creates.”
Bailey, 40, creates his sound world on a cello made in 1693 — when Johann Sebastian Bach was 8 years old.
“It’s a remarkable cello,” Bailey said. “If it’s not in my hands it’s in the case,” he added.
That careful approach will preclude an encounter like one he had as a 4-year-old. Bailey, an energetic little boy, “got loose” from his mother after a concert. Running furiously down a back hallway, he “smashed” into a girl with a cello. She dropped it; It broke.
“I think that’s where it all began,” he said, adding, “It was kind of destiny.”
But there are other reasons Bailey plays the cello. His mother is a pianist who studied with Leon Fleisher at the Peabody Institute. His father has a doctorate in both music and education. His sister is a violinist.
“It was a very, very interesting time musically, and it was a huge time for the Suzuki revolution,” he said. Bailey thinks that method of teaching music helped him to get connected to the cello.
Bailey and his family lived in Northern Virginia. He said he was inspired by celebrated cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who from 1977 to 1994 was music director and conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C.
Bailey was 12 or 13 when he realized he wanted to be a professional musician. “I think the real moment happened during my debut,” he said. He had just played a Saint-Saëns concerto. “I never felt that feeling before, that feeling of complete wonderment, contentment. Kind of being out of myself — like flying. Kind of complete fulfillment.”
At that same concert, a man gave him some advice: “If you can find what you love to do in this life, and find a way to make a career of it, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Bailey thought for about five seconds and knew that the cello and music answered the question.
He decided, “literally at that moment,” to put his life in gear to spend it trying to spread the joy of music — the joy he’d had at that concert.
“In whatever way I could,” he said. “I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but clearly, the cello was going to be the beginning.”