Cello Variations with James Jacobs

Conversations on Cellists, Composers and Concerts

James David Jacobs, Cellospeak Artist in Residence

We are thrilled to welcome James David Jacobs to the Cellospeak community as a special commentator on a wide variety of cello topics. James currently employs his sonorous voice and encyclopedic musical knowledge as a radio host with Classical WETA-FM, serving the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area with wonderful classical programs and podcasts. James actually started his career as a musician. Cello is his primary instrument, but he also plays the double bass, viola da gamba and various wind, brass and other instruments. He is also a composer and conductor. He has written music for dance, theatre and film, and has produced numerous performances for cello ensembles. Additionally, he is an educator, lecturer and interviewer, skilled at providing insightful historical background and context on compositions and performances, bringing little known facts to light and enhancing the appreciation of familiar music with unique perspectives.

James first became acquainted with Cellospeak through our founder, Dorothy Amarandos, and served as the Master of Ceremonies for the 2015 Cellospeak 16Cellos Concert in Washington, D.C. He is very enthusiastic about Cellospeak’s mission to cultivate a supportive community for both professional and amateur adult cellists. You can read more about James in his WETA Biography. You will also enjoy this interesting extended profile of James published in a 2021 issue of Arlington Magazine: Solace in A Minor.

We are delighted that James has agreed to share with our members some of the breadth and depth of his knowledge on cello repertoire, composers, pedagogues and performances in the form of interviews, articles and podcasts. We will update this page periodically with new material.

Cello Variations Blog

1961 and 2021: What My 60th Birthday Means for the Cello!

Special Interviews

Interview with Cellist Amit Peled

This is an interview I did with Amit Peled back in May 2019, when he was about to play the Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto with the Apollo Orchestra at the Kennedy Center and had just released an album of the first three Bach Cello Suites, playing the same 1733 Matteo Goffriller cello Pablo Casals used in his iconic recordings of the Suites in the 1930s. He talks about how he uses a near-calamitous incident at one of Rostropovich’s performances as an inspiration for his own interpretation, and he shares the story of how Maria Casals Istomin entrusted him with her late husband’s instrument, encouraging him to “find his own voice.” Click the MP3 player below to hear the interview.

WETA Classical Breakdown Podcasts

The following are links to WETA Classical Breakdown podcasts that I have done with host John Banther on a variety of fascinating topics. You can access all of the WETA Classical Breakdown episodes HERE.

Episode 3 Sept. 10, 2019

Four Seasons, How Vivialdi Depicts the World in Sound

WETA: “Poetry, falling on the ice, and a barking dog, there is so much to hear and discover in Antonio Vivaldi’s masterpiece, The Four Seasons. In this episode, we get into the details and musical examples with a recording that brings a fresh perspective to this work published nearly 300 years ago.” Listen HERE.

Episode 9 Dec. 3, 2019

Handel’s Messiah, from Swords, Hidden Meanings, to Theft!

WETA: “Here’s everything you wanted to know about Handel’s Messiah but were afraid to ask.” Listen HERE.

Episode 15 Feb. 25, 2020

Haydn’s Final London Symphony

WETA: “Let’s go on a musical deep dive of Haydn’s final symphony. With musical examples we can breakdown Sonata Form, hear influences of other composers, and folk song!” Listen HERE.

Episode 16 March 10, 2020

The Life and Music of Amy Beach, an American Pioneer

WETA: “She was America’s first woman composer to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra and the first American composer fully educated in the United States. She was praised and recognized but her journey to success was an uphill battle with obstacles and challenges.” Listen HERE.

Episode 22 June 2, 2020

Haydn’s Lost Cello Concerto and its Rediscovery

WETA: “Haydn’s 1st cello concerto was lost for 200 years and is now considered one of the greatest cello concertos of the 18th century. Dr. Greenwald tells us how music can go missing, we examine musical examples that set this concerto apart, and we enjoy a full performance!” Listen HERE.

Episode 29 Oct. 20, 2020

The Live of Tchaikovsky

WETA: “From his humble beginnings to becoming one of the greatest composers, explore the life and music of Tchaikovsky.” Listen HERE.

Episode 31 Nov. 17, 2020

What is a String Quartet?

WETA: “Is it the ultimate test for a composer? Discover its origins and how this genre evolved over centuries with James Jacobs and John Banther.” Listen HERE.

Episode 39 March 9, 2021

The Life of Bach

WETA: “Today we know him as one of the greatest and most influential composers, but that wasn’t always the case. Learn how a teenager became responsible for Bach’s revival, how is music changed from job to job, and even how he wound up in jail for nearly a month!” Listen HERE.

Episode 43 May 4, 2021

What is a Concerto?

WETA: “Where did the concerto come from and how did it evolve? We explore its origins, development through Haydn and Mozart, some of the most challenging concertos of the 19th century, and a couple of ‘hidden gems’.” Listen HERE