INTERVIEW: Curtis Alumni Gabriel Cabezas

The in-demend cellist chats about his upcoming concert with Sandbox Percussion.
Gabriel Cabezas

Gabriel Cabezas

Chicago-born Gabriel Cabezas isn’t afraid to call Philly a second home.

“I graduated from Curtis in 2013, so I haven’t worn out my welcome just yet,” he said. In fact, the highly in-demand cellist, who has been praised for his versatile style and sound, has a plethora of Philly engagements this season, including his upcoming concert with Sandbox Percussion for LiveConnections at World Cafe Live. He later returns for performances with yMusic at the Kimmel Center, the Dolce Suono Ensemble, and with Ben Folds at The Fillmore. We chatted with the talented musician about how Philly helped shape his craft, and what listeners can expect from his upcoming projects.

I always like to ask Curtis grads how that institution shaped them as artists.
It’s really insular. It’s a closed experience in a very positive way, which was a good because I could focus and learn music. It was a great place for me because, like most people, in college you discover new things that you didn’t know you liked. I started listening to different kinds of music and playing music that I wouldn’t have normally have looked at.

LiveConnections is all about pairing unlikely partners together — that sounds like a perfect fit for you.
It’s not my first LiveConnections show. I did one last year, which was a solo cello recital with a dancer from Ballet X, my friend Chloe Felesina. We formed the group Duende and we do different concerts of different music. It’s all an incestuous circle. The whole circle sort of conspires to put artists in places that are slightly uncomfortable for everyone, but the biggest goal is to build community through collaborative music making.

What can we expect from your concert with Sandbox Percussion?
I’m really excited because I’ve always wanted to play with percussionists and I’ve never done anything where they will be so featured, where it is me and a bunch of things getting hit on stage. There’s lots of interesting sounds and sound worlds to be created. We’ll be doing a new work by Alyssa Weinberg, who is a close friend of mine. She’s been working with me and the guys at Sandbox to find out the different sound concepts possible. Sandbox is also doing a classic, Steve Reich’s “Drumming,” and I’ll be doing a solo piece by Caroline Shaw, who won the Pulitzer. We’ll end with a work by Andy Akiho, which involves me playing the kick drum along with the cello.

So is this is the first time that you are playing percussion on stage?
It’s kind of weird: Inevitably, you will have to hit different things at different concerts. … It’ll be an adventure!

I know later in the season, you’ll be with Ben Folds both here and in the U.K. How did all of that come about.
Ben is wonderful. I play in a new music group based in New York called yMusic, and we’ve released two albums. We are frequent collaborators with artists of different genres, and we got connected to Ben Folds, who was really a fan of our last album. We teamed up to do his “Piano Concerto,” which came out last fall, and we continue to tour with it well after its release.

Gabriel Cabezas performers with Sandbox Percussion via LiveConnections at World Cafe Live on February 12. For tickets and more information, click here.