In-Studio with Miriam K. Smith

Miriam K. Smith


Alexa Smith: I'm Alexa Smith. On tonight's show, we have cellist Miriam K. Smith in the studio. She'll play music from Boccherini, Beethoven, Rachmaninov, Borodin, and more on this edition of the McGraw Family's Young Artist Showcase.


Now in its 47th year, the Young Artist Showcase is generously underwritten by the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Family Foundation. Today's artist is cellist Miriam K. Smith. She's recorded three full-length albums, has performed with major American orchestras, and has accomplished all of this by the age of 17. J.R. Cassidy, Music Director of the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, says, "I would go so far as to say I have never heard the depth of artistry at such an age. Her command and control, her shaping of phrases, dynamic range, intonation are truly beyond her years."

I'm so excited Miriam can join us today in the WQXR studio, and she'll start today's performance with the Cello Sonata No.6 in A Major by Luigi Boccherini.

[MUSIC - Luigi Boccherini: Cello Sonata No 6 in A Major]

Alexa Smith: That was cellist Miriam K. Smith with Boccherini, 6 Cello Sonata in A Major, and our pianist today is Julia Siciliano. We're delighted to have Miriam here in the WQXR studio today. Welcome, Miriam.

Miriam K. Smith: Thank you so much for having me.

Alexa Smith: Of course. Tell us how old you are, and also where you call home.

Miriam K. Smith: I am 17 years old and I'm from Cincinnati, Ohio.

Alexa Smith: Fabulous, near my hometown of Louisville, and I know you've played at The Louisville Orchestra before.

Miriam K. Smith: Yes.

Alexa Smith: Fab. Talk to us a little bit about how you got started playing cello. Did you start on cello? Did you start at another instrument? Tell us that journey.

Miriam K. Smith: I started on piano when I was about three years old, and then when I was four I started with cello. You might think that there's a magical story behind how I picked the cello, but there's not. My parents picked it for me. I grew up listening to my brother practice violin and, of course, piano. They picked a good instrument. I've stuck with cello and I love it every day. Since I started on piano, I have to give a shout-out to Julia. Julia was my former piano teacher before she moved away, and now we are back together and we get to collaborate.

Alexa Smith: Well, that's so exciting. Well, you sound fantastic and we're excited to hear more. Next, we'll hear some Beethoven with Seven Variations on Bei Mannern for cello and piano.

[MUSIC - Beethoven: Seven Variations on "Bei Mannern"]

Alexa Smith: That was Beethoven's Seven Variations on "Bei Männern" for cello and piano performed by cellist Miriam K. Smith and Julia Siciliano on piano. I love that piece, of course, I'm an opera fan, so that's a little bit of [unintelligible 00:24:42] in there. I want to ask you more about your repertoire choices. It's a very personal experience choosing pieces for you at any specific time in your development. How do you choose your pieces? What are you looking for?

Miriam K. Smith: Well, with every program that I put together, I want to give the audience a little bit of everything. With this program, we kind of go chronologically starting with Boccherini, and then we get to Boulanger and then the Sarsate and Borodin are like dessert pieces. It's interesting to go through each piece and see how the one before influences the one after it. I think it's a lovely journey that you get, especially through this program.

Alexa Smith: Is there anything you're working on now that we're not hearing today that you're really excited to be working on?

Miriam K. Smith: I've been working on Prokofiev's Sinfonia Concertante. That is a big one. There's a lot of orchestral collaboration in that piece. That's been fun for me.

Alexa Smith: Yes, that's a big one. Great. Well, now we're going to move on to another relatively big star of the day. We're going to hear some Rachmaninov now. We are here again with cellist Miriam K. Smith, who will now play Rachmaninov's Prelude, Op. 2, No. 1, for cello and piano with pianist Julia Siciliano.

[MUSIC - Sergei Rachmaninov: Prelude, Op. 2, No. 1]

Alexa Smith: That was Rachmaninov's Prelude, Op. 2, No. 1 for cello and piano. Miriam K. Smith was on cello and Julia Siciliano at the piano. That was just gorgeous. Now, you started playing very young, as we talked about, piano at three and then cello. I'm curious, who are the musicians you remember first encountering that made a big impression on you?

Miriam K. Smith: I have to mention my first teacher, Ms. Sarah, Dr. Kim. I vividly remember my first lesson with her and just her explaining all the different parts of the cello, and my bow hold, and all the different things. Of course, Mr. Rafferty, who I study with now. I look up to him a lot. He's still an amazing mentor for me. As far as other artists, I vividly remember as well, Alisa Weilerstein.

When I was very young, she came into Cincinnati a few times and did masterclasses. She really took time and spent time with the young artists, and just gave exactly what they needed at that time in their career. I remember she would remember me at concerts and whatnot, and I got to sit next to her in orchestra. She made a big impact on me as a young person.

Alexa Smith: That's so special and impactful in ways you probably didn't even know. That's great. Well, it's time for us to take a quick break now, and then we'll be back with more music by cellist Miriam K. Smith, here on the McGraw Family's Young Artist Showcase. Welcome back. I'm Alexa Smith, and this is the Young Artist Showcase.

We're in the studio today with cellist Miriam K. Smith. At only 17 years old, Miriam has already recorded three albums. Her third album features works by Nadia Boulanger, and she'll perform some of them in the studio for us today. Here's Three Pieces by Nadia Boulanger for cello and piano with cellist Miriam K. Smith and pianist Julia Siciliano.

[MUSIC - Nadia Boulanger: Three Pieces]

Alexa Smith: That was Nadia Boulanger's Three Pieces for cello and piano performed by cellist Miriam K. Smith and pianist Julia Siciliano. Once again, Miriam, we're thrilled you've been able to join us in the studio today. Now, I did a little digging, and I found a video of you dancing to a track of you playing cello, and I have to know how that came about because it is absolutely incredible.

Miriam K. Smith: Well, thank you. Yes, I am a dancer. I've done ballet pretty much my whole life, along with cello. It's a nice exercise after sitting down and practicing for hours. I recorded the Suite Italienne by Stravinsky on my Momentum album. Of course, as I was studying the Suite, I went to the ballet that it's from, Pulcinella. I watched the ballet and I watched some of the choreography.

Even though the music is not the exact same, there is a movement that is very similar. I took some of the choreography from the ballet, from the movement itself, and also from other parts of the ballet and I made it my own. Performed it in this lovely old house, and you can go watch it on my YouTube channel. It's pretty cool. That's one of my favorite projects that I've done because it combines my favorite art forms that I do.

Alexa Smith: Yes, it's terrific and a wonderful setting too, as you mentioned in that space. You obviously are an accomplished dancer, accomplished cellist. What do you do when you're not doing that? What do you do for fun?

Miriam K. Smith: I love to play disc golf-

Alexa Smith: Ooh.

Miriam K. Smith: -in my free time. Yes. Just going out and chucking a frisbee once in a while is pretty fun. I also love to bake and just spend time in the kitchen with family.

Alexa Smith: Oh, that's great. I'm sure they appreciate that too, the baking. Great. Well, we're almost out of time, but we'll hear two more pieces from Cellist Miriam K. Smith, Pablo de Sarasate's Zapateado, No. 2, and perhaps a more familiar tune with Alexander Borodin's Serenade VI. from Petit Suite.

[MUSIC - Pablo de Sarasate: Zapateado, No. 2]

[MUSIC - Alexander Borodin: Serenade VI]

Alexa Smith: You just heard Cellist Miriam K. Smith with pianist Julia Siciliano. They performed two pieces Pablo de Sarasate's Zapateado and Borodi: Serenade VI from Petit Suite. Miriam, you have a new album that came out in January that features music of Kodály. What is it and tell us about that process?

Miriam K. Smith: Yes. I released Kodály in January. This is the Kodály Cello Sonata. I want to encourage listeners to take the time to listen to this piece. This is not something you put on in the background while you're doing other things. This is something you have to sit down and listen to, and just let Kodály take you on a journey through his country.

Alexa Smith: Tell us what that was like for you learning that piece.

Miriam K. Smith: When I decided to record this, I took the time to just every day sit down in the practice room, study the Hungarian language, study the Hungarian Instruments. Just really get to know Kodály's composition and work. I spent about a year on this piece every single day studying it, and I absolutely love the way that it turned out.

Alexa Smith: Wow. That's incredible dedication. What about the sound of the piece were you drawn to?

Miriam K. Smith: It was the way that Kodály used the cello in every single part of it to portray different instruments. You get to hear the hurdy-gurdy and just these amazing folk sounds. There's a lot of dance elements in it too. As a dancer, I get to find those and experiment with them, but I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Alexa Smith: I'm excited to listen to it. It sounds like something I've got to carve out some time to do, and I do it while I'm cooking or baking. That's terrific. I want to ask you a little bit about what you see in the future for yourself.

Miriam K. Smith: Long term, the goal and my dream is to be a cello soloist and just travel the world and bless people with my music. That is the main goal. How I get there is not determined yet, but every day I continue to study my instrument and take as much as I can get from the people around me, and give to those around me as well. That is the most important.

Alexa Smith: That's fantastic. While you're in New York, I know you have some plans. What are you looking forward to doing while you're in New York?

Miriam K. Smith: Tonight we're going to a jazz club, which I absolutely love jazz. Other than classical music, jazz is my second favorite genre. Then tomorrow, hopefully, I will get to go thrift shopping, which I've never been. I'm excited about that.

Alexa Smith: Well, we have lots to offer here in New York.

Miriam K. Smith: I've heard.

Alexa Smith: Great. We're going to close out today with a little bit of the Kodály as we exit the program. First, I want to thank you for joining us here at the studio and also thank you to Julia Siciliano, your pianist.

Miriam K. Smith: Yes. Thank you so much for having us.

Alexa Smith: Thanks to Adam Smith for helping us with this as well. Thanks to you for joining us for this week's edition of the McGraw Family's Young Artist Showcase, which is generously underwritten on WQXR by the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Family Foundation. Here's Terry McGraw with more.

Terry McGraw: Good evening, everyone. It's great to be with you, and it's always great being with the Young Artist Showcase and to hear these really wonderful and inspiring musicians as they continue to share their incredible gifts with us every week. I can't wait to hear the fabulous talent coming up on the showcase, and I am so pleased to be able to support the series all through. It's well over four decades on WQXR, and there's so much more to come.

Alexa Smith: Thanks, Terry. Many thanks to our WQXR production team, Laura Boyman, and Max Fine. Our session engineers are Ed Haber and Irene Trudel, and our generous program underwriter is the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Family Foundation. I'm Alexa Smith. Good Night.

[MUSIC - Zoltán Kodály: Sonata for Solo Cello in B Minor, Op. 8, K. 38: I. Allegro maestoso ma appassionato]

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