Cellist Maya Fridman: ‘The best thing about making music is communicating with my audience’.

Maya Fridman, photo Brendon Heinst

The cellist Maya Fridman was born in 1989 in Moscow, where she developed into a child prodigy. Already while studying at the Schnittke College she won the first prize of the International Festival of Slavic Music. In 2010 she moved to the Netherlands, where she graduated Cum Laude from the Conservatory of Amsterdam six years later.

Fridman naturally juxtaposes contemporary compositions with major works from the last century, moving us with her emotionally charged playing. For two seasons she is ‘musician in residence’ at Gaudeamus. On 26 April she will present the world premiere of Canti d’inizio e fine in Kunststruimte KuuB in Utrecht.

This seven-part composition for solo cello and vocals was created in close collaboration with the Ukrainian-Dutch composer Maxim Shalygin. Fridman: ‘The title Canti d’inizio e fine refers to the cycle of birth, life and death, the underlying theme. Later Maxim also involved images of the Holocaust. That’s a tough subject, all the more so because both of my parents are Jewish. Each movement reflects on a different life situation or crisis, the music is very dramatic and psychological.’


She first heard Shalygin’s music in 2016, during a network meeting of music publisher Donemus. ‘I was immediately attracted to his ideas and asked him to compose a solo piece for me on the spot. His music is very profound and touches me deeply. It makes me think, and makes me experience my life differently. It’s hard to describe precisely, but it transforms and purifies me. It sometimes literally feels like a catharsis.’

For Canti d’inizio e fine they initially corresponded by e-mail, but in the last few months they have met regularly. ‘We work intensively together to find the right sound for every note. It’s great to be able to communicate directly with a composer.’ Despite their close cooperation, however, Fridman does not consider herself a co-composer. ‘Maxim writes the notes, I interpret them. I do sometimes make suggestions for a different interpretation, though. Sometimes he accepts these, sometimes he doesn’t, at other times we arrive at something completely different.’

Trembling cello

When I interview her a week before the premiere, they are still busy working on the finishing touches of the piece. ‘Maxim uses very varied techniques, each of the seven movements has a different approach. The first one is slow and lyrical and sounds a bit like weeping, as if something fragile comes to life.’

‘In the second movement there’s a lot of ricochet, where I bounce my bow on the strings. Here you shouldn’t actually hear a cello, it should sound like a trembling voice. That was quite a challenge, because I had to learn how to create that effect with a traditional way of playing.’

In the following section Shalygin uses Arabic tinted decorations. Fridman: ‘There are also very fast crescendi and decrescendi on one note, it reminds me a little of choral singing. In the fourth part I don’t use a bow at all, it consists only of pizzicati. It is Maxim’s intention to make the cello sound like a bass guitar here.’

In the next movement, sound researcher Shalygin uses a so-called BACH bow, that has a curve so that all four strings can be played simultaneously. I still have to practice that’, Fridman laughs. ‘But this challenge is exactly what attracts me in working with Maxim, I learn to push my own limits.’

Todesfuge Paul Celan

Also exciting is the epilogue, in which Fridman must not only play but also sing. Only this movement bears a title, Todesfuge, after Paul Celan’s poem of the same name. Fridman: ‘Although I regularly sing and play simultaneously this is a lot more challenging, because Maxim makes higher demands on my voice than, for example, Louis Andriessen in La voce.

‘Cello and voice are completely equal. Sometimes they merge, at other times there is more counterpoint. Maxim moreover looks for the extremes, my melodic lines range from extremely high to very low. I am not a trained singer and have taken vocal lessons especially for this purpose.’

In Todesfuge, Celan describes the atrocities and death in a concentration camp. Fridman: ‘Very moving, every time I practice this it makes me want to cry.’ Yet she is not afraid of being overwhelmed by her emotions during the concert. ‘I have lived with this piece for months now, I get up with it and go to bed with it, it grows inside me.’

‘It is precisely because of my personal involvement that I can get the message across even more forcefully. ‘I find this the most attractive in making music: communicating with my audience.’

PS On 26 April only the first five movements were performed. On Sunday 9 September the integral cycle will be premièred in MerkAz at 2 pm.

Maya Fridman plays La voce Louis Andriessen

About Thea Derks

I am a Dutch music journalist, specializing in contemporary music, and a champion of women composers. In 2014 I wrote the biography of Reinbert de Leeuw (3rd edition in 2020) and in 2018 I published 'Een os op het dak: moderne muziek na 1900 in vogelvlucht'.
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8 Responses to Cellist Maya Fridman: ‘The best thing about making music is communicating with my audience’.

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