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Cellist David Starkweather reflects on 40 years at UGA

Jake Strickland

David Starkweather is the professor of cello in the University of Georgia’s Hugh Hodgson School of Music, housed within the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, where he has been a faculty member since 1983. In this interview, Starkweather discusses the role that cello has played in his life and how he uses technology to unlock centuries-old musical mysteries.

How did you become interested in the cello?

I started playing in the fourth grade. My school had just started a string program, and by the sixth grade I was the only one playing cello. I started taking private lessons, but I wasn’t really thinking about it being a potential career until my freshman year of college at University of California, Davis. I won the campus concerto competition that fall, which surprised me, and the following spring I did a full-hour recital. That’s when I began applying to conservatories and was accepted at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.

During that time, I participated in different summer programs—I think it’s critically important for budding musicians to be involved in their work during the summer—and I also had the chance to meet Bernard Greenhouse, a celebrated cellist. He was a wonderful mentor and a great guiding force for me. I also had the chance to study with Pierre Fournier, another celebrated cellist, for a period of six months in Switzerland. These were just a few of the experiences that molded me as a cellist.

Can you talk about the particular cello you play?

I’ve played my current cello since I was a student at Eastman in 1975. I’d made a couple trips to New York City to find a good cello, and I fell in love with this one instantly. It was originally crafted around 1840. It was made in Paris by the premiere French cello maker, Jean Baptist Vuillaume, and brought over from England when I found it. It’s still in beautiful condition, and I’ve been extremely lucky to have such a superb instrument.

What are some of the biggest changes you have seen on campus since joining the Hugh Hodgson School of Music in 1983?

The most dramatic change was the construction of the School of Music building on River Road in 1996. My previous office had been converted from a dormitory room in Joe Brown Hall. It had a nice high ceiling but an air conditioner in the window, which made it difficult for teaching music. The new building really changed everything for us. The School of Music was also much smaller in terms of faculty. We had maybe 32 faculty members then. Now we have more than double that. Everything has grown, including the number of students enrolled, and it’s been very rewarding to be a part of it.

You are internationally known as a consummate interpreter of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Six Suites for Violoncello Solo.” What inspired you to pursue this work? 

I think it came from my first teacher, Richard Anastasio, who loved Bach’s music. He taught me from an early age an interpretational approach to Bach so that I felt comfortable with the style.

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Image: Hodgson School of Music professor of Cello David Starkweather


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