The world on a string

Cellist Cicely Parnas at the Dayton Art Institute

By Gary Spencer

Photo: Cellist Cicely Parnas will perform on April 11 at the Dayton Art Institute; photo: Christian Steiner

It’s sometimes been said many young adults have wisdom beyond their years. In the case of cellist Cicely Parnas, this young musician seems to have had the skills to pay the bills beyond her mere 21 years of age. Parnas began playing the cello at the ripe age of only four years old and her career path as a classical musician blossomed at a comparably fast pace as well. Following in the footsteps of her grandfather Leslie Parnas, a world-renowned cello player, Cicely has accomplished more in her 21 years on this planet than a lot of classical players do in an entire lifetime. She has played as a featured soloist all over the globe and this coming Friday, Parnas will be making her Dayton debut performing as part of the Vanguard Concert Series at the Dayton Art Institute. I recently spoke with Parnas about her remarkable career thus far. Here’s what she had to say about her amazing journey as a young cellist with the world at her fingertips.

Tell me about your background in classical music. What encouraged you to have an interest in classical music and become a musician of this genre? 

I began playing the cello when I was four years old. My parents thought it an essential part of a liberal arts education, and thus began the saga that has led me here! My grandfather, Leslie, is also a cellist and has certainly been an influential figure in my life. – Cicely Parnas

What are some of the most memorable moments of your young career?

My Carnegie Hall debut was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. Jaime Laredo, whom I’ve known since I was quite small, conducted an orchestra made up of students as part of the New York String Orchestra Seminar, and many of the orchestra members were friends of mine from my time at Indiana University. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was suffering terribly from mono and was popping ibuprofen before going out on stage! Nevertheless, I’ve never played as fun or fulfilling a performance before. – CP

For the concert at Dayton Art Institute, will you be performing strictly solo or will you have accompaniment? What pieces have you chosen for performance and why?

I will be performing a mix of solo and with piano. My pianist is Noreen Polera, and she is absolutely fantastic. First on the program is a Debussy Sonata, a lovely three-movement work, followed by the fifth movement from [Olivier] Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. It is breathtakingly beautiful and poignant. Last on the first half is a solo piece by Spanish composer [Gaspar] Cassadó. This piece is a dance all the way through, and I love how these three pieces fit together. Beginning the second half is the other solo work, “From the Zodiac,” composed this year by Peter John. Contemplative, passionate, experimental and crazy, it is sure to catch the audience’s attention. Finally, the program will close with [Johannes] Brahms’ Sonata No. 2 in F major, beloved by many a concert-goer. – CP

Last year you performed at the 2013 Young Concert Artists festivals in Tokyo and Beijing. What was it like being able to perform internationally? 

I had never been to either country and was prepared for anything. In Japan, the audiences are expected to be perfectly silent during the performance; they are also lovely people and very appreciative. China was a different story. The audiences were quite raucous, and in fact the ushers spent their time running around telling people to be quiet! All around it was an incredible experience for which I’m so grateful to YCA. – CP

You’ve accomplished a lot with your cello-playing at a relatively young age. Are people surprised at your achievements and playing skill given your young age?

Honestly, it’s my job to work hard, do the best I can and make an impression on people. I suppose some people are surprised, but it’s all relative. I’m not sitting in my parents’ basement playing video games, but I’m not Steve Jobs either. – CP

So, why should our readers want to come see you perform at the Dayton Art Institute’s Vanguard Concert Series on April 11? What might you say to someone who’s never seen a live cello performance to entice them to give it a shot?

Seeing a live performance is an experience. It could be life-changing, it could be moving, it could be inspiring, or not, but nevertheless these are my goals when I perform, and anyone who’s interested in new experiences should give it a shot, if only for that reason. Also, most of the music we hear on a daily basis comes through a speaker, so hearing an acoustic performance is out of the ordinary in the 21st century. – CP

What are your plans or goals for your performing career in the future? How has a lifetime of playing the cello and pursuing a career in music affected you over the years and made you into the person you are today?

I want to be more involved in new music, particularly that involving electronics. Music has given me so much. Just the luxury of traveling for your job and seeing new places and cultures is infinitely beneficial to personal growth, but it’s also been a hard road of discipline, head-banging, tough questions, sweat, tears – no blood, thank goodness! – and a beautiful art form. We’ll see what else it has in store for me. – CP

Cellist Cicely Parnas will perform as part of the Vanguard Concert Series at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 11 at the Dayton Art Institute’s NCR Renaissance Auditorium, 456 Belmont Park N. in Dayton. Tickets are $20 in advance for adults, $15 for students. For more information please visit 

Reach DCP freelance writer Gary Spencer at

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Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at

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