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Renowned Cellist Offers Masterclass for Strings Students


Dressed in black, Zuill Bailey plays his cello

Cellist Zuill Bailey plays music during his masterclass with Ravenscroft strings students.

On Thursday, Oct. 26, Ravenscroft Fine Arts hosted internationally renowned cellist Zuill Bailey for a masterclass with distinguished strings students from the Middle School and Upper School, with numerous other classes from those divisions invited to observe.

Bailey is a Grammy Award-winning soloist, recitalist, artistic director and teacher and has been featured with symphony orchestras and music festivals worldwide. He is in town for a Chamber Music Raleigh performance with pianist Natasha Paremski at the North Carolina Executive Mansion in Raleigh on Friday, Oct. 27. The visit to Ravenscroft was part of the organization’s outreach efforts that connect students with world-class musicians.

“We had an amazing time with Mr. Bailey!” Ravenscroft Strings Director Pamela Kelly said. “I was so impressed by the curiosity and interest expressed by our greater Middle and Upper School community. In addition to observers from my strings classes, we had Rachel Breazeale’s Advanced Spanish II class and Mark Laskowski’s Honors Seminar in Music and Society. At any time, we had up to 60 observers!” 

The eight students selected to work with Bailey — Xavier Rivera ’28, Karolyna Huntanar ’27, Rainy Ye ’27, Cashier Brooks ’26, Sam Caplan ’26, Benya Wilfret ’25, Michael Zheng ’25 and Kylie Scott ’24 — are enrolled in Ravenscroft’s strings program, and most of them are engaged in the school’s private lessons as well. In addition to Kelly, that faculty includes Anne Leyland, Nate Leyland and Lower School strings teacher Tasi Matthews. 

“These students reflect some of our best musical talent on campus,” Kelly said. “They also represent Ravenscroft off campus in such musical organizations as the North Carolina Chamber Music Institute, Triangle Youth Philharmonic and Raleigh Community Orchestra and have been honored with participation in the Junior Eastern Regional Orchestra, Eastern Regional Orchestra and N.C. Honors Orchestra.”

In addition to hearing about Bailey’s work and his insights on everything from technique to discipline, each of the students enjoyed the opportunity to perform for him during his visit. 

At top: Bailey, at center, with Karolyna Huntanar ’27, Michael Zheng ’25, Cashier Brooks ’26, Xavier Rivera ’28, Sam Caplan ’26, Pamela Kelly, Rainy Ye ’27 and Kylie Scott ’24. At bottom: Bailey works with Rainy (left) and Sam.

“In the time I spent playing for Mr. Bailey and observing the others in the masterclass, I learned so much about how to find my own musical voice through experimentation with phrasings. While the more technical aspects of sophisticated solo works are certainly daunting at first, the real magic happens when you immerse yourself not in a sheet of music, but in the art of performance as a whole,” Kylie said of the experience. “It was truly an honor to even be in the presence of such a skilled and respected musician as Mr. Bailey.”

“I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity to learn from such an amazing musician,” Xavier said. “The experience of participating in the masterclass and listening to others gave me many ways to improve my playing and practice.”

“From start to finish, Mr. Bailey worked creatively with the students in his direct but personable style, with the goal of helping them think outside the box in order to expand their musicianship,” Kelly added.

Bailey received a bachelor’s degree from the Peabody Conservatory, which in 2014 named him a Johns Hopkins University Distinguished Alumni, and a master’s degree from the Juilliard School. He is the Artistic Director of El Paso Pro-Musica (Texas), the Sitka Summer Music Festival/Series and Cello Seminar (Alaska), Juneau Jazz and Classics (Alaska), the Northwest Bach Festival (Washington) and Classical Inside Out Series - Mesa Arts Center (Arizona). He is also Director of the Center for Arts Entrepreneurship and Professor of Cello at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Bailey won the 2017 Best Solo Performance Grammy Award for his recording, with the Nashville Symphony, of Michael Daugherty’s “Tales of Hemingway.” His extensive discography includes his newest release: the world-premiere recording of Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s Cello Concerto with the Santa Rosa Symphony. He has been heard on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” “Tiny Desk Concert,” “Performance Today,” “Saint Paul Sunday” and BBC’s “In Tune.” 

“Ravenscroft is proud to host world-class artists like Zuill Bailey who show our students what it means to work and thrive in a career in the arts,” Director of Fine Arts David McChesney said. “It also reminds us that we’re part of a larger community of musicians and visual artists that grows through collaboration such as this.”

“The masterclass was phenomenal, and the students are floating on air,” Anne Leyland concluded. “It was an experience they will carry with them forever!”