Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Marian Robertson Wilson's dad got her playing the cello at age 10.

As the daughter of famed Utah composer Leroy Robertson, Marian Robertson Wilson grew up playing the piano.

"Then, when I was 10 years old," Wilson said, "my little sister Karen was born. The day after she was born, Father came home with a half-size cello and said, 'Now Marian, I really bought this cello for your newborn baby sister, but since she's too little to play it, you'd better play it until she grows into it.' "

That was the start of a career path for Wilson, who grew up to be a cellist with the Utah Symphony. And her father eventually wrote her a cello concerto. (Her sister Karen had "bigger" ambitions, which led her to play the bass.)

Wilson recalled that it was in 1950, the year she went to study in France on a Fulbright grant, that her father first told her he was going to write a cello concerto. "When I came back in 1951, he had the first movement composed for me to start to work on."

The concerto was finished in 1954 but didn't premiere until two years later. "Zara Nelsova was chosen to give the first public performance. But before that time, Father had me make a recording with Gladys Gladstone for Zara to study so that she could get an idea of the concerto and the tempo and what to do with it. Then when it came time for the premiere, before Zara got here, I was the first rehearsal cellist to sit down and play it in rehearsal with the Utah Symphony."

Those days, Wilson recalled, were "homey and lovely."

When Nelsova came, she stayed at the home of Wilson's Aunt Wanda, who was a professor at the University of Utah. "She had a lovely home in Holladay," said Wilson, "and Zara stayed out there where she could practice and not be bothered all day long. And she loved to go for walks in the mountains out there."

Later, Wilson became a scholarship student of Nelsova. "She took me to San Francisco and Aspen, elsewhere. She became like a big sister to me, as well as being one of the best teachers I ever had."

After the premiere performance, Wilson said she had opportunities to perform the concerto herself — at UCLA, at Los Angeles State College and the University of Utah. But the last time the concerto was performed with an orchestra was in the 1960s — roughly 40 years ago.

This got the attention of Brigham Young University cello professor Julie Bevan. "I had a friend," Bevan said, "who was reading the biography that Marian Robertson Wilson wrote about her father, and told me that he'd written a cello concerto, which I had never known before. When I found out he'd written a cello concerto, I thought that it would make a wonderful project to revive it."

So Bevan spearheaded the endeavor, arranging for a performance with the BYU Philharmonic, and for a recording to be made with Tantara Records. "A major Utah composer, and a cellist who was born and raised in Utah — I thought it seemed fitting," Bevan said.

She has worked with Wilson, garnering suggestions and directions that were penciled in the original score in the composer's own hand. She's also had a chance to listen to a (non-commercial) recording made of Nelsova's performance so long ago.

"I'm really enjoying the piece," Bevan said. "I think it's a really interesting piece, a good piece written well for the cello."

BYU professor Kory Katseanes, who will be conducting, said that he's excited to participate in a "re-discovery" of this work. "It's an interesting concerto. I think it's idiomatic for Robertson and for the period of time that it was written, so audiences need to kind of understand that sound of American contemporary music of the late '50s.

"It isn't a traditional form. It's through-composed, so you won't hear themes returning, except for the last movement, which is somewhat thematic. The outer movements are quick and — the last movement, especially — lively, but the central movement, the middle movement, is very beautiful, very lyrical."

The rest of the program will include the prelude to Wagner's "Meistersinger" and Mahler's Symphony No. 1.

If you go

What: Leroy Robertson Concerto

Where: de Jong Concert Hall, Brigham Young University, Provo

When: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.

How much: $6-$9

Phone: 801-422-4322

Web: www.artstix.byu.edu


E-mail: [email protected]