Lisa Bressler, cello, has been performing with the Madison Symphony Orchestra since 2009. This Q&A is part of our Home Is Where the Art Is series of artist stories featuring our musicians.
When did you first start playing your musical instrument?
I started playing the cello in fourth grade, at the age of nine. I was already playing the piano for a couple of years prior to that
What stories come to mind that led to your choice to make music a focus in your life?
My mother was half of the duo piano team of Appleton & Field. I still vividly remember lying under the pianos as they rehearsed. I also remember going to the airport and/or the train station to pick her up when she came home from a tour (my dad drove!). All of these memories were from when I was five or younger but they have stayed with me all this time. Being from a musical family there never was any question that I would continue the tradition.
Who was most influential in shaping your talent and inspiring your passion for music and your instrument?
Undoubtedly my mother! Between going to her concerts when I was old enough to and then having the good fortune of her world class artistry to collaborate with I was very blessed. We played recitals together until she was 82.
What was the most important lesson you learned from a teacher or mentor?
From my teacher Harvey Shapiro I learned the importance of the use of the bow, which I try to pass on to my own students. From the great conductor/teacher Harold Farberman I learned how to pay attention to the details in anything I play, from phrasing to articulation to how to convey what the composer wanted, whether in solo, chamber, or orchestral music.
Describe the things you do to warm up before rehearsal.
I usually start out with long tones on the open strings, then adding a four octave scale (usually D major!) with different bowings, gradually increasing in speed.
What are your routines leading up to a concert performance?
In Madison I have a cup of coffee before heading onstage, where I’ll either warm up as described above or cram on those pesky passages that demand extra attention!
What is special about playing with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, John DeMain, and performing with your colleagues?
Playing with a full string section makes the entire experience of playing in an orchestra a special treat. Of the four orchestras I am a member of only two of them employ the use of full strings (16 first violins, 12 second violins, 12 violas, 10 cellos, 8 basses). The strings don’t have to force to be heard over the winds, brass, and percussion, and the entire sound if fuller and more lush. To add to that our cello section consists of such fine players who are also really nice people.
Tell us about what you most love to do outside of your career as a musician.
I have always loved horses (without owning one) and am a big fan of thoroughbred racing, particularly in Australia and Hong Kong. I was able to visit Australia in 2018 to witness the mighty mare Winx make history by winning her fourth Cox Plate, as well as visit Living Legends, a wonderful place where former stars of the Australian turf now spend their retirements. I also got to see other things in Australia and hope to be able to go back as soon as it is safe to do so. I am also a lifelong cat lover and these enforced weeks off have given me more time to hang with my two Devon Rex girls Lady Gaga and Pink.
What do your daily or weekly routines look like these days?
I have a few students who are continuing their lessons online and it is nice to see them making progress. Otherwise, I must admit to not being as motivated as I anticipated being when this all began. Once a week a foray out for groceries, as well as making sure my car still works. It’s pleasant and scary at the same time. Now that the weather is nicer, I try to incorporate a daily walk into my routine.