2007 Spotlight Award: Joshua Roman

Gifted Seattle Symphony principal cellist Joshua Roman thinks outside the music hall.

It's common knowledge that Seattleites rarely bother to dress up for anything, not even the symphony. But retirees in jeans and Tevas are nothing compared to the unorthodox audience at a recent Sunday afternoon concert at Benaroya Hall.

Five minutes before start time, a young woman wearing a tube top tapped furiously at her BlackBerry. A second later, the usher scolded a shaggy-haired 30-something for resting his feet on the seats. And at the last minute, a trio of giggling teenagers slipped in for the show. Credit the unconventional symphony crowd to the afternoon's soloist, 23-year-old Joshua Roman, one of the youngest principal cellists in Seattle Symphony's history–and the closest thing Benaroya's got to a rock star.

Everyone seems to be talking about the self-assured, slightly impish new kid in town, already a local media darling, who debuted at the beginning of the symphony's '06–'07 season. Part of his appeal—besides heartbreaking talent and hard-to-miss floppy hair—is his insistence on breaking down boundaries traditionally assigned to classical music. Since his sold-out solo concert debut last March at Town Hall, the Oklahoma native (who received his bachelor's and master's degrees at the Cleveland Institute of Music) has played everywhere from a rock venue (Neumos) to nightclubs (See Sound Lounge, Havana) and has collaborated onstage with the likes of cabaret singer/actress Sarah Rudinoff; a collaboration with local kings of hip-hop Blue Scholars is in the works. Plans for his first solo CD are still in the works, but he hopes to record his favorite solo music–the Bach Suites–on a small indie label.

 "Great music doesn't really have boundaries," he says, citing Sufjan Stevens and Radiohead as examples of musicians who aren't easily classified. "I think that indie music is a place where that's very true, and it has great potential for classical music."

Heading into his sophomore season, there's no telling where Roman might pop up. But whether playing in a concert hall or a nightclub—to audience members wearing tuxedos or tube tops—he's just happy to be sharing his passion (the financially unstable Seattle Symphony is probably happy too).

"It's fun to dress up for a gala or something, but the music doesn't always need that," he says. "It's already awesome."

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