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."