December 9, 2019
Get to Know Erik Wheeler
Minnesota Orchestra member since: January 2019
Hometown: Houston, TX
Education: Rice University; The Juilliard School
Are you part of a musical family?
Yes, my mother is a violinist for the Houston Ballet and Houston Grand Opera, and my father is a violist—he was actually a member of the Minnesota Orchestra for a few years in the early 1970s, and now teaches at the University of Houston. My brother, always the rebel, is a very talented jazz/alt-rock drummer.
Tell us about one of your favorite musical memories.
One of my favorite performances was as principal cellist for the Rice University orchestra in a concert at Carnegie Hall. The orchestra had prepared intensely for that program, and we started with Smetana’s Bartered Bride Overture, a notoriously difficult and virtuosic piece for orchestra. The orchestra immediately felt locked in, and the excitement of the moment combined with the unrivaled acoustics of Carnegie Hall made it a particularly memorable and unified performance.
What have been some standout experiences you’ve had since joining the Minnesota Orchestra?
I’ve had a couple of interesting experiences in pops shows. In my second or third week with the Orchestra, Kristin Chenoweth came over and basically sat on my lap while I was trying to play, then came over and had a conversation with me in between songs in front of the sold-out crowd, and continued to shoot me flirty glances throughout the show. Then, when Igudesman and Joo came a few months ago, they had a piece that required several musicians to come to the front of the stage and do Irish dancing while playing. Being the youngest member of the cello section, I was volunteered by my colleagues. Dancing with a cello is, as you can imagine, quite difficult. Luckily, I only had to play open strings—my left hand was too busy holding the cello up to do much else!
Is there anything on the Minnesota Orchestra’s current season that you are particularly excited about?
There are so many exciting things coming up to choose from! I think that Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, which has one of the most epic endings of any piece of music, will be a highlight, as will Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, which is one of the most gorgeous and transcendent pieces ever written. Playing Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony with Music Director Osmo Vänskä for our Midwest tour in January will also be a lot of fun, as he is known for his interpretations of Sibelius.
What is currently on your music stand?
At the time I’m writing this, I am preparing for a program that is part of The Musical Offering chamber music series, for which I will be playing the Nikolai Kapustin Trio for piano, flute and cello (a great jazzy piece) and Brahms’ Serenade No. 1 for nonet. I also like to keep up with technical exercises (scales, arpeggios, double stops, shifting exercises, bow exercises, etc.), and I like to almost always be playing something from the Bach cello suites, the importance of which was emphasized by my father as I grew up.
What piece of music have you never played but would really love to perform?
I would love to have an opportunity to perform Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, Resurrection—from the ominous cello/bass passage in the opening to the glorious ending that utilizes the full forces of the orchestra along with a large chorus—it seems like it would be a life-changing piece to perform. I also would love to perform Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, although it may be nerve-wracking to try to avoid coming in wrong with all the meter changes!
What is your favorite Minnesota food/drink or activity?
I love going to all the great local breweries and bars. Surly is a personal favorite. Also, Erich Rieppel, our principal timpanist, has gotten into the habit of seeking out interesting bands playing around town at local music venues and bars, and I’ve had a great time going to some of those concerts.
What else should we know about you?
I am a huge fan of the NBA, particularly my hometown team, the Houston Rockets. I also enjoy somatic disciplines like Alexander Technique and the Feldenkrais Method, which I find very useful in maintaining body awareness and coordinated movement and posture through some of the more physically taxing weeks that we have at the Orchestra. I’ve also recently started collecting and sampling different fragrances. I find that one’s sense of smell is such an interesting and subjective thing that is tied very strongly to different memories and experiences, and I’ve developed a great appreciation for perfumery as an art form.
If you could share one tip for someone attending a Minnesota Orchestra concert, what would it be?
Stay open! A helpful frame through which to view what is happening on stage is: What is being communicated through this music? Music is about creating enriching experiences and communicating something; each composer has his or her own language to do this, and each can be appreciated on its own terms. There is something for everyone here!