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The Making of a Cellist: Hanover High Grad Daniel Lelchuk Wins a Spot With Symphony

  • Daniel Lelchuk is assistant principal cellist with the Louisiana Philharmonic. Courtesy photos

    Daniel Lelchuk is assistant principal cellist with the Louisiana Philharmonic. Courtesy photos

  • Daniel Lelchuk, 4, with his first cello in March 1993. (Family photograph)

    Daniel Lelchuk, 4, with his first cello in March 1993. (Family photograph)

  • Daniel Lelchuk is assistant principal cellist with the Louisiana Philharmonic. Courtesy photos
  • Daniel Lelchuk, 4, with his first cello in March 1993. (Family photograph)

When Daniel Lelchuk was 2 years old, his mom took him to Norwich’s Montshire Museum to see an exhibit on sound. A cellist was there, asking the assembled kids to put their hand on the instrument’s wood and feel its vibrations.

As Barbara Kreiger remembers it, the children filed through, getting a tactile sense of a cello’s sound. When it was Daniel’s turn, he didn’t bother with his hand — he pressed his cheek to the wood.

“That, apparently, I found quite enticing,” Lelchuk said.

A couple of years later, Lelchuk started learning cello. And just two decades after that, he was named assistant principal cellist for the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.

The 2007 Hanover High School graduate, now 24 years old, auditioned for the role — the second-highest ranked cellist of the orchestra’s seven — toward the end of September, and found that he’d gotten the part that day. It’s his first major full-time orchestral job.

The audition itself was a test of Lelchuk’s proficiency in the world of classical music. He sat behind a curtain, so the judges could only critique the sound, and then played short excerpts from pieces by Bach, Brahms and Beethoven. And Debussy, Mozart, Strauss and Rossini. And Verdi. And Mendelssohn.

“You have to immediately be in the world of the composer of the piece,” Lelchuk said. “The minute you open the music to a given excerpt, you have to immediately enter the world and know exactly how you plan to sound from the first note. Because to convince a committee, especially blind, that you are the person they should hire, from beginning to end it really has to be immaculate.”

Lelchuk started with the philharmonic on Oct. 29 of last year, and soon began dealing with the demanding nature of the orchestra’s weekly performances. The season lasts for 36 weeks. Next June through August, during his time off, he plans to continue playing as the principal cello at the Lake George Musical Festival in New York.

The goal, through it all, is to improve, as it has been for Lelchuk since he was 4 years old. That was when he got his first cello, an instrument one-eighth the size of the standard version. Early lessons in Hanover quickly led to higher-level ones in Amherst, Mass.

“I was instantly taken, as many kids would have been,” Lelchuk said. “I think the difference with me is that the novelty didn’t wear off.”

He grew with the instrument. When he was about 12 years old, Kreiger said, Lelchuk owned about 10 separate recordings of Bach’s cello suites, each done by a different performer, each of whom he could differentiate by the sound of the interpretation.

As he approached high school, his devotion to the cello deepened. At 13, Lelchuk began studying with Sato Knudsen of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. That lasted through high school, except for a year Lelchuk spent in Rome under the tutelage of Francesco Strano.

After leaving Hanover — he grew up there and in Canaan — Lelchuk matriculated to Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, where he became the principal cello of the school’s concert orchestra, among other roles.

Eric Kim, Lelchuk’s cello teacher for four years at the school, said he came to Indiana as an eager freshman with some issues on the instrument that had to be ironed out. They spent four years working on that, and Kim said that Lelchuk getting a performance job shortly after graduation is a “feat.”

“He really feels like it’s a good place for him right now,” Kim said.

Lelchuk received his performance diploma from the university in 2012. He then, of course, kept playing.

“I don’t think that he considered anything else,” Kreiger said. “In fact, I know he never did. In his mind, there was no question to what he was going to do.”

Last year, he co-founded the Castleton Chamber Players in Virginia, and performed at the Castleton Festival as principal cello, as he has since 2010.

And then, this September, the audition. It went for three rounds, with the first two behind that curtain, with some applicants weeded out as the process went on. Kim said the process was “grueling,” and one round longer than most auditions. Lelchuk said there were probably a few dozen cellists vying for the spot, and there were only four left by the final round.

“It was no surprise from a musical point of view, and it wasn’t a surprise so much as it was as shock of fulfillment that he was heard and chosen,” Kreiger said about the moment when she learned her son had won the spot.

It was the culmination of two decades of work. But for Lelchuk, it’s not an endpoint. Eventually, he’d like to be principal cello in a top-ranked orchestra. Less tangibly, he wants to just keep getting better, playing music that has spoken to him for a lifetime.

“Everybody loves classical music,” he said. “Everybody. But not everybody necessarily knows that yet. And this whole idea that unfortunately continues to be perpetuated that classical music is only for experts, or aficionados, or elitists, is absolutely 100 percent untrue.

“The music is so wonderful and so well-constructed that it speaks to everybody,” Lelchuk said. “Everybody.”

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.