Cellist Meeka Quan DiLorenzo. Photo by James Hold/Seattle Symphony.

Meeka Quan DiLorenzo, associate principal cellist for the Seattle Symphony, is passionate about making music accessible for all – especially after the pandemic.

“The Covid-19 pandemic changed everything,” DiLorenzo said. “It changed our industry, it changed the way I think about my profession, and it changed me personally.”

“I remember in March 2020, my social media feed was suddenly exploding with people in the performing arts making videos, and performing for people the only way they could through a computer screen,” DiLorenzo continued. “I always knew that we are inherently social beings, but when we were all forced into our households and little bubbles, it struck me how quickly we became starved of community.”

But at first, DiLorenzo had mixed feelings about these new strategies of connecting.  “I struggled to feel relevant,” she said. “My profession forced me home, and it confirmed some of my worst thinking: that as a performing artist, I’m unessential.”

During the pandemic she felt disconnected from the necessity of music. “The essential workers were out there, treating the sick and dying, first-responding, checking me out at the grocery store,” she recounted. “And what was I doing? I was home, afraid for my high-risk husband, and going on never-ending walks with my then 12-year-old, who had just had his middle school career ended for good.”

After putting her cello away for the first month of the pandemic, DiLorenzo posed a question on Facebook. “I asked professional musicians if they were practicing, if they were playing, why, and for whom,” she said. “Hundreds of people answered.”

Many respondents had, like DiLorenzo, put down their instruments and taken up new activities, but others dove into music even more deeply. “Some folks were rediscovering childhood repertoire and enjoying the freedom of exploring their instrument without the pressure of performing,” DiLorenzo said. “Some picked up different instruments than they had trained on. One couple took to playing on their balcony so their neighbors could enjoy.”

Eventually, the Seattle Symphony gathered again for “audience-less” performances.  “No one could come to Benaroya Hall, but many could affordably stream our content directly to their homes,” DiLorenzo said. “It made me proud of how the organization pivoted quickly to fulfill our mission statement.”

And just like that, DiLorenzo came full circle back to her passion for accessibility.  “Although we missed our audience,” she said, “we were now more accessible than ever to certain demographics.”

Now, the cellist has several performances lined up this spring.  On May 5, DiLorenzo will join the Bellingham Symphony Orchestra for The Dream of America, and will be featured during Tan Dun’s Crouching Tiger Concerto

The Bellingham Symphony Orchestra is led by Music Director Yaniv Attar and is the Resident Orchestra of Mount Baker Theatre. “Yaniv is a wonderful artist and conductor and he has really innovative programming ideas,” DiLorenzo said. “I’m honored that he asked me to participate in The Dream of America concert.”

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was a formative memory for DiLorenzo. “I grew up watching Kung Fu movies with my father, and even as a kid I knew that we were watching something that mainstream America wasn’t really interested in,” she said. “The idea that a movie all in Chinese, with an all-Chinese cast, would become such a smash hit and win four Oscars just blew me away.”

One of these Oscars was awarded to Tan Dun for Best Original Score. “Yo-Yo Ma had been a childhood hero of mine, and the fact that there he was, performing on the soundtrack of this movie, made it especially meaningful to me,” DiLorenzo said. “For this performance, I, of course, had to re-watch the movie.” 

And she had to prepare by “unlearning” some of her classical training on the cello. “I also spent a lot of time listening to the erhu, which is a Chinese instrument that is bowed and held much like a cello,” she described. “The sounds are so rich and varied, and very different from any Western instrument. The pitches are ‘bent’ and the shifting is more glissando with a ‘slide until you get there’ approach.”

Following the Bellingham concert, DiLorenzo will play in two upcoming performances for the Seattle Symphony: From Dvorák to Benshoof on May 7, and From Mendelssohn to Milhaud on June 18.  “Chamber music is also something that is near and dear to my heart,” she said. “I’ve played so many cello ensemble concerts that I have almost as many cello puns as viola jokes.”

These two programs feature Dvorak’s American quartet and Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio, neither of which DiLorenzo has played since high school.  “Relearning pieces from my youth is always a humbling experience,” she said. “I think to myself, well, this should be easier than it was when I was sixteen, but then I realize that it’s hard at 42, but for different reasons!” 

Either way, DiLorenzo expects all of these performances to be quite a “Cello-bration.”

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