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WRTI is proud to partner with Astral to present members of its outstanding roster of rising classical talent in this new video series. Hosted by WRTI producer Susan Lewis and recorded live in WRTI's performance studio, these programs are "performance portraits" that capture the range and ingenuity of these exceptional artists.

WRTI Presents ASTRAL: Cellist Thomas Mesa

Thomas Mesa
Cuban-American cellist Thomas Mesa is on the Astral roster.

Growing up in Miami, Florida, Thomas Mesa dreamed of playing the drums, then unexpectedly fell in love with the (nearly human) sound of the cello. As part of our video series, WRTI Presents Astral, this Cuban-American Astral Artist recently visited the WRTI Performance Studio and played three works that use the cello’s unique voice to respond to the pandemic and social turmoil.

You can hear in the music the range of emotions arising from the isolation of the lockdown: the frustration, loneliness, and yet, a sense of hope. “I wanted to have composers have an outlet to express what they were going through,” says Thomas, who commissioned each of these works during the first months of the pandemic.

The session kicks off with an excerpt from Stephanie Ann Boyd’s Alleluia Olora. “I love it because it's such a reflection of her experience. It’s tumultuous and very expressive, inward, and frustrated. At the end there is a very real depiction of a robin singing on a rooftop.”

The next work, Silence, by Carlos Simon, reflects the angst and sense of helplessness many felt in the face of the racial and social turmoil. “He felt he was unable to say anything,” says Thomas, “and that frustration, that pent up anger came out in this piece.”

Thomas says he enjoys playing the traditional classical repertoire, but also craves “the fresh and the new,” music that has "a deeper purpose." He’s drawn to commissioning works that capture the emotions of the time. “There are so many things happening in the world; we’re going to react to those things,” he says. “How can we capture those emotions and how can that help others in feeling more empathy?”

The program ends with a tender and evocative piece, Seven, by Andrea Casarrubios, written as a tribute to essential workers and those who died during the pandemic. Listen for the seven bell-like sounds at the end, recalling the hour New Yorkers came to their windows to honor and applaud their fellow citizens who served others.

Learn more about Thomas Mesa. 

Astral is a Philadelphia-based, nonprofit intensive mentoring program that specializes in developing the early careers of extraordinary classical musicians.

As senior producer of arts and culture, Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and producer of The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series, to which she also contributes weekly intermission interviews. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.