By Jerome Langston
Chatting with violinist Randall Goosby while he is navigating the streets of Memphis, Tennessee, a city that he spent most of his formative years growing up in, is rather interesting—even including the initial, slightly awkward portion… because Goosby seems significantly older than what his calendar years would naturally suggest. Perhaps that’s part of the benefit of an immersive level music education, which his parents provided him and his two younger siblings with, at a very young age. “Neither of my parents were trained musicians, but my mother saw, through her own personal experiences, the value of music education…” he says, early on in our conversation.
The violin was Goosby’s instrument of choice as a kid, and with help from the Suzuki Method, which he studied while taking violin lessons back in Jacksonville, Florida, prior to his family’s move to Memphis, the youngster really excelled on the instrument at a young age. As part of his origin story, Randall Goosby made his solo debut with the Jacksonville Symphony at the age of 9. The twenty-something tells me though, that he doesn’t recall much from that debut—but that playing the violin and practicing it was still just a fun thing to do at that point. “The violin was for me, what going home and watching cartoons was, for a lot of younger kids,” he says. Goosby stayed in Memphis through high school, before leaving for NYC and Julliard.
While at Julliard, he studied under the tutelage of remarkable violinists like Catherine Cho, and considers the great Itzhak Perlman to be a mentor. “I’ve studied with him, almost exclusively, for the better part of, I guess it’s 12 years at this point,” he says. He credits his time spent as a teenager with similarly talented peers on Shelter Island, as part of the Perlman Music program, for providing him with his “lightbulb moment,” that a career in classical music as a world-class violinist, was what he wanted.
Since graduating from Juilliard, Goosby has been extremely busy with major engagements, including a debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under the Gustavo Dudamel at the Hollywood Bowl, the Detroit Symphony under the dynamic Dalia Stasevska, and an appearance with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, amongst performances with many other orchestras. He’s also made many high-profile recital appearances as well, at venues like London’s Wigmore Hall and Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
Goosby signed to Decca Classics in 2020, during the time of major civil unrest and the peak months of the global pandemic that we were facing back then. The debut album entitled Roots, was released in June 2021, and features the young violinist’s frequent accompanist, pianist Zhu Wang. “Roots was, and is still—an exploration and celebration of just a tiny slice of the body of work in classical music, that was written by African-American composers,” says Goosby. Recording the music that would eventually make the album, became a therapeutic experience for the musician, who is a young man of color, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, and other challenging experiences that were happening at that time. “It was a really meaningful and healing project for me,” he adds.
Representation and changing many of the deeply held assumptions about classical music and who gets to make it and consume it, has been at the forefront of Randall’s work, since those troubling times. “I was very fortunate growing up, not to have felt the absence of black role models, and just blackness in general in classical music,” he says. “There were people that I felt represented by, that I could relate to, who were a big part… had a great deal of influence on classical music, whether they may have realized it, or not, in their lifetime.” He often cites the under-appreciated contributions of black composers like William Grant Still and Florence Price.
Next month, as part of Virginia Arts Festival programming, Randall will perform with an accompanist, pianist Anna Han, at the historic Attucks Theatre in downtown Norfolk. The work of William Grant Still, via his Suite for Violin and Piano, with its three movements inspired by the sculptural art of the Harlem Renaissance, will be performed by the duo, along with pieces by French composers, Ravel’s Violin Sonata No.2, and Lili Boulanger’s Deux Morceaux pour Violin et Piano. Along with some Beethoven, it should all make for a fun night of classical music. And considering the history of the Attucks Theatre, as well as its acoustics, Randall will likely find that it’s a perfect venue for his aesthetic.
Towards the end of our conversation, as he and Zhu head to the University of Memphis to conduct master classes, he tells me about his new album that has already been recorded, and is being mixed. They’ve recorded with Philadelphia Orchestra director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin. It will feature the music of Florence Price and Max Bruch violin concertos, and is due out in the spring. He also has a jam-packed performance schedule ahead. I ask Randall more generally, where he wants to go in his career… and he mentions the power of collaborating, but also changing how classical music is perceived. “I want to open people’s eyes, and open the doors of classical music, to so many more people.”
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Randall Goosby, violin
Presented by Virginia Arts Festival