Musician Profiles: Will and Jo Preece
Preece Party of Four: Mina, Jo, Hugo, and Will
GRSMA’s membership has always included a number of married couples. Get to know the Preece family through the following questions (which includes a secret one whose responses are only now being revealed to cellist Will and violinist Jo).
GRSMA: What led you to a career in music?
WILL: I began playing cello when I was a young child, but I don't think I considered music as a career until I was in high school. I ended up seeing a string of amazing concerts that made me really excited about the cello. Eventually I couldn't picture doing anything else.
JO: Honestly, it was the generous scholarship I was awarded by the MSU School of Music, which launched my musical trajectory. Go green!
GRSMA: Where did you grow up, and were you part of a musical family?
JO: This is a complicated question for me. I lived in Korea until I was 10 years old. Yes, South Korea. Just after my 10th birthday, I joined my adopted American family in Michigan. So, I am a product of both of these cultures. I didn’t have any family members in Korea or in the States who were musical but, luckily for me, they both valued music enough to have me start learning music and let me continue. A true example of how music is a universal language, able to carry a child through cultures.
WILL: I was born and raised in Urbana, Illinois — the University there has a fantastic concert hall, and the greatest musicians and orchestras in the world would come to play there. My parents aren't professional musicians, but have always loved music, and started me and my older sister in lessons as kids. My sister is a violist, so I was always following in her footsteps.
GRSMA: Do you have a favorite composer or orchestral piece?
JO: I was born on December 16th. So was Beethoven! I do feel a special kinship with him. One of my favorite pieces is the 'Mysteries of the Macabre' by György Ligeti. What colorful cacophony!
WILL: Probably Mahler's 9th Symphony. I also really love playing any music that I've never played before.
GRSMA: Do you recall when you decided to make music your profession? Who are among your musical mentors and heroes?
WILL: The first musician I idolized was the jazz saxophonist John Coltrane, and the first cello recording I ever bought was by Pablo Casals. I would sit and listen to those CDs over and over, rewinding to hear my favorite passages. They are still two of my favorite artists.
JO: The moment I won my first orchestral job with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra in 2004, I realized I could make music-making my profession. Everything leading into that moment was driven by hope. Two of my current musical crushes are soprano and conductor Barbara Hannigan (she is a powerhouse of musical interpretation like no other) and pianist Kirill Gerstein (he has such an amazing mind, for both music and non-musical topics such as architecture and aesthetics).
GRSMA: Tell us about your most memorable moments from GRS concerts.
JO: Last March (2022), we performed all five of the Beethoven Piano Concertos with Kirill Gerstein. You got it -- performing some of my favorite repertoire, written by my birthday twin, with my musical crush. Dreams do come true!
WILL: I really loved some of the concerts we performed as part of ArtPrize - we got to play a really wide range of new music in fun venues (including the blue bridge) for audiences that may have never heard us before.
GRSMA: If you weren't an orchestral musician, what career path would you have taken?
JO: I ponder this topic quite often. I am interested in many things, especially topics that are tangible like the visual arts and horticulture. I think this is because music is not. But, if I had a career change now, I’d choose cognitive neuroscience. I am fascinated by how we learn -- the process of taking in and executing new information.
WILL: I would love to open a brewery.
(We decided to give Will and Jo a secret question about each other, for which GRSMA gives them a round of applause for their spot-on responses!)
GRSMA: Will, what would you say is Jo's favorite place in Grand Rapids?
WILL: Her garden - every spring she loves to dig in the dirt and nurture new life after the long winter.
GRSMA: So, where is your favorite place in Grand Rapids, Will?
WILL: Probably Reeds Lake - I love jogging around the lake, kayaking, or watching the boats sailing. Although there are some breweries that are high on my list of favorite places as well.
GRSMA: Jo, what would you say is Will's favorite place in Grand Rapids?
JO: I think he’d think I would say a brewery - Speciation, Vivant, Arvon, etc. But personally I think that it’s Reeds Lake. He loves to watch the sailboats at dusk from shore or on the water, while floating on his kayak.
GRSMA: So, Jo, where is your favorite place in Grand Rapids?
JO: That’s a tough-y. I have several but, at the end of the day, the place I like to spend the most of my time as it fills my spirit is in my very own garden, just playing in the dirt.
GRSMA: What are your hobbies or interests?
WILL: Spending time with my wife, our kids and our dog; reading, food, beer, coffee, travel, woodworking, camping, and listening to music. I'm also hoping to learn to sail this summer. (Aloha: Hello)
JO: I love making paper art. I have used this hobby to make wedding invitations for family and friends and donate my work to different charities. I also love gardening and learning about how to live more green. I am intrigued by how to preserve foods, get giddy when I discover new master crafters like Andrea Cayetano-Jefferson who is a Gullah sweetgrass basket weaver, and take pride in cultivating my ‘village’ in this modern world.
GRSMA: What would you say is the most rewarding part of being in the Grand Rapids Symphony?
WILL: I've been lucky to find great friends among my colleagues in the orchestra, and to get to make music with them every week is a great joy. I also especially relish the fact that I get to share the stage with my wife.
JO: I’m sure you’ve heard this quote before, “Always perform your best because tonight is someone’s first time and someone else’s last time of coming to experience the symphony.” I get to come to work and be a part of their first and/or last. How fulfilling is that?
GRSMA: Is there a GRS concert that you look forward to the most this season?
WILL: It definitely was this month's Classical series concert with cello soloist Andrei Ioniță. He performed Shostakovich's cello concerto magnificently, and I really enjoyed his playing when he was here a few years ago as well.
JO: There are many, but one in particular piques my interest: the Gaurav Mazumdar’s Sitar Concerto in April, performing the work with the composer himself. Not only is this a world premiere, but it is my first experience performing with sitar!