Andrew Laven                                                                               Andrew Plaisier

 

New Cellists: A Tale of Two Andrews (Laven and Plaisier) Musician Profiles

In 2018 and 2019, two Andrews joined the Grand Rapids Symphony’s cello section. Get to know Andrew Laven and Andrew Plaisier through their musician profile feature.

 

ANDREW LAVEN

 

1) What led you to play the cello? Do you play any other instruments?

 

My dad is also a cellist, and I remember really loving the sound of the cello when I heard him play. He started me on the cello at age 4 and I started piano around the same age as well. I did both for about 7 years but eventually chose to stick with cello.

 

2) Where did you grow up, and were you part of a musical family?

 

When I started cello we were living in Houston where my mom was the piccolo player of the Houston Symphony and my Dad was assistant principal cellist of the Houston Ballet/Grand Opera. When I was 11 my mom won the piccolo position in the Boston Symphony and I spent my middle school and high school years in Wayland MA, a suburb of Boston. When people ask me where I grew up I usually say Boston because I think I associate more memories (especially musical ones) with living there.

 

3) Do you recall when you decided to make music as your profession? Who are among your musical mentors and heroes?

 

Yeah, speaking of musical memories, one strong one in particular was a concert I saw at Boston Symphony Hall of the BSO playing Mahler 2. I remember sitting there and being blown away by not only the quality of the music but also by how much fun it looked like the musicians were having onstage. They were giving their whole beings into the performance and at that moment I couldn’t imagine anything better than doing something like that for my job. As for musical heroes, there are so many but I have to go with my family for sure. My parents were always great role models and my brother is also a great bassist. If I had to add any more heroes/mentors it would be my two teachers from school, Steven Doane and Desmond Hoebig, whom I credit with pushing me to the musical level I’m at today.

 

4) Are there any memorable moments from GRS concerts so far?

 

I’ve had a lot of great experiences in GRS so far but I’d say the most memorable was actually my very first concert with the symphony back in May of 2019. I didn’t officially start until that September but I was able to sub for the last concert of the 2018-19 season where we played Brahms 2. That’s one of my favorite symphonies and I remember being filled with joy from realizing I landed in a great place.

 

5) Where did you go to school, and what adjustments have you experienced from college to professional life?

 

I did my undergrad at the Eastman School of Music and my Master’s at Rice University. Both places gave me amazing memories and I wouldn’t be here without my teachers there, but I think in the end there is only so much school can prepare you for. During my time at Rice, I did have a lot of gig work and teaching outside of school and that definitely prepared me for the kind of life I’m living now. If anything I actually have more time on my hands now that I’m not in school so I’ve actually found it to be a nice adjustment. The other thing you learn pretty quickly is that the music world is very small and if you treat people with respect it goes a long way. To that end I’m incredibly grateful that everyone in GRS has been nothing but welcoming right from day one.

 

6) If hosting out-of-town friends, what would your favorite places be in Grand Rapids to take them?

 

It depends on the friend but usually no one says no to beer so I’d take them to Founders or Brewery Vivant, two of my favorite breweries. I’m really into craft beer so I think I landed in the right city for that. Also my favorite restaurant in town is Littlebird - they have amazing food and Sarah the owner always takes care of orchestra members.

 

(Note from GRSMA: See our article about Littlebird and Sarah Wepman in GRSMA's Fall 2020 issue

 

7) Do you have a favorite composer or cello composition?

 

Bach, without a doubt. The more I listen to his cantatas the more I realize how deeply connected his music is to everything we feel as humans. You can definitely say the same about Beethoven and Mozart but for me Bach’s music has always been a place of comfort that I can go to no matter how I’m feeling. To be consistent, and maybe a little cliche, I’d say my favorite cello composition would be Bach’s Cello Suites. Aside from the emotional aspect of it, the harmonic structure of all the suites (and how it evolves as you go through them) has always kept me curious and working on them really never gets old.

 

8) What are your hobbies or interests?

 

I really enjoy hiking/camping and have been making it a point to explore some of the best natural parts of Michigan since I moved here. My grandparents used to rent a cottage near Sleeping Bear Dunes so that place has been special for me since I was a kid and I’ve gone up there a couple times to backpack. I also enjoy biking and have been realizing that Grand Rapids is a great biking city!

 

9) What would you say is the most rewarding part of being a cellist in a symphony orchestra?

 

I guess the thing that draws me in the most about playing in an orchestra is the idea that I’m a small piece of a huge puzzle and that when everyone comes together it makes something awesome. I love the challenge of really trying to hear where my part fits into the grand scheme. I think in that sense it’s extra rewarding as a cellist because sometimes you’re playing with the basses or low brass or timpani and sometimes you have the melody or counter melody with other strings or winds so it’s pretty cool to switch roles. 

 

10) Name one thing that you would say about the other Andrew!

 

I’d say I’m proud to share a name with him!

 

ANDREW PLAISIER

 

1) What led you to play the cello? Do you play any other instruments?

 

I chose the cello on instrument trial day at school because my best friend was also trying cello and we didn't end up trying anything else! I play some ukulele and piano, but just for myself.

 

2) Where did you grow up, and were you part of a musical family?

 

I grew up in Hudsonville in a house with my dad working in an office downstairs and my mom teaching violin, viola, and piano lessons. My two older sisters played violin and viola, so it was somewhat expected that I would play an instrument, but didn't start at a very young age like many musicians. Piano lessons were attempted and then given up on in Kindergarten because I was too stubborn and incorrigible, so I started playing an instrument again when school orchestra started in 4th grade.

 

3) Do you recall when you decided to make music as your profession? Who are among your musical mentors and heroes?

 

Through middle and high school, I enjoyed playing cello but spent much more of my time playing sports (baseball, soccer, tennis, swimming). I took cello lessons during summers in middle school, but in high school decided to focus on it a little more seriously and began regular lessons year round. I didn't truly decide to make music my profession until I actually won the job here in GRS. Going through school I really didn't have a clear life plan, and I spent a lot of effort just trying to keep options open since I was scared to decide on a single path. My roommate knew all along that deep down I wanted to be a musician since I was spending most of my time practicing instead of on other schoolwork, but I was always in denial. Even in grad school for music I was setting up alternate career paths. 

 

All of my cello teachers have been major influences on both my playing and me as a person. Now that I am teaching a lot, I find myself channeling different aspects of my teachers on a daily basis.

 

4) Are there any memorable moments from GRS concerts so far?

 

Now that we've had a drought from normal concerts, nearly every concert seems like a cherished memory! Most of my highlights have been the great soloists we've had play with us; the concerts with Augustin Hadelich, Andrei Ioniță, Jean-Ives Thibaudet and many others.

 

5) Where did you go to school, and what adjustments have you experienced from college to professional life?

 

I attended Calvin University for Music and Biology, and then University of Michigan for MMs in Cello and Chamber Music. The biggest adjustment to professional life has been the very open and flexible schedule. Compared to most other jobs, so much of my time is spent scheduling, but that means I also have a huge amount of flexibility and free time that requires a lot of self-motivation to accomplish things.

 

6) If hosting out-of-town friends, what would your favorite places be in Grand Rapids to take them?

 

My favorite places are the many ice cream shops around town: Jersey Junction, Furniture City Creamery, Love's Ice Cream and Chocolate.

 

7) Do you have a favorite composer or cello composition?

 

Right now I really like late Romantic and turn of the century short cello works, such as Camillo Schumann's two Cello Sonatas, Frank Bridge Four Pieces, Ralph Vaughan Williams English Folk Songs, and many of Amy Beach's chamber duo works. In my personal practice I enjoy stretching myself by working on as technically difficult of material as I can, but that usually is not for purely musical reasons!

 

8) What are your hobbies or interests?

 

I have been doing a lot of mountain biking lately, and I also enjoy lake/water sports, reading, movies, and board games.

 

9) What would you say is the most rewarding part of being a cellist in a symphony orchestra?

 

Normally I would say it is being able to play great big works that have awesome cello parts, but right now it is more the community and support that the Symphony provides itself.

 

10) Name one thing that you would say about the other Andrew!

 

He has great posture and his personality brightens the room!

 

(NOTE from GRSMA: For more about our Andrew cellists, here are links to their bios from the GRS website.)

 

Andrew Laven 

Andrew Plaisier