~ Short Bio ~
Robert Ekselman is a Juilliard-trained, Melbourne-born cellist with many years experience as a multi-faceted performer; as chamber / solo recitalist, and as orchestral musician. He has collaborated with some of the most prominent artists in Australia and Japan as well as the United States, having worked in New York City for seven years as performer, teacher and concert reviewer.
In April 2014 he performed in duo recital at Barwon Park Mansion in Winchelsea with pianist Robert Chamberlain as part of the Team of Pianists’ Rigg Bequest Series and in July 2014 Robert performed with the string ensemble La Fraternita di Solisti.
In the past two years Robert has appeared as guest performer with UK based composer / musical director Warren Wills – Best Musical, Carling London Award – as part of fundraisers for underprivileged youth in Shepparton Victoria to have the opportunity to be involved in local theatre productions. Mr. Wills has performed and composed for the Royal Shakespeare Company in London and also worked with Woody Allen in New York.
Robert's other recent notable collaborations include performing in a piano trio with Melbourne University honours performance class staff accompanist Robin Baker and former Principal Violin of Orchestra Victoria Susan Pierotti at the Monash Gallery of Art to a capacity audience in 2012, and again in 2014.
~ Academic ~
Robert is a contributing reviewer / writer to Stringendo - journal of The Australian Strings Association, the pre-eminent news publication in Australia for string instrumentalists, as well as being a forum for the discussion and exchange of ideas.
Robert is a committee member for the Victorian Friends of the Israel Philharmonic (VFIPO), a non-profit organization dedicated to sustaining the future of the Israel Philharmonic. Towards this end they have featured prominent Melbourne as well as overseas guest performers for fundraisers. He is also a board member of the Southern Cross Philharmonia.
In New York Robert worked as a music critic for Roberta Zlokower's Roberta on the Arts - an online arts column in New York City dedicated to reviews of new CD releases, and listing upcoming noteworthy events in theatre and concerts.
~ Teaching ~
Robert has taught the cello for over twenty years; from five year old beginners and eighty-nine year old beginners to tertiary level students aiming to go professional. His experience covers the public school system, as well as private schools in Melbourne. His many years of additional experience in Japan and the USA has given Robert flexibility with approach to teaching style; the key to successful teaching, he believes, is to access the students' personal needs and hone in on a musical language that the student will relate to and be motivated by, whatever innovative approach this involves on the part of the teacher.
Progress depends as much on the will to learn, as it does on chronology. It also depends on a strong supportive base - in the case of younger children - and, in time, the ability of the student to practise constructively. Many students lack a solid understanding of what effective practising actually means. Robert believes that the teacher has the responsibility to show them, and to build their self confidence in developing their own skills.
Robert has prepared students for the VCE music exam, as well as for all levels of AMEB. In 2013 he prepared students for High School Spectacular auditions as well as Melbourne Youth Music (MYM) where he has been a tutor in the cello sections of various ensembles in 2014 as well as assessing in the auditions.
Based in Melbourne since 2006, Robert maintains a private teaching studio. He was an adjudicator at the Dandenong Festival of Music in 2009 and taught individual lessons, and was an examiner and orchestral mentor at Monash University 2007-2010. In 2012 he adjudicated the Under 18 string competition for the Musical Society of Victoria.
In 2011 Robert became one of the tutors and promoters of an Australian pilot program sponsored by Sistema Australia and the Hobson's Bay City Council to introduce free immersive music education to underprivileged children in Laverton based on the Venezuelan model made famous by LA Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel. The program in Laverton was designed to give children with no prior exposure to music an all around education in reading music, comprehending rhythm, recognising the instruments of the orchestra, and singing in a choir. The goal ultimately was to integrate each child into an orchestra on a string instrument once the basic elements were absorbed, and, in this way, centre their lives with a purpose and positive focus.
In 2011/2012 Robert co-tutored a group of advanced school age students in a chamber music short course developed jointly with the initiative of Robin Baker - Melbourne University honours performance class staff accompanist - to create a more intensive learning experience for developing young musicians wishing to take their music beyond the limited school experience, and culminating in a concert at the end of each course session to showcase the students' accomplishments. The uniqueness of this course approach lies in the ability of the tutors to tailor very specifically to the needs of an ensemble and nurture their development unhampered by any formal course requirements.
~ Performance ~
Robert's talent as an artist lies in his ability to assert his creative personality in diverse roles in music. As a cellist he takes pride in being the musician first, then the instrumentalist. The key to holding the audience, he believes, is communication and musical integrity.
After spending several years in New York City, Robert has, since 2006, made his home once again in Melbourne. Highlights of his recent career as a performer in Australia include working with the Southern Cross Philharmonia to present works by known and some lesser known Australian composers, amongst more standard repertoire fare. He leads the cello section of this string ensemble in performances at Melba Hall, University of Melbourne, and has presented fund raisers for them at The Savage Club with celebrated Melbourne colleagues Aaron Bardon, violinist – The Silo String Quartet and Amir Farid, pianist, Benaud Trio and Associate Faculty ANAM.
In the past two years Robert has appeared as guest performer with UK based composer /musical director Warren Wills – Best Musical, Carling London Award – as part of fundraisers for underprivileged youth in Shepparton Victoria to have the opportunity to be involved in local theatre productions. Shepp Shed is being supported by the Australian Government as well as Latrobe University. Robert has also collaborated with Melbourne based composer and pianist Phillip Gelbach.
In April 2014 he performed in duo recital at Barwon Park Mansion in Winchelsea with pianist Robert Chamberlain as part of the Team of Pianists’ Rigg Bequest Series. Other recent collaborations include performing in a trio with Melbourne University honours performance class staff accompanist Robin Baker and former Principal Violin of Orchestra Victoria Susan Pierotti at the Monash Gallery of Art in 2012, and again in 2014 as part of the Holy Trinity Festival. In July 2014 Robert performed with the string ensemble La Fraternita di Solisti.
In March 2010 Robert performed with pianist Brenna Wee – pianist, Bridges Collective – on live national broadcast for 3MBS FM. He has appeared in recent years in solo recitals in Melbourne with pianists Stella Svetec and Robin Baker. Also in 2010 he performed as guest solo cellist the Haydn C major concerto No.1 with the U3A Hawthorn Orchestra under Willem Van Der Vis at the Hawthorn Town Hall. In 2009 Robert performed in the backup band for World Award winning internationally acclaimed pop singing sensation Tina Arena at Hamer Hall.
Robert has appeared numerous times at the Sydney Opera House as a member of the Australian Philharmonic in the 1990s, at Carnegie Weill Recital Hall in New York City in 2003, and in 2011 was a guest performer for the ABC FM recorded 150th Gala Concert for the Musical Society of Victoria at Iwaki Auditorium.
In 1998 the Melbourne based Szigeti Trio was formed with colleagues Jonathon Glonek (ex MSO) violin, and Robin Baker, Melbourne University honours performance class staff accompanist, piano. The highlight of their collaboration were the lecture recitals given in Chiang Mai and Bangkok in 2000 under the sponsorship of British Airways, Chevron Oil and the Australian Embassy, and the opportunity to work with and guide gifted local music students.
In 1996 Robert was invited to be the cellist of the Binneas Quartet – with violinists Miki Tsunoda; a Musica Viva performing artist; Siona Loughnane, violin, and John Lynch; associate principal viola, National Symphony of Ireland. The Binneas was winner of the 'Prize of Hope' International Shostakovich String Quartet Competition 1987 and the first non-European winner, Chamber Music Award, XII International Festival of Chamber Music, Austria. The quartet participated at the Spoleto Festival Italy and in Melbourne appeared in the Sunset Series at the National Gallery of Victoria as well as participating in the Port Fairy and Castlemaine State Festivals. Collaborative associate artists who have performed with Robert in the Binneas Quartet have included Gabby Halloren (MSO violist), University of Melbourne faculty pianist Caroline Almonte, oboist Jeffrey Crellin (MSO) and clarinettist Robert Schubert, Lecturer of Woodwinds, Victorian College of the Arts.
Robert has performed in Australia, USA and Japan as a solo recitalist, chamber and orchestral musician. His orchestral experience includes the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the Bolshoi Ballet, the State (opera) Orchestra of Victoria, the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, the Greenwich Symphony Connecticut and two years as a full time member of the Sendai Philharmonic Orchestra in Japan.
His US collaborations as a chamber musician include, amongst others: Jeffrey Biegel, First Prize winner, William Kapell / University of Maryland Piano Competition, faculty City University of New York; violinist Ilmar Gavilan, First Prize Winner, International Sphinx Competition; Jethro Marks, founding violist, Zukerman Chamber Players; Maurycy Banaszek, principal violist, New York Symphonic Ensemble; Viviane Hagner, internationally renowned violin soloist and recording artist; Kirill Gerstein, First Prize winner, Arthur Rubinstein Piano Competition, and Igor Kraevsky, pianist Pittsburgh Piano Trio.
By way of studio recording work: he was in an ensemble providing instrumental backup for Juno Award winner and Sony / Colombia recording singer / songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk in New York City, and, in Melbourne, recorded film soundtracks with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
Chamber music experience in the New York area includes working with SONOS Chamber Orchestra and the Red Bank Chamber Music Society NJ and providing music choreographed by Princeton University dance instructor and educator Rebecca Lazier for her contemporary ensemble, Terrain.
Coming from an extended family of illustrious musicians, as well as a musical home, Robert's relatives include renowned Israeli / NYC jazz guitarist and recording artist Gilad Hekselman; winner 2005 Gibson Montreux International Guitar Competition; David Hyams, Western Australian multi instrumentalist, composer and producer from the blues/folk band 'Miles to Go'; and on the classical side, Josef Grunfarb, (former ) Concertmaster, Royal Theatre Stockholm; Concertmaster Stockholm Philharmonic and Professor of Violin at the Royal Swedish Conservatory.
Born in Melbourne, Robert commenced undergraduate studies at the University of Cincinnati. He completed his Bachelor of Music Degree graduating with honours on a Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Scholarship at The Juilliard School, where he was given the Rena Shapiro Memorial Award for outstanding accomplishment. His teachers were international recording artist and soloist Zara Nelsova and Harvey Shapiro, (former) principal cellist, NBC Symphony under Arturo Toscanini. His Masters Degree was completed with David Soyer – Professor of Cello, The Curtis Institute, and founding cellist of the Guarneri String Quartet – at the Manhattan School of Music.
Chamber music mentors have included Joseph Fuchs – (former) Concertmaster Cleveland Orchestra – Isidore Cohen – (former) violinist of the Beaux Arts Trio – violinist Sylvia Rosenberg and Joel Smirnoff, first violin of the Juilliard String Quartet. Orchestral studies at Manhattan School were taken with Nathan Stutch, (former) associate principal cellist, New York Philharmonic.
Early studies in Melbourne were with John Kennedy, Henry Wenig and Steven Finnerty. Prior to studies overseas Robert spent time in Hobart working with Sela Trau.
Robert has participated in The Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, where, as the youngest cellist, he was awarded the 'Cello Prize' by Zara Nelsova. He subsequently took part in the Aspen Music Festival and the Johanessen International School of the Arts, Canada.
Since returning to Melbourne Robert has performed solo Bach at Cruden Farm for Dame Elisabeth Murdoch AC BDE and for Sir Zelman Cowen AK GCMG GCVO QC PC, the former Governor-General of Australia.