Classical Virtuosos Carmine Miranda & Robert Marler Discuss New Album ‘Shostakovich / Rachmaninoff: Sonatas For Cello And Piano’

There is no music that exudes sophistication, elegance, and comprehension quite like Classical music.

It takes true masters of their instruments to produce such timeless compositions, and such is the case with Carmine Miranda and Robert Marler, who today, March 3rd, released their two-part eight-track album, Shostakovich/Rachmaninoff: Sonatas For Cello and Piano.

Both renowned professors at Belmont University in Nashville, the two teachers joined forces using their mastery of their instruments and craft to record these brilliant and complex works of the two legendary composers.

Miranda, an acclaimed award-winning soloist, and Marler, a GRAMMY-nominated Nashville Symphony pianist, combine their instrumental mastery with legendary three-time GRAMMY-nominated producer Alan Shacklock, and celebrated mastering engineer Tommy Dorsey (Berlin Philharmonic – Deutsche Grammophon) to deliver high quality performances of these works.

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​Deeply expressive with interplay and virtuosic passages, these two sonatas are held to high regard by pianists and cellists alike. Once turning points in the lives of Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff, these works have stood the test of time.

We got to chat with Miranda and Marler to learn more about the complex intricacies of creating such a piece of music, why they chose these works, and much more.

How has the year treated you both so far? Any notable highlights?

Carmine Miranda: It has been a great year! One of the best highlights so far was being featured in the front cover of the well-known Spanish classical music magazine, Ritmo Magazine. 

Robert Marler: This year had been a good year. The impact of the pandemic is easing, and life seems to be returning to normal. The symphony schedule had been full and my teaching at Belmont is going well. Notable highlights have included many of the Nashville symphony performances are attracting large audiences again.  

Shostakovich/Rachmaninoff: Sonatas For Cello and Piano

So you’ve got your new album, Shostakovich / Rachmaninoff: Sonatas For Cello and Piano, releasing today. What made you choose to perform these two sonatas versus other compositions?

Miranda: The Sonatas for Cello and Piano by Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff are among some of the most recognized works for both instruments. I am a firm believer that recording and performing renowned works like these helps to keep our classical musical tradition stay alive and current with generations of young listeners. The beauty of the traditional classical repertoire allows for many interpretative possibilities. Therefore, it allows many musicians to express themselves through the character of these compositions. 

Marler: One of my favorite pieces of all time is the Rachmaninov cello sonata. In past years, I have performed it with other cellists and with the arrival of Carmine Miranda to Nashville, I saw the opportunity to revive it, and both perform and record it. Each time that I have relearned a work it has improved. The piano writing in this sonata is among his most virtuosic and has been a long multi-year project for me. I am very proud of the result that we have achieved with this new release that has received a lot of international attention. 

As someone who admittedly is unfamiliar with Shostakovich and Rachminoff, what made them so prolific compared to others?

Miranda: Since these pieces are incredibly well written for both instruments, they have become part of the standard repertoire for cellists and pianists alike. These pieces are incredibly fun to perform, and pose many challenges from a musical and technical point of view. In addition, these sonatas provide immense space for melodic expressiveness. I consider the third movement of Rachmaninoff’s Sonata to be one of the most beautiful movements written for cello and piano. 

Carmine Miranda

For those like myself who don’t fully grasp what things like “Allegro non Troppo” and “Allegro Mosso” mean among others, can you break down what these titles/tracks entail?

Miranda: Each sonata is broken down into “four movements” or four sections within the bigger work. Think of these movements as a TV show that has four episodes or a book that has four chapters. Each movement or chapter is titled with a tempo marking, which for classical music are traditionally written in Italian. For example, “Allegro non Troppo” can be interpreted as “Fast, But Not Too Much.” These titles help the performers understand the overall character of the movement as well as the speed. Certain composers can only title their compositions as such, which then becomes a matter of interpretation, since everyone’s concept of fast or slow is a bit different. 

How did you get hooked up with producers Alan Shacklock and Tommy Dorsey, and what made them the right duo for this project?

Miranda: Funny enough, we all have a mutual connection through Belmont University. I am the professor of cello and chamber music for strings. Robert is the piano professor, and Alan Shacklock is one of the sound engineering professors as well. Tommy Dorsey, our mastering engineer at Masterfonics Studios, was a keyboard student of Robert Marler many years ago. 

Shacklock has produced recordings for Meatloaf, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, Roger Daltrey (The Who), Jeff Beck, Mike Oldfield, Bonnie Tyler, R.Kelly, and Sugar Ray. Dorsey was responsible for remastering the Berliner Philharmoniker’s 10-CD box set for Deutsche Grammophon, and has done mastering work for Glenn Campbell, Dolly Parton, Hank Thompson and Eddie Arnold. Finally, our recording engineer Kyle Ginther (who oftentimes works at Masterfonics) has also recorded prominent stars such as Taylor Swift and several other country music stars. 

We all discovered that we had similar views about sound, music, and the beauty of this record is that it also showcases Alan’s, Tommy’s and Kyle’s mastery of their craft and understanding of sound. 

What was the recording process like, and was there a track on the album that was the most difficult to record for one reason or another?

Miranda: The process involved a great deal of concentration and stamina for both works. We decided to record in a very unconventional process for classical music, which is more akin to commercial music recordings. Both Robert and I were playing in different “booths” in real time, and we only had headphones to rely on intonation, musical cues, and dynamics. This, however, gave us better control over the mixing and mastering process that creates the “magical” sound of any recording.

For this reason, all the movements posed a different set of challenges to record. The beginning of the first movement in the Rachmaninoff was particularly difficult since it is incredibly exposed. At the same time, the last movement also posed many challenges due to the movement’s length. The third movement of the Shostakovich also posed similar challenges, due to the very exposed melodic phrases and really soft dynamics, which required a very steady (almost surgical) right hand control.

Marler: We were able to record both pieces in a couple of sessions at Masterfonics Studios and used the acoustics of Ocean Way Studios in Nashville. They have a wonderful piano and great equipment. I found the second movement of the Shostakovich to be my most difficult challenge of the session. In our attempt to play a very lively tempo that was right on the edge of my technique, it became a real challenge to play note-perfect for the recording. The concentration required was very tiring.

What has been your favorite/the most rewarding part of making this album?

Miranda: To me, it was incredibly rewarding to work with friends. Over the years, Robert has become an extension of my family and we have very similar musical philosophies and sense of humor. The same applies to Alan and Tommy, and I hope that this sense of camaraderie and love of music can come across in our playing and sound.

Robert Marler & Carmine Miranda

What modern-day composers do you admire who you see as torchbearers of classical music?

Miranda: There are several great contemporary composers that are doing amazing work in the world of classical music. Among them include the Mexican composer Arturo Marquez, who often finds a good balance between writing compositions that are intelligent but also accessible to the public. I also find that film composers like Howard Shore can beautifully bridge traditional and contemporary aspects of music composition in a masterful way. The perfect example is his Lord of The Rings Trilogy film score. Every theme, including “The Shire Theme” was written as an extension of the “ring of power” main idea, which he varies throughout, creating hours of music content. This is always the sign of a master composer regardless of the historical time period.

Marler: There are so many composers that are continuing to move classical music forward. One of the great things about being the principal keyboardist of the Nashville symphony is the fact that we record new music by many of the country’s greatest living composers. Each year we do multiple recordings of new compositions by leading American composers. The wide range of style in modern music is amazing.

What are one or two pinnacle moments for you as a musician, performer, and teacher?

Miranda: As a performer and musician, I always consider a pinnacle moment when I can properly communicate and connect with the audience in a concert stage. To me, as corny as it may sound, nothing else beats the feeling of adrenaline before and after a concert performance. As a teacher, to be able to see my students grow and achieve their musical/career dreams after graduation. I am a strong believer of imparting knowledge and mentoring that provide students with the ability to succeed in the music world. 

What are some of your goals – whether musically or otherwise – for 2023? 

Miranda: I am always trying to seek ways to expand the possibilities of cello performance, not only limited to classical music but with other musical genres. There are several more collaborations coming soon which may surprise some of our followers and listeners, hopefully in a good way! To me, great music is great music regardless of the genre and instrumentation.

Robert Marler, Carmine Miranda, & crew

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