earlier this month, in the final round of the prestigious Ima Hogg Competition, a 25-year-old cellist from California took center stage to perform with the Houston Symphony. Three months of practice came down to one night. Lights dimmed, and the conductor motioned to begin as music began to pour from Rainer Crosett’s cello.
“The Ima Hogg Competition was probably one of the most exciting events in my musical life so far,” Crosett says.
He didn’t win that evening, but he did come in second, receiving the silver medal and a pretty decent consolation prize; on Saturday, July 1, Crosett will perform Haydn’s Cello Concerto No.1 in C major, the same piece he played in the final rounds of the competition. This weekend’s concert is part of the ongoing ExxonMobil Summer Symphony Nights at Miller Outdoor Theatre, which will in part focus on young, rising musical superstars.
In addition to Crosett, 24-year-old Alex Prior will conduct the concert. The British child prodigy started composing music at the age of 8. By 14—an age when most people were wreaking havoc at their local mall—he was conducting Mowgli, a ballet he composed himself, at Moscow’s Kremlin Theatre.
Crosett has mostly stuck to the United States with previous performances at Carnegie Hall, Jordan Hall, Boston Symphony Hall, although he has made the trip to Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw.
Inspired by his older brother who is a pianist, Crosett began learning piano when he was 5 years old. When he was 9, his brother began learning a second instrument, so naturally Crossett wanted to as well. His middle school offered orchestra, which led to his random but fateful introduction to the cello.
“I thought violin was what everyone played, so I picked cello, even though I didn't know much about it,” Crosett says. “Within a few years, the sound of the instrument stole my heart, and I decided to give up piano lessons and focus only on cello.”
Prior to the Ima Hog Competition, Crosett spent three months preparing the Haydn piece. However, he did learn pieces of it when he was younger.
“Haydn C Major is one of the most beloved cello concertos in our repertoire,” he says. “Haydn wrote it for a longtime friend of his, and you can tell that this cellist must have been a virtuoso, since the concerto repertoire for the cello did not contain works of such difficulty at that time. I love the exuberance and high drama that the piece expresses.”
Crosett’s love for music isn’t his only interest. He graduated from a New England Conservatory/Harvard joint program and received his undergraduate degree in philosophy and his master's degree with honors in cello performance.
At Harvard, he engaged in an activist-cum-artist role, using his performances to raise money for human rights issues in North Korea.
He has performed at a multitude of festivals including Yellow Barn, La Jolla Music Society SummerFest, the Perlman Music Program, New York String Orchestra Seminar, Aspen and Kneisel Hall Chamber Music.
Despite this, he still gets nervous.
“I have always loved the feeling of performing, even though getting nervous is part of the experience for me,” Crosett says. “I wouldn't say that I've ever gotten used to that, because every performance feels different. So no matter how I feel leading up to a concert, I always try to focus on the message that I want to bring to an audience through each piece of music, and that helps me stay focused and grounded.”
Concert July 1. Miller Outdoor Theatre. Free. More info at milleroutdoortheatre.com