Cello, James Victor Miller Chair
Hometown: Brookfield, Wisconsin
Member of the Nashville Symphony since 2015
Kevin Bate won the Principal Cellist audition in April 2019 after previously serving as Assistant Principal and Acting Principal. An active soloist and chamber musician, he has performed as featured soloist with orchestras in Europe and North America. In addition, he serves as Principal Cellist of Orchestra Kentucky and cellist of the Gloriosa Trio. Previously, he served as Principal Cellist and performed as soloist with the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra, the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra and the Missouri Symphony Orchestra. In Evansville, as a member of the Eykamp String Quartet, he held the position of Artist in Residence at the University of Evansville.
A native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Bate studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg, Germany. He received his bachelor’s degree from DePauw University and a performance diploma from the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, where he studied with János Starker. His teachers include Adriana Contino, Eric Edberg and Uri Vardi.
Bate plays on a modern cello made by Turkish luthier Ersen Aycan and a German bow made by Hermann Richard Pfretzschner.
When and why did you decide to play the cello?
They came around in third grade and demonstrated all of the instruments for us. I liked cello, so I went home to my Mom with the signup sheet and said I wanted to play cello. She said, “Don’t you want to play violin?” because that was cheaper for renting, and I said, “No, cello!” So that was that. I have two younger brothers who also play instruments, and the next brother down also wanted to play cello, but I convinced him to play viola so he wouldn’t be sharing with me.
Which composers write the best music for your instrument?
A lot of composers write well for the cello, because it’s the same range as the voice. A lot of vocal lines in opera are great for cello. Dvořák’s Cello Concerto is very famous for a good reason; he wrote beautifully for cello. Rachmaninoff liked the cello a lot; he wrote a number of cello sonatas. Sometimes people asked him why he didn’t write more for the violin, and he said, “Why would I write for the violin when there’s the cello?”
Who has had the greatest influence on you as a musician?
I don’t know if I can pin it on one person, because I really learn from everybody I’ve been around. Playing music is about life: You have to have discipline; you have to be focused; you have to have good people skills. Being in the world prepares you for what you have to do as a musician. I’ve been very lucky. I’ve worked with a lot of wonderful people — teachers, orchestra players, non-orchestra players, everybody – it all just ties together.
What’s the most unusual thing that’s happened to you onstage?
This didn’t happen to me, but one of my colleagues in the Evansville Philharmonic had fluorescent orange shoes, and one time he came to a performance and forgot his black concert shoes. So he stretched his black socks over his orange shoes. You could still kind of see them. That was kind of funky.
What’s your earliest musical memory?
When I was younger, my dad would sing to me and my brothers. My grandpa would sing, and he played harmonica as well. We had a record player, and my dad would put on Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony and then we’d lie on the floor with lights off and listen to it.
What made you interested in joining the Nashville Symphony?
I really like this region of the country. I’m from Wisconsin, so I’m used to colder winters, but I had been living in Birmingham with my wife, Jung-min Shin, who was a violinist in the Alabama Symphony. So I got a little bit soft with the cold factor. Nashville is a happy medium.
What’s it like playing with our orchestra?
So far, so good! It was great to play the same concert four times on our opening weekend. A lot of times, I’ve played in smaller regional orchestras, and the pressure’s on because you only get one shot at a program. Here, you get really comfortable with the pieces, because you’re performing them more often. It was nice to open our season with sold-out concerts, and the audience was very receptive.
What are your first impressions of Nashville?
The city is really nice, though sometimes the traffic is a little bit more difficult than what I’ve been used to. There’s music in all of the restaurants and bars all day long — that’s a special thing that doesn’t happen everywhere. There’s a large amount of wonderful musicians who come here to make it, and there’s the recording industry, so it all really locks together. It’s a special atmosphere and place.
What have you gotten to experience in the city, and what are you looking forward to experiencing?
It’s going to take me a long time to discover everything. I have 10-month-old daughter, so I’m a little restricted in my ability to go out and do a bunch right now. I look forward to discovering more of the community. There’s a lot of stuff going on — it would take a while for anybody!
Where do you live?
In Franklin. It’s beautiful. We have sidewalks, and we enjoy having the option of walking and biking.
Do you enjoy listening to music when you’re not performing or rehearsing?
I like listening to popular music on the radio. It’s relaxing, it’s different. I like listening to classical music; I listen to upcoming programs that I have to learn. I do enjoy silence too. You can’t have music all the time.
What’s your guilty pleasure song?
It’s a little bit of an older song, but I really like “Paranoid Android” by Radiohead. I like the way they use different meters; it’s well-composed, especially for a pop song.
What was the first concert you ever attended?
Probably a Milwaukee Symphony children’s concert. When I was young, my parents would take me — they’re subscribers to the Milwaukee Symphony. One of the pieces they did at one of the children’s concerts was Beethoven’s Fifth. That stuck with me, for sure.
Do you enjoy reading?
I haven’t been reading much lately. I’ve been taking care of my daughter and sleeping a little bit less than normal. But I have been trying to learn Korean, because my wife is Korean. Her parents speak a little bit of English, but to communicate, we have to piece together a little bit of English and a little bit of Korean. I’m trying really hard to get better at that, so when I have a little bit of free time, I’m studying Korean.
If I hadn’t become a professional musician, I would’ve been a…
…doctor. Music just happened organically. I’ve always done music since I started, and it just kind of flowed through to where I am today. I played in a quartet from fifth grade all the way into college, and a lot of my friends who played in the quartet are doctors now. A lot of musicians who don’t go into music, it seems like they wind up in the medical field.