Life for a freelance musician is feast or famine.
For Paul Cortese — a world-class viola player — his visit to Kenosha is definitely a feast.
The Kenosha native has come home to perform with the University of Wisconsin-Parkside orchestras on Saturday as the featured soloist.
He was also conducting master classes this week with Kenosha Unified School District student musicians.
All of which he thoroughly enjoys.
Cortese, a Tremper High School graduate, lives in Barcelona, Spain, where he is a professor of viola and chamber music at the conservatory of the Liceo.
In his spare time, he performs with symphonies all over the world.
Why stay so busy?
“I love to do it all,” he said over coffee Tuesday at Common Grounds. “It’s a privilege to make a living as a musician.”
Proud to be from Kenosha
He first picked up the viola because his older brother played the instrument. (Incredibly, his brother, who is based in England, is also a professional viola player. Must have been something in the water at that home.)
“Hundreds of professional musicians came out of Kenosha,” he said. “I got a wonderful music education here, and I told the kids that this week in the high schools. I told them how lucky they are.”
The last time Cortese was in Kenosha was 2012 — and that was for a memorial for his father.
When Cortese wasn’t teaching or rehearsing this week, he was busy visiting cousins and friends.
“It’s nice to be back here when it doesn’t involve a funeral,” he said. “Since my parents are gone now, it didn’t seem all that important to come back. But now that I am here, I see how exciting and emotional it is.”
Two violists walk into a bar …
Cortese came to UW-Parkside at the invitation of music professor Alvaro Garcia, who conducts the Parkside orchestras.
Garcia is a native of Spain and also plays viola, but the two had met only once in passing. That was in 2005 at Carthage College, where Cortese was teaching a master class.
Garcia asked Cortese to perform here as the first Howard Brown artist-in-residence. Brown’s wife, Betsy, established the fund in his memory to bring internationally recognized musicians to perform with and mentor Parkside students and young musicians from area high schools.
“I was trying to find someone who represents the spirit of the Brown family’s gift, and the first artist-in-residence had to be someone special,” Garcia said.
As Cortese explained, “I have a connection to Howard Brown, who was a dear friend of my parents, Theresa and Paolo Cortese. And my extended family also knew Howard.”
“Howard Brown was really supportive of music at UW-Parkside,” Garcia added of the longtime owner and publisher of the Kenosha News. “The last note I have from him is a letter he sent to me, congratulating our music department for doing a great job.”
On Saturday, Cortese will perform a solo viola concerto and also perform with a chamber group and a full orchestra.
When putting together the program, Garcia said, “He can play anything, but we look at what the local orchestra can perform with just two rehearsals with the soloist. I also look for pieces that will appeal to the students and to the audience.”
Asked why people should attend the concert, Cortese said, “It’s unusual to hear a viola soloist.”
Garcia added, “This is exciting music to hear, with a great variety of repertoire. It’s very accessible to the audience, with a Schubert piece and Vivaldi ... and we have a couple of surprises, too.”
Feasting in 2019
As for that feast-or-famine life of a freelance viola player, Cortese said, by the end of this year, “I will have performed in Oman, Korea, Poland and the U.S. This will be a very busy year, and I love doing it. Some years, I only play with one orchestra; other years, I’m going all over the world.”
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