Elizabeth (Betsy) Start, Cello
When did you begin to play your instrument?
I started on violin in 4th grade in the Kalamazoo Public Schools. I found it painful: I had a heavy full-sized instrument with no shoulder rest and a really cheap chin rest, and hated the sound of the E string right under my ear. So I switched to cello by the end of the year, or by 5th grade for sure. I had always admired that instrument so it was almost a given I’d give it a shot – it was not something imposed by my folks or anything. Though my dad played cello and all my siblings had a bout with cello, it was more likely the violin would not fly in that environment.
Do you play any other instruments?
I also play viola da gamba. I am dyslexic on the keyboard but do own both a piano and a pump parlor organ to mock me.
Where did you study your main instrument; with whom?
Oberlin Conservatory with Andor Toth, Jr.
Northern Illinois University with Marc Johnson of the Vermeer Quartet.
Masterclasses and/or summer programs with Alan Harris, Raya Garbousova, Steven Isserlis, Fred Sherry and David Finkel (plus the three other Finkel cellists, David’s father George and his two cousins, Mike and Chris).
When did you join ESO?
I am not sure exactly—I played as a sub for more than one full season before an opening/audition occurred. I was definitely performing with the orchestra by the 1987-1988 season, so I must have become a member by 1988-1999-ish (the same year that John Ryan joined the cello section).
What other orchestras have you played with/do you play with now?
I have been a member of the Kalamazoo Symphony since 2001 and I also sub with the South Bend Symphony. I sometimes perform with the Chicago Philharmonic and also the Ravinia Festival Orchestra, in addition to playing various gigs in the Chicago area (for example, I’ve worked many times with Andrea Bocelli). During Steve Squires’ tenure as conductor of the Illinois Chamber Symphony I played with that group and also served as its personnel manager. I’ve also performed with the Rockford Symphony and was Principal Cellist of an orchestra in Ottawa, IL when I was a student at Northern Illinois University.
Your most memorable ESO performance
Wow, that’s as hard as asking for my favorite composer. It was wonderful when we played one of my compositions in the mid-90s, and I had a hoot when, dressed in mild “hippie” garb, I played my arrangement of Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” for electric cello and orchestra on a pops concert in the early 2000s. For me things that stick out as great musical experiences from within the section are Jaime Laredo’s concerts with us, and the concert with Lynn Harrell, during which he joined us in the cello section after performing Tchaikovsky’s “Rococo Variations.” Thomas Mesa’s Elgar Concerto was pretty special too. I’m probably forgetting lots of good stuff… but recently, when we played Elgar’s “In the South,” I had really not been looking forward to that concert because I had performed that work before and found it quite forced and pedantic. However, Maestro Grams’ interpretation overcame my prejudice and made it, for me, an entirely different piece and I loved playing it.
Additional fun information
Recently, during our shutdown, I spent some time transcribing my journals from trips to England/Italy in 2013 and Vietnam in 2016, which brought back great memories. It also reminded me of an amazing and formative experience I had when I was eight years old, in 1967, when my father was tasked with visiting the various European foreign study centers that Kalamazoo College had at that time, and my folks decided to bring us all along — my two older brothers and me (my sister was actually on college foreign study at the time, no doubt relishing the intrusive visit of her entire family!). We traveled both ways on the ocean liner Bremen, spent a month in a camper traveling in England, met our English relatives (my cousin Julia, born in the same month as me, has exchanged letters, emails and visits with me ever since), and traveled for many months on the continent with Eurail passes, planning no more itinerary than where we would be on each particular Tuesday. I have vivid memories of that trip which have colored subsequent visits, putting things into context.
My family spent a lot of time in Florence, Italy during 1967 when my father needed extensive dental work involving many return visits. The dentist communicated with my dad by calling a friend who spoke German badly, as did my dad…perhaps a contributing factor to the many returns. In the end, Dad left the crown in the stateroom on the Bremen when we returned to NYC. Pete and I visited Italy in 2013 when I performed a solo recital at the Assisi Suono Sacro Festival; we ended the trip with a few days in Florence, where certain sights hit me very strongly with nostalgia. I also had fun sending pictures each day to my mother, taken from the top of various sites she wouldn’t let me climb when I was 8 eight!