When one of the nation’s finer cellists allows all the ingredients of his signature dish of pasta bolognese to work wonderfully in concert, he’s willing to take a bow of sorts.
Leonardo Altino laughed about such feel-good successes in the kitchen.
“Italian food is a delightful way of eating,” he said. “And I think I’m a pretty good chef. But I grant myself a little more grace in my cooking.”
Thank goodness. Because the 45-year-old Altino seems a passionate perfectionist in the concert hall while playing with an expressive emotion that sometimes seems to sweep him away in the music. He will perform Antonin Dvorak’s cello concerto Saturday with the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic.
He has performed the 40-minute work twice before with Philharmonic Music Director David Bowden, when the two joined forces with the Terre Haute Symphony Orchestra and the Carmel Symphony Orchestra. But he mentioned there always is a fresh way to present a piece in which the composer longs for home and grieves the loss of a former love.
“This is music that gives and brings listeners hope,” said Altino, speaking from his office at Wheaton College Conservatory, where he serves as an associate lecturer in music near Chicago. “And I hope that everyone who hears this will feel lifted up in some way.”
Bowden acknowledged that the local audience will see a performer who visibly and intensely feels the music, and much of the rest of life around him.
“He is a remarkably expressive person,” Bowden said. “And he is that way in so many ways — in his personal life, in his spiritual life, in his family life. He is deeply committed to doing things in a way that reflects meaning and beauty.”
And doing things with a humility that stands out in a classical music field where egos sometimes can be as grand as the musical scores.
Bowden compares Altino’s low profile on the national orchestral scene to that of former Columbus organist Dan McKinley, a longtime Bowden friend and a favorite of Philharmonic audiences.
Other organists regularly have said over the years that McKinley is considered among the nation’s best such musicians. But McKinley himself usually turns such comments into self-deprecating humor.
And Altino, a Brazilian native and the son of musical parents, says or does little to purposely magnify his personal profile, preferring instead to let his music speak for itself, as Bowden sees it. He has performed with orchestras such as the Boston Symphony, Memphis Symphony, New England Chamber, Symphony Pro Musica, and the Filarmonica de Bogotá in Colombia.
“He simply has chosen not to especially pursue a solo career,” Bowden said. “But he’s one of the most astonishingly gifted people I have ever worked with.”
This coming from a conductor in his 31st year as an orchestral leader, having worked on the local stage alone with classical stalwarts ranging from pianist Andre Watts to violinist Cho-Liang Lin to harpist Susann McDonald.
Altino’s online biography shows an early talent. He began his musical studies at the age of 5, and recalls practicing at 6 a.m. many days as a 6-year-old.
“I was simply a cello nerd,” he said with a laugh.
He gave his first performance at age 8, and performed his first concerto with an orchestra at 11.
His national breakthrough came in 1986 when a 14-year-old Altino, then rehearsing seven hours per day, became the youngest winner at the Jovens Concertistas Brasileiros, a prestigious competition in Rio de Janeiro. It led to concerts with every major orchestra in Brazil.
“I don’t see myself as someone especially dramatic,” Altino said of his sometimes flowing and lyrical body language as he plays. “My goal onstage is to simply be true to the music. And that takes great humility, because you essentially become a mouthpiece for the composer. So my goal, really, is to enter the composer’s story.”
Not to mention to teach young musicians how to do the same.
“I think we all feel deeper with our heart than we ever truly imagine,” he said. “I believe there’s something in us that’s always longing for more.”
Away from the concert halls and the classroom, he longs to spend more time with concert violinist wife Soh-Hyun Park Altino, who has trained a number of Philharmonic musicians at workshops and the like. She serves as assistant professor of violin at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
IF YOU GO
What: Cellist Leonardo Altino performing Antonin Dvorak’s cello concerto with the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic. Other scheduled works also include Dvorak’s “Carnival Overture” and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E minor, op. 64.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Judson Erne Auditorium, 1400 25th St. in Columbus.
Tickets: Priced from $5 to $50, and are available online at thecip.org, in person at 315 Franklin St. in downtown Columbus and by phone at 812-376-2638.
Musically speaking: Scheduled at 6:45 p.m., it will include a casual conversation between Columbus Indiana Philharmonic Music Director David Bowden and cellist Leonardo Altino.