Cellist/composer/singer/dancer/flutist Malina Rauschenfels is, well, all of those.
Having earned top honors at both Juilliard and Eastman School of Music, Malina is mostly seen these days performing with the vocal ensemble Toby Twining Music where she plays cello and sings Toby Twining’s works with him and the rest of the group.
Malina recalls the day she first met Toby Twining. “My ex-boyfriend has worked with him for 20 years. He did work on Chrysalid Requiem with him, and made the Eurydice CD with him and conducted and sang, stuff like that. I just met him accidentally at a Philadelphia train station as they were about to put on the Eurydice play, and I had asked him about 9/11 Blues, which it [said in] his bio that Matt Haimovitz played it, and I was like ‘I’d love to see it! I’d love to hear it!’. I don’t know anything about it, I’d just read his bio, and he says ‘Oh, I have that on me!’, and he pulls up music and hands it to me. He says ‘But I’ve been told it’s impossible to play’, and I said ‘That can’t be impossible! I read in your bio that Matt Haimovitz performed it!’, and he says ‘Oh, that piece! Oh no I don’t have that piece on me, this is a piece I just wrote!’–It was written for someone, I don’t know who, but he gave me the music, and of course, you give me a challenge like that, and I’ve gotta learn it! Don’t tell me something’s impossible!”.
Video of Schoenberg Dreaming:
Twining: Schoenberg Dreaming (Debut; Live at Banglewood; MASS MoCA, 2008)
“And of course, the perfect blessing at the time was my ex-boyfriend knew [Toby’s] music, so he could get me the midi to the micro-tonal pitches, and I sat down and started learning it right away–I asked Toby for permission to perform it, and he was shocked because I guess he never thought I would play it. To me, that’s what you think when you’re handing someone music, and they’re a cellist. But yeah, so I performed it up at Bang On a Can at MASS MoCA, and he came down to hear me play it once before the first performance, and we just started becoming closer and closer friends, and I love his kids! I went up to New Hampshire, and he was putting on the Arts On The Edge Wolfboro Festival, so I stayed with him and his kids for nearly a month rehearsing and hanging out with them and it was wonderful! By then, we were just really close friends, and then when I told him last winter break that I wanted to quit my job and get back into performing, he said ‘You have to be in my group! Now your job won’t conlict, so, I can ask you to be in my group!’, [after] which I was completely thrilled because I had never anticipated that that would happen!”.
If you hadn’t seen Malina’s own webpage you probably weren’t aware that she is also a composer in her own right, and performs as a soprano and a cellist for for both hers and other people’s projects. She also happens to be a gifted dancer/choreographer, has practiced aerial gymnastics, and has even incorporated these other gifts into her music, most notably on an original composition titled 1 # umop_apisdn # 1
“It’s table music”, explains Rauschenfels, “It was my first and last attempt at table music, where Bach and Mozart would write things so that one person could sit on the other side of the table and read upside down, so, it’s just one piece of music where one person starts at the beginning and the other person starts at the end upside down and reads through. I’ve never written something…I wouldn’t call it my strength, but I had to try it!”
Although she hasn’t been writing much in the last few years due to a hectic work schedule, Malina hopes to resume composing works. Having studied composition with people like David Liptak (“My biggest compositional influence…Amazing teacher, taught me to really go with what I heard”) and Augusta Read Thomas, Malina already has an impressive history of compositions–close to 50 of them are listed on her webpage. Among these pieces is a trio for cello, violin and piano titled Ghost Trio. “I guess what that piece says to me is that I love writing for specific people. That’s my main interest. I want to know the people in the ensemble before I start writing for them, and I love taking advantage of their personality quirks or anything that interests them, and that particular group of people–Wesley Chinn was totally game to sing, play violin and play cello! And so he borrowed my cello for a few weeks to learn the cello part! And the pianist [Melody Fader] is a good friend of mine from Juilliard, and she played violin as a child, so she was game for that–she loves dancing, so she wanted a piece written where she had something to do with dance. At one point I’m playing cello behind Wesley! You have to have a four-handed part!”
Ghost Trio (w/Wesley Chinn & Melody Fader; 2007)
Other pieces such as Being Here for looped (or pre-recorded) clarinet & bass clarinet (performed here by Rebecca Danard, who also worked with Jennifer Jolley) and a choral piece titled Evolution of a Relationship (which was written for a fellowship from Bang On a Can) are some of her strongest and most compelling works. I asked if she could write a cello concerto, and she seemed to like that idea. I guess the best way to get her to do it is to tell her it’s impossible. 😉
On the performing arts in general, Malina explained: “[Meredith Monk]‘s mission statement had said something about how the ethnic cultures have it covered. They don’t separate music, dance, drama, theater--It’s all one. And that appeals to me so strongly, the idea of ‘How can you write a piece without considering the visual element of it, or the dramatic element of it?’–Not that it has to tell a story or have a plot or make sense, but we react to that as humans in the audience. Why ask anyone to come to a live performance if you’re only taking into consideration the oral feedback? Then get it on Spotify!”
Additionally, Mailna has also guested on music outside of classical like Ohio-based band The Concessions, singer-songwriter Bernie Shanahan, and was even asked to play flute on an anonymous Brooklyn hip-hop recording! “I don’t even know who it was! Yeah, somebody just–I have no idea how they found me, but we just went way out in the middle of nowhere into a recording studio in Brooklyn and they’re like ‘Can you play something like this, y’know?’ I have no clue what the CD was called or anything!”