Internationally-renowned trumpet player, Paul Merkelo, and virtuoso pianist, Robert Cassidy, will be featured during The Russian Connection symphony concert on Sunday, January 6, at Atascadero United Methodist Church.

Greg Magie, Conductor of the Symphony of the Vines Orchestra, performed in a brass quintet with Merkelo while they were students at the Eastman School of Music in New York. “He was impressive to perform with twenty years ago,” Magie remembers. “Today, Paul has become one of the great trumpet players of our generation.”

Paul Merkelo has been the Solo Trumpet of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra since 1995. He has played with orchestras throughout the United States, and extensively toured North and South America, Europe, Russia and Asia. He made his New York debut at Lincoln Center with the New World Symphony and Michael Tilson in 1998.


“Paul has become one of the great trumpet players of our generation.”

Greg Magie, Symphony of the Vines Music Director and Conductor

The Russian Connection features “Concerto for Piano and Trumpet with Orchestra” written by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich in 1933.

“I don’t think there’s any easy Shostakovich piece out there,” said Cassidy, the featured pianist. “The combination of trumpet, piano and orchestra makes this piece very unique in the repertoire. Shostakovich led a difficult life under Stalin. His music is emotional, at times stark, and very powerful. This concerto reflects Shostakovich the man.”

Merkelo believes that his skills on the trumpet are earned not necessarily gifted. “When I was young, I tried several instruments such as piano and drums, but they didn’t work out. The sound of the trumpet intrigued me and I was motivated to practice,” Merkelo said. “It was not easy for me especially when I got braces! But I found my voice and a creative mindset when I practiced. It was like I created my own dream world.”

While at Eastman, Merkelo’s education almost derailed during his senior year when his mother was unable to pay for his tuition. However, some luck through hard work came his way when he won a scholarship that enabled him to finish college and launch his career.

Today, Merkelo teaches master classes, in addition to performing. “If I sense that a student has a great desire to learn and is willing to do just about anything to get better – that’s inspiring to me because that’s how I was.”

About 18 years ago, Merkelo set-up his own annual scholarship for young musicians who are financially strapped. Merkelo teaches at McGill University, Montreal, and, during the summer, is on the faculty at Music Academy of the West, Santa Barbara.

As a young boy, Cassidy thought his heart was set on becoming a gymnast when his parents suggested piano lessons and he took to it right away. Cassidy has a doctorate in piano chamber music and performance from Ball State University.

He teaches master classes, workshops and maintains a private studio at The Music of the West in Santa Barbara. “At this point in my life, I find the study of music is equally rewarding as performing. I consider myself lucky to be able to spend hours a day delving into a piece of music and finding the heart of what a composer intended in a particular work.”

Greg Magie and Paul Merkelo had a reunion a few years back and began dreaming of this concert showcasing Shostakovich’s work. In addition, Merkelo is traveling to Russia in late January to record the same concert with the Moscow Philharmonic.

The concert’s music also focuses on the artists Shostakovich knew and studied with at the St. Petersburg Conservatory; his teacher, Alexander Glazounov, and colleague, Sergei Prokofiev.

You can experience The Russian Connection with Paul Merkelo, Robert Cassidy and the Symphony of the Vines Orchestra on Sunday, January 6, 3 pm, at the Atascadero Methodist Church, 11605 El Camino Real, Atascadero. Tickets are $15 – $30, and children K-12 are free with a paid adult thanks to a sponsorship from Jim and Carolyn Brescia. Tickets are available at the door or click the ticket to purchase online!






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