Minneapolis cellist Nygel Witherspoon, a 2017 Minnesota Varsity Showcase Artist and winner of the 2019 Sphinx Competition Junior Division, continues to achieve national recognition for his superb musicianship. The young musician was recently featured on the national radio program From the Top.
Pianist and MacArthur 'Genius' Jeremy Denk hosted the episode, which featured the Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra with conductor Filippo Ciabatti. Witherspoon joined several outstanding young musicians from across the country for a series of performances and interviews, recorded at the Hopkins Center for the Performing Arts in Hanover, New Hampshire.
Witherspoon performed the first movement from Dmitri Shostakovich's Concerto No. 1 for Cello and Orchestra, considered among the most difficult works for cello. He shared that one of the biggest challenges in preparing the piece was learning to convey the strong emotions that Shostakovich hoped to express in the music.
"There's a lot of frustration in this piece," he told Denk. "With his composition, [Shostakovich] had a lot of oppression from the government. He was very restricted in what he could compose, but at the same he wanted to express his ideas. He had to have a sort of undertone to his music."
Witherspoon studied cello performance with Tanya Remenikova through the postsecondary enrollment options classes at the University of Minnesota. He is a recipient of the Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award and is currently studying at Curtis Institute of Music with Peter Wiley.
Several Minnesota Varsity alumni have gone on to great things. For more on these incredible young people, check out "Where are they now?" — an online series that tracks past participants' latest successes.
Listen to Witherspoon's complete performance below.