Arts & Leisure

Avant-cellist Zoë Keating gives virtual concert

EXTRAORDINARY VERMONT CELLIST and composer Zoë Keating will lend a contemporary sound to the Middlebury Performing Arts Series’ yearlong cello celebration with an exclusive virtual concert on Jan. 28.

Extraordinary Vermont-based cellist and composer Zoë Keating will lend a contemporary sound to the Middlebury Performing Arts Series’ yearlong cello celebration with an exclusive virtual concert on Jan. 28. A self-described “avant cellist,” she performs like a one-woman orchestra, using her cello and a foot-controlled laptop to record layer upon layer of cello, creating intricate, haunting, and compelling music.

Keating will perform this virtual concert from the stage of the Mahaney Arts Center’s Robison Hall. The concert will premiere on Friday, Jan. 28, at 7:30 p.m., and will remain available for 48 hours. Streaming tickets ($15 regular, or $5 for Middlebury College students) are available now.

Keating has spent the last 20 years exploring the landscape of sounds a string instrument can make. She coaxes sounds out of the very edges of her cello, adeptly layering them into “swoon inducing” (San Francisco Weekly) music that is unclassifiable yet “a distinctive mix of old and new” (National Public Radio). She is known for her use of technology — which she uses to record and sample her cello on stage and in the studio — and for her DIY approach. She composes, records, and produces works on her own terms, without the help of a record label.

Born in Canada to British and American parents, Keating started playing the cello when she was eight and went on to pursue electronic music and contemporary composition as part of her Liberal Arts studies at Sarah Lawrence College. After graduation she moved to San Francisco and built a career as an information architect and data analyst while moonlighting as a cellist in rock bands. Keating eventually combined her love of music and technology, using a computer to live-layer her cello and performing for late-night parties in the San Francisco warehouse in which she lived.

Keating’s recorded works have achieved a surprising degree of popular ubiquity for a DIY artist. Her self-produced albums have several times reached No. 1 on the iTunes classical charts and spent many months on the Billboard classical charts. Her recordings are used on NPR and CBS programs, in countless documentaries, and in tens of thousands of online videos of everything from professional and amateur dance performances to rock climbing and gaming videos. Keating also composes for TV, theater, film and dance. She co-composed, along with Jeff Russo, the score for the HBO movie “Oslo,” which earned them an Emmy Nomination in 2021 for Outstanding Music for a Television Movie.

Keating’s husband Jeffrey Rusch, who founded the arts warehouse where they lived and where she started her music career, was diagnosed with stage IV cancer in 2014. While she halted her music career to care for him and their then four-year-old son, their struggles with health care and insurance became a new subject of her blog. Following Rusch’s death in 2015, Keating continued to advocate for patients, data portability, and the simplification of medical insurance, culminating in a meeting with President Obama in October of 2016.

Keating lives in Burlington, Vt., and is working on a new album.

Don’t miss this virtual concert on Friday evening. For tickets and information, call (802) 443-MIDD (6433) or visit middlebury.edu/arts.

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