Inspired by his brother's death, student Amirosh Issa dedicates himself to the cello
by Sherry Wodraska Neaves
On the world stage, internationally renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma performs with an endlessly varied musical cast, some famous, some not. At the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Salt Lake City, he accompanied British rock icon Sting and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Late last year he performed with UTA cello student Amirosh Issa.
Issa toured with Ma on The Silk Road Project, the cellist's in-depth exploration of the art and culture of countries along the ancient trade route linking India, Tibet, Persia and Greece. Ma has long been a proponent of musical investigation, delving into subjects as diverse as native Chinese music and the distinctive rhythms of the Kalahari bush people in Africa.
"Amirosh is a very bright young man with a gentle soul. He is incredibly passionate about music. His deep love of music is always evident to me when we play together."
cellist Yo-Yo Ma
"Right now he's focusing on Eastern music, studying how Western music is rooted in Eastern traditions," Issa explained. "He's finding connections between the music and looking for ways to connect the peoples."
The two cellists first connected in 1999, when Issa, a native of Jordan, attended a summer workshop for Middle Eastern student musicians in Germany. Ma was there, conducting master classes.
For the previous two years, Issa had immersed himself in music as a way to deal with the serious illness of his younger brother. Vic had started out as the family cellist while Amirosh played the bass. But at age 16, Vic was diagnosed with cancer; he left home for treatment in the United States. He lived in America for three years, and during his last year studied with UTA music Associate Professor Elizabeth Morrow.
"The cello was just there after he left, and I missed him a lot so I picked it up," Issa said. "I didn't really know what was going on with him, but I had a bad feeling about it. I decided that the best way to cope was to concentrate on music."
During the German summer workshop, Issa asked Ma to play a composition he had written in memory of his brother, who died in 1998. "I told him about my brother and my music, and he said, 'I saw all of what you said in the music.'"
"I was very moved when Amirosh explained to me that he had switched from his first instrument, the bass, to play the cello to honor Vic," Ma said.
After Issa completed a computer science bachelor's degree in Jordan, he followed his brother's path to the Fort Worth area, where their sister and her family lived. Once in Texas, he decided to continue with the cello and enrolled at UTA to study with Dr. Morrow.
"There's something really special about Amirosh," Dr. Morrow said. "His musicianship is very fine."
When Ma made a solo performance stop in Fort Worth, Issa and Dr. Morrow attended the concert and afterward waited backstage to talk with him.
"I was the only person in that audience he knew, and when I showed up backstage he gave me a big hug," Issa recalled. Ma invited the young cellist and his professor to join him for breakfast and musical conversation the next morning.
Ma traveled on but kept Issa in mind and in 2001 invited him to join The Silk Road Project, performing in Dallas, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Alepo, Syria. The Silk Road ensemble included musicians from India, Greece and other countries, and they used both Eastern and Western instruments; Issa played a piece by an Iranian composer.
In Washington, the group performed a memorial concert for families of victims in the Sept. 11 attacks.
"You really feel you're sharing their sadness," Issa said. "I really felt the music helped relieve them."
"Amirosh is a very bright young man with a gentle soul," Ma said. "He is incredibly passionate about music. His deep love of music is always evident to me when we play together."
Experiencing Ma's passion for making music was the most valuable aspect of Issa's participation in The Silk Road Project, says Dr. Morrow. "He was able to observe Yo-Yo Ma's spontaneity, his intellect, how he applies it to his music and the humility with which he applies himself to his profession."
Memories of his brother immensely influence Issa's zeal for music. He uses Vic's cello. He studies with the same teacher. He pays for part of his education with a scholarship offered by the Music Department in Vic's name.
And he dreams of following Ma into the ranks of professional musicians, of building a career as a composeralways with Vic in mind.