Utah Symphony Principal Cello remembered for versatility, curiosity

By David Burger  | The Salt Lake Tribune
First Published Jul 16 2013 05:18 pm

J. Ryan Selberg, the Utah Symphony’s principal cellist for the past 38 years, died at his home on Sunday shortly after being diagnosed with brain cancer. He was 66.

“Losing Ryan is tragic for all of us,” said Utah Symphony | Utah Opera President and CEO Melia Tourangeau in a prepared statement. “This loss is one for the entire community, not just our organization.”

Added Keith Lockhart, the organization’s music director from 1998 to 2009: “The speed of [Selberg’s] demise shocked everyone.”

Lockhart is in Park City this week to conduct several concerts in the Utah Symphony’s Deer Valley Music Festival. He said Wednesday’s performance at St. Mary’s Church will be dedicated to Selberg.

Selberg was scheduled to perform Hungarian composer Erno Dohnányi’s Konzertstück in D Major for Cello and Orchestra on Aug. 7 as part of the festival. An updated program for the concert will be announced at a later date.

Lockhart said the cellist’s versatility and curiosity always impressed him. Several times a year during the Lockhart’s tenure, Selberg would send him scratchy, out-of-print recordings of repertoire that he recommended the orchestra perform. Lockhart said four or five times, he followed Selberg’s suggestions.

“Ryan was a great musician, accomplished soloist and talented leader. He was an integral part of our orchestra … and leaves a legacy which will continue to inspire us,” Pat Richards, chairwoman of the symphony board, said in a statement.

In a 2008 interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, Selberg spoke of his audition for the late, legendaryUtah Symphony music director Maurice Abravanel. “Abravanel was looking not only for good musicians but good people,” Selberg said. “Hopefully, I was ‘good people.’ ”

Selberg also recounted to The Tribune that his first cello teacher in Los Angeles, where he was raised, claimed he had absolutely no talent. His mother didn’t believe this assessment and found another teacher, who had played with the Utah Symphony before moving to the Los Angeles area.

Selberg’s death is the latest in a series of tragedies for Utah Symphony members. The 22-year-old son of bassist Jamie Allyn died in a boating accident at Bear Lake in late June; the 2-year-old son of horn player Ron Beitel also died in late June in a plane crash. “It hurts even from afar,” said Lockhart, conductor of the Boston Pops, of the calamities.