When Art, Music and Dance is in the Family Way

Margaret Garrett and Bruce Wolosoff in summer, 2019.

By Michelle Trauring

With just one day to record a defining cello concerto, Margaret Garrett knew her husband was nervous.

She didn’t blame him. The league was bigger. The sound was louder. The musical colors were bolder and brighter, their movement more deliberate than anything the composer had ever written.

This was a turning point, not only in his career, but also his life, and it now relied entirely on the prowess of cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio, supported by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, without a single full rehearsal.

The cello concerto was composed specifically for Sant’Ambrogio, and from the first note, Bruce Wolosoff’s music changed the room.

“I always knew he was a wonderful composer, but to hear this piece in the world …,” Garrett trailed off, momentarily swept up in the memory as she sat in her studio on Shelter Island. “I got to go when they recorded it last summer in London, and being in that room was just like, ‘Oh my God, this is amazing.’ It was moving, it was exciting, it was like, ‘Wow, this is really what you’re meant to be doing in the world.’”

Bruce Wolosoff during the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra recording session.

Paired with Edward Elgar’s masterful cello concerto and Sant’Ambrogio’s own arrangements of Astor Piazzolla’s sultry “Libertango” and “Oblivion,” the album of the performance has already drawn critical acclaim since its release last month, gracing the Top Ten on the Billboard Classical chart for multiple weeks — and landing Wolosoff’s work among the history of great cello concertos.

“That recording was a huge turning point in my life, getting to work with the Royal Philharmonic,” he said at home on Shelter Island. “It’s a different league for me to be working in. It was so thrilling to work on that larger canvas. That’s the image that stayed with me. I get to tell a long, big story, and use a lot of colors. It has a textural richness that is beyond anything I’ve done before.”

The cello concerto release in October is just one of several highlights for Wolosoff from the past year. January saw his Grammy-nominated “More Music Inspired by Visual Art: Music of Bruce Wolosoff,” followed by his springtime collaboration with Pilobolus dance company at the New York Academy of Art. That project was a true meeting of the minds, the composer said, as the dancers danced, he improvised and participating artists drew.

And between it all, Wolosoff played publicly for the first time in years, for none other than Jules Feiffer, another Shelter Island resident, on the occasion of his 90th birthday.

“When I RSVP-ed yes, they said, ‘Oh! Would you mind playing something?’ hoping to have some musical offerings for the evening,” the composer recalled. “My first reaction was, ‘No, I don’t do that kind of thing.’ Then I thought about it and I’m like, ‘But why not? It’ll be an interesting group of people there.’ I played and it went so unbelievably well that I felt like playing again.”

Juliet Garrett and Bruce Wolosoff rehearsing in summer 2019

Come September, he would — this time alongside his daughter, Juliet Garrett, and her band during an intimate concert at Guild Hall in East Hampton. The band even performed several of Wolosoff’s rock compositions written specifically for them, inspired by Homer’s epic, “The Odyssey,” that will take shape as a larger piece, he said.

“It was, truly, one of the best nights of my life,” he said. “So now, it’s a dilemma. These two, sort of breakthrough things happened within a month of each other. You had the cello concerto recording coming out, and this ‘Odyssey’ thing with the band, and now I like playing piano again. So it’s been an exciting year, energetically.”

Undeniably, the Wolosoff-Garrett tribe is the embodiment of that energy, their home a playground for creativity. While each artist in the family thrives individually, they reconvene as a collective whole, endlessly inspired by one another while maintaining their separate identities.

Sister Juliet Garrett and Katya Wolosoff in the family kitchen on Shelter Island, 2017.

“I think all of us in the family seem to want to make things,” Wolosoff said. “I’m often really inspired by seeing Margaret’s work; she’s a f—–g genius. It’s so interesting, when you see somebody who’s talented suddenly doing work that you can’t see where it came from. So they took that quantum leap into genius.”

Wolosoff is specifically referring to Garrett’s acrylic painting on linen, “Rhythm at Dusk,” and its corresponding single channel video, “In My World II,” which plays with fragmented body image, currently on view as part of “Artists Choose Artists” at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill.

“I’ve been abstract painting for many, many years, but as of the last couple of years, I started making these video art pieces, which I’m pretty excited about. It has been like a discovery,” Garrett said. “I see it as an evolution and also a full-circle thing, because I started as a dancer.”

A professional ballerina at age 16, Garrett would naturally infuse her visual art with motion, music and rhythm, she said. Dance shaped her creativity “and how I see things,” she said, but when she first started seriously painting, she never talked about it.

“I was trying to take on this other identity. At that time, it seemed people were more like, ‘You’re either this or that,’ so I really pushed it aside and it’s been nice to come back around,” she said. “I’ve changed and the world’s changed, where it’s okay to do more than one thing, or that we are all this mix of all these things we do and that we know. It’s been nice to embrace that side of me again. And it’s fun! It’s fun to be dancing again. It was such a part of me.”

Katya Wolosoff working in the studio at SACI, Florence, Italy, 2018.

Garrett was a 21-year-old dancer, fresh to New York City, when she met Wolosoff on a blind date. It was a lazy Saturday afternoon spent running errands in the West Village, eating lunch, sipping coffee and chatting with a homeless man about love in Washington Square Park before he walked her to the subway and said goodbye.

“I was just having fun and dating, and he wasn’t, so we danced around that for a few months,” Garrett said with a laugh. “But I got to know him and then, of course, I fell madly in love with him. It was really, really fortunate to have found this amazing person so young.”

Together, they have watched each other grow and evolve, and created a home of music, art and love — first for themselves and then for their daughters, Juliet Garrett, a naturally gifted songwriter from a very early age, and Katya Wolosoff, who was always holed up in her room creating something, anything, her parents reported.

“My parents influenced my exploration into the arts through being examples of the joy and beauty they could create by doing their jobs,” Katya Wolosoff said. “My dad got me my first cello when I was 5 years old, he helped me learn almost every piece of music I wanted to play, taught me music theory, and drove me every week to my cello lessons, which were two-plus hours away up island.

“My mom let me try out painting in her studio,” she continued. “She would indulge my every creative whim, from going to knitting shops with me to pick out different types and colors of wool, to driving to many different art stores so I could find the perfect color of ink I wanted to use in an ink painting, to teaching me how to sew, draw, paint, and see the world. Together, my parents make quite a team.”

As Katya Wolosoff finishes up her studies at Skidmore College, with a new focus in bronze sculpture, and Juliet Garrett continues to write music and search for a record label from her home in London, life at the Wolosoff-Garrett household is slightly quieter, but ever inspired.

“I practice in the evening while I’m cooking dinner and Margaret’s in her studio,” Wolosoff said. “And then she comes in, whenever she comes in, and we have dinner at eight or nine o’clock, just the two of us, and talk about what we’re working on. Sometimes she’ll show me photographs from her studio; sometimes I’ll play her something. And then we tend to watch some kind of spy thing on TV. We like spy stuff.”

He laughed. “But you know what? We are just really proud of each other, of where we are today, and the life we have created.”