It should be a sweet homecoming of sorts when violinist Randall Goosby returns to Sarasota to perform Dec. 8 for The Perlman Music Program Suncoast. Goosby, 26, spent a number of winter weeks studying and performing during the PMP Suncoast residency here, as well as happy summers at the PMP on Shelter Island in New York.
Now Goosby has a successful solo career and receives rave reviews for his musicianship, including this one from the L.A. Times: “Randall Goosby plays like an angel with nothing to prove.” We spoke with him recently prior to his upcoming concert, at the Sarasota Opera House, where he will team with pianist Zhu Wang.
When did you first pick up a violin?
"I started when I was 7 years old, and it was one of those love at first sight kind of things. I had actually started on piano because I was not able to get my hands on a violin first, but I had no talent for piano. When I started with the violin, it was like what playing video games was to my siblings and friends.
"My mom noticed my affinity for it and that I had a talent worth nurturing. She made my progress possible in those early years, going out of her way to find the best teachers. We were living in Jacksonville then, and she drove to Daytona Beach for my first serious teacher.
"Once we moved to Memphis in 2010 or so, we couldn’t continue driving to Daytona for lessons. But by a series of fortunate events, I found myself at a music festival in Colorado, where I was assigned to [violinist] Philippe Quint. We ended up flying once a month to New York City from Memphis to work with Philippe…did that for two to three years, and I just skyrocketed. But there was a limit to keeping with that schedule.
"I remember I was in a lesson playing something I’d played for Philippe hundreds of times before. He stopped me and said, 'Is this something you really want to do?' I’m 13 at this point, I just don’t know. He was like, 'I can’t give you weekly lessons, I travel, we’re separated by several states. If there’s one person who can help you, it’s Itzhak Perlman.' He urged me to apply for PMP on Shelter Island, and I auditioned and got in."
That had to be both exciting and nerve-wracking.
"I was quite nervous being there the first day, knowing I was going to meet him. But that was sort of a lightbulb going off, too, that summer of 2011. That was the first time I’d been around 30 or 40 other people my age who were equally talented, dedicated and passionate. I left Shelter Island with complete confidence, almost laughing at myself for thinking I might quit. I was inspired, rejuvenated, and a little intimidated, too."
What made PMP work for you?
"Mr. and Mrs. Perlman really built the program around this idea of a loving, supportive, open-hearted community. I left there with some of my best friends to this day from that first summer. I started in 2011 and went back every summer until I aged out in 2015. And I think from the first year I also attended the Sarasota chapter every winter. It was just incredible. You get the PMP blues a week or a month after the summer; you look back on the memories and realize you aren’t going to see these people again for months. That’s why Sarasota was an oasis for us--going there, hanging out, practicing for four hours every morning, then every afternoon, singing and chorus and private lessons with Itzhak Perlman and his assistant. That rekindled the flame mid-year. Being with what we call the 'littles,' [the younger students] was some of the absolute best times of my life."
Then you “graduated” to the next level with PMP?
"Yes, and the chamber music workshops are an entirely different thing—a lot more focused on the collaborative aspect. I’ve grown more and more passionate about chamber music and that collaborative spirit. The groups change; you play with different sets of people. There’s a glorious sharing of knowledge and ideas and perspectives.
"At this point in my career, I’m doing a lot more traveling and performing. I still have to figure out a way to sneak in and get back every summer."
You came out with your debut album, Roots, last year. Tell me about that.
"The album came as a pandemic project, when we were all locked down. It happened to be a time also fixated on Black Lives Matter and several tragic murders. I was home, as many of my musician colleagues were, and did a lot of panel discussions about race, equity, etc. Those feel good in the moment, but you wake up the next day thinking, “What did that actually do? Did I change anyone’s hearts or minds?” The latter part of 2020, I started to feel kind of lost and hopeless.
"Then Decca Records in the U.K. offered me a record contract, and they said, “We like our debut albums to be a story. Tell us who you are.” It was a really easy decision to go in the direction we did with the album [which explores the evolution of African-American music]. It was a healing process to remind myself and introduce myself to so much music that’s out there we don’t give the light of day, works not recorded before or widely accepted.
"Now I’m trying to find a balance between paying homage and broadening the scope of classical music with the repertoire we play. I grew up learning and loving and playing the same classical standards everyone else does. Mozart and Brahms are as much a part of my career as Black composers. I try to highlight the connection between them, the carryover and influence for hundreds of years."
For tickets to “An Evening with Randall Goosby” (featuring works by Lili Boulanger, Maurice Ravel, William Grant Still and Beethoven) at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 8, stop by the opera box office or click here. For more information about the coming PMP Winter Residency here, Dec. 28 through Jan. 7, visit perlmansuncoast.org.