Penn State College of Arts and Architecture
Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State

Cellist Karlos Rodriguez sees music as vehicle to teach about community and communication

By Teona Ringgold

Cellist Karlos Rodriguez, who began his professional music career at 13, has emerged as an outstanding soloist, recitalist, and chamber musician. He has performed in notable concert venues, including Carnegie Hall, Merkin Concert Hall, Lincoln Center, and Radio City Music Hall. He is the principal cellist with Sphinx Virtuosi and a member of the orchestra’s Catalyst Quartet. He’s also a former principal cellist with Florida Grand Opera in Miami.

He has won several competitions and awards, and he has worked with many renowned artists—including Beaux Arts Trio, and the Canvani, Cleveland, and Emerson quartets. Rodriguez has collaborated with various modern dance companies and contributed to Broadway musicals and albums by pop stars such as Shakira and Marc Anthony.

In addition to his performance projects, he is an advocate for diversity in classical music and the arts. He teaches at Summertrios chamber music festival and Sphinx Performance Academy.

In this interview, Rodriguez, who performed with Sphinx September 29 at Schwab Auditorium, discusses the importance of diversity and inclusion in the arts.

Teona Ringgold: Do you come from a musical background?
Karlos Rodriguez: I have an uncle that was an opera singer, but that’s about it. My family is full of music lovers, though.

Ringgold: Who has been a mentor to you or has inspired you throughout your career?
Rodriguez: Other than parents and teachers, I draw a lot of inspiration from artists that I’ve worked with in other fields. For instance, (American actress, dancer, and singer) Chita Rivera has been a great source of inspiration when it comes to discipline, longevity, and dedication to craft.

Ringgold: If you could play a piece with any musician, dead or alive, who would it be?
Rodriguez: Bach’s keyboard works. It’s one of the reasons that Catalyst Quartet arranged the Goldberg Variations (which was on the program at the quartet’s September 2015 Center for the Performing Arts concert).

Ringgold: What are some songs on your playlist right now?
Rodriguez: I listen to a lot of world music, specifically music from Brazil and Argentina of all genres and time periods.

Ringgold: Do you feel music and/or the arts in general should be added to school curricula?
Rodriguez: Music is a vital tool in the development of brain function and an extremely useful tool in teaching about community and communication.

Ringgold: Where do you hope your music career will lead you?
Rodriguez: I just hope to be as musically active as possible for as long as possible.

Ringgold: How do you feel about the diversity, or lack thereof, in classical music? Is there enough representation of people of color in orchestras and composers?
Rodriguez: Issues of diversity are always challenging, but that’s why we do what we do when it comes to inclusion and the programing of great music with the Catalyst Quartet and the Sphinx Organization.

Ringgold: What instrument, if any, have you been curious to learn other than your own?
Rodriguez: I’ve got my hands full with the cello.

Read interviews with Sphinx violist Celia Hatton and violinist Hannah White.

Teona Ringgold, a Penn State junior majoring in advertising, is a communications intern with the Center for the Performing Arts. Ringgold recently completed an internship in New York City with O Magazine. The Pittsburgh native comes from a family of musicians and has grown up with the arts as a strong influence. She even attended a performing arts high school. She is involved on campus and in the community, and continues to explore the topic of diversity and inclusion in the arts.