She exited her teen years only last August, but in a very short time Ifetayo Ali-Landing has established herself as one of America’s finest young cellists and, at age 20, a veteran performer with symphony orchestras all over the United States.
“And it is still fun,” smiles the energetic young cellist, whose engaging personality and musical virtuosity will be showcased at New West Symphony’s “Rococo Variations” concerts on January 28 and 29.
“I enjoy almost every part of it,” continues Ifetayo, speaking by phone from the Cleveland Institute of Music where she is a junior. “Practice can be a little tedious sometimes, and doing schoolwork on the plane on my way home from a concert can be challenging. But playing the cello and making music for people bring me joy.”
Which makes sense since her Nigerian first name means “love and joy.” Born and raised in Chicago in a musical family, she started playing violin at age 2, and switched to cello — “a teeny, tiny cello for little kids” — at age 4.
Her aptitude and talent for the instrument was soon recognized by others. In 2013, at the age of ten, Ifetayo was honored at the Friends of the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra Rising Stars Showcase, where she recorded the 1st movement of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto (No. 1). To date, the video has more than 105,000 YouTube views and more than 15 million Facebook views.
At the 2016 Sphinx Competition in Detroit, Ifetayo was awarded Second-Place Laureate in the Junior Division, and a year later claimed First-Place Laureate, performed as soloist with the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra. She was also one of the winners of the 2016 DePaul Concerto Festival for Young Performers and has since performed with the Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh and New World Symphonies, to name a very few.
Ifetayo has appeared on NPR’s “From The Top” (where she performed Vivaldi with Kevin Olusola beatboxing), a solo performance on NPR’s “Tiny Desk Concerts,” and served a Young Artists’ residency with American Public Media’s popular “Performance Today” program. She recently studied at the Colborn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles before transferring to Cleveland last fall to work with one of her favorite teachers, Dr. Melissa Kraut.
“She is just amazing,” says Ifetayo. “She’s on my list of teachers who I love being with, and so CIM was an obvious choice. I also like that CIM promotes more diversity in classical music, and they also have a Black Student Union, which is rare among conservatories.”
But Ifetayo is thrilled at the chance to return to Southern California to perform with New West Symphony — specifically, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Variations on a Rococo Theme,” and, from Zhou Tian’s Cello Concerto, “Flowing Sleeves.”
“The Tchaikovsky piece is something I played four or five years ago, and it’s kind of a core piece for cellists,” she notes. “But it’s my first time playing ‘Flowing Sleeves,’ so I’m really excited to present both pieces.”
And while she also enjoys “hanging” with her friends, taking fitness classes (climbing and Pilates) and taking car of her toy poodle, Twinkle (“My baby,” she laughs), music remains the great joy of her life.
“I’m always around music, whatever else I’m doing,” she says. “It is my life. I can’t imagine going a day without it, and I love to experience other people’s musical creativity.
“And I’m very happy playing the cello,” she continues enthusiastically. “Why do I enjoy it? Well, my little girl answer was that I loved sitting down. Now, though, I say to people, ‘You can play any emotion on the cello.’ It’s very easy to listen to, very mellow and calming. I’m prejudiced, of course, but I think it’s the best instrument in the orchestra. When you hear it, it’s like someone is singing to you.”
Looking ahead, Ifetayo plans to graduate from CIM in 2024, then attend grad school while continuing to perform.
“My dream is to play with all the major orchestras, to travel as many places as I can, and become an international soloist,” she says. “My mom once said, ‘Your cello will take you as far as you want it to.’ And I hope I can take it everywhere.”