Get to know the Grossman Ensemble: Nick Photinos, cello

Nick Photinos headshot_credit Joe Mazza


Here at the Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition, we're introducing (or re-introducing) you to members of our resident ensemble, the Grossman Ensemble. Today, we're featuring cellist Nick Photinos, one of the newest members of the ensemble. Read on to learn about Nick's connection to pop music, what he's been reading lately, and more!

You have previously collaborated with popular artists such as Björk, and even stated that your debut solo album Petits Artéfacts shares a lot of the same hallmarks of pop. How does pop music inform your approach to the cello? 

Rhythm. I often think about how the sense of rhythm in classical music, whether new music or old, has such a different feel for the beat, usually on the very front part of the beat, where in almost every other genre it sits back on the beat. Even talking about front/back part of the beat is something classical musicians rarely seem to do, let alone practice. But then you listen to anything in other genres and it sits way back: check out D'Angelo's "Sugah Daddy," which sits soooo far back on the beat it might as well be a room over.

What’s the most inspiring musical performance you’ve been to recently? 

This summer I heard a Catalan vocal duo named Tarta Relena, whose music has been described as electronic-accented folk music. Their vocal range and intonation were unbelievable, and I've been following them and recommending them to everyone--I had never heard anything like it, it sounds both very old and very new at the same time.

What do you enjoy doing during your time away from your instrument? 

Cooking, traveling, biking, hiking. My wife and I are big foodies, and I'm a big beer and cocktail nerd.

If the cello were a culinary dish, what would it be? 

Noodles: it's in everything, can both support and be the star, has a huge range, and is found around the world.

Any book recommendations? 

These are VERY different: I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi, and All the Right Notes by Dominic Lim. Ramit Sethi has a recent show on Netflix which is great, but I've been following him for years and especially use and teach this book, which really has incredibly sound, straightforward advice on how to manage your money. The other book is the wildly successful debut romance novel ​by a friend I have known since middle school, Dominic Lim, which also taps into his background as a singer and Filipino. It's a really fun, clever read.

What has been your most memorable moment from your time with the Grossman Ensemble so far? 

No one moment stands out, but from the start it has been joyous and completely different than anything I've been a part of--a larger conducted ensemble that acts and rehearses like a chamber music ensemble, and that gets to develop work over time with a composer. It's a really refreshing model and one I'm incredibly grateful to be part of.

As one of the newest members, what are you most looking forward to about the Grossman Ensemble’s upcoming season? 

​Working with my friends and colleagues, meaning both the musicians and many of the composers coming in that I know, and also meeting and working with the ones I don't know.