Guatemalan-born Magali Toy arrived in Toronto, Canada at age 2, began
her cello studies at age 4, and has been an avid chamber musician ever
since, serving as a member of the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra,
principal cellist of the Ontario Strings Association Youth Orchestra, and
has been a past winner of the Toronto Sinfonia Concerto Competition.
Magali has been the recipient of numerous awards and prizes, and also
performed in Neapolitan Connection's Young Masters of Classical Music.
Now a Junior at the prestigious New England Conservatory in Boston,
Magali took some time to answer some of our pressing musical questions:
NC: What made you decide to begin playing the cello?
MT: Not "what", but rather, "WHO"!! It was my mother! It was all decided for me when I was three, and I started lessons just as I turned four, so I didn't really have much say in anything at the beginning. My mom chose a stringed instrument because they seemed "fancy" and "elite" to her, and she didn't know anyone who played a stringed instrument except one guy in high school, who seemed really classy, that she had a huge crush on. She preferred the low sound of the cello to the violin, and mostly, she figured if the cello is played badly out of tune in the early learning stages, it wouldn't hurt her ears like it would if I were playing the violin. But, once I got the hang of the cello, I didn't want to quit, nor change to another instrument, and I told my mom that she had picked the very best instrument in the world for me to learn.
NC: What do you love most about playing cello?
MT: Well, certainly NOT the portability of the instrument!! But, what I DO love most about playing the cello easily outweighs the hassle of the size. I love the low, singing-like quality of the cello, and how much like the human voice it can sound, both in its expressiveness and its phrasing. Someone once told me that they'd read a Russian book where the author describes the sound of a cello coming through a window as though someone were singing with their mouth closed. I thought that was a very accurate description of the beauty of it.
NC: Who are your biggest inspirations as a musician?
MT: Not surprisingly, there are a few cellists that inspire me greatly. Firstly, and ever since I was a tiny girl, it's Rostropovich. I've always envied his huge hands, his versatility in playing style, his incredible sound and his flawless technique. Then came my admiration of Yo-Yo Ma, for way too many reasons to list, but mostly for his versatility, as well, but in a different way from Rostropovich's. Maybe describing Ma's style as inclusive and expansive is a better way to express it. And then more recently, I've been gathering inspiration from Norwegian cellist Truls Mork. I can't get enough of listening to his recording of the Schumann cello concerto.
NC: If you had to choose 3 pieces of music to listen to for the rest of your life, what would they be, and why?
MT: A tough question - there are so many beautiful pieces of music in the world, so how to choose?!? After a long thought, I finally decided on Ravel's String Quartet, Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, by Debussy, and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5. All three pieces are incredibly beautiful and I never get tired of hearing them. If I happen to be in a bad mood when I start to listen to them, I inevitably feel much better by the end of the piece. Of course, there are other pieces that are more complex and interesting, or more challenging intellectually, or emotionally, but when I listen to these three pieces, I never feel compelled to analyze them, or figure out why they make me feel the way that they do. So, in that sense, they may be what you call "easy", but not so easy that I would get bored with them over my lifetime.
NC: Where is the most interesting place that you have ever performed?
MT: Performing out-of-doors, to me, has been the most interesting place that I have performed. It hasn't happened often, and acoustically, it's not the greatest, but I always find it challenging and surprisingly comfortable - not just for me as the performer, but seemingly for the audience, too. Whenever I get the opportunity, I try to do my practicing outside, as well. It's much more challenging to get a good sound, and you really find out where your difficult areas are, in terms of sound production! And by not having any walls around you, it's very liberating, in terms of playing to "fill the space". It makes you think larger, but it also makes you realize you don't have to necessarily play louder to be heard - that playing more purely can make a small sound carry further.
NC: Can you describe your most memorable performance experience?
MT: In August, 2016, I went to South Korea on a short tour with the Orford Summer Festival Orchestra. Our performances were generally well-received there, but one in particular was pretty mind-blowing for us. We had already presented a fairly long performance of two hours, but the Korean audience wouldn't let us leave the stage when we were done. They insisted, through a standing ovation that wouldn't stop, that they wanted an encore, so we started playing material that we had already played for them earlier - and ended up playing nearly all of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 all over again as our encore! Their standing ovation between each movement made it clear that they didn't want us to finish playing. Ours was a fine performance, but their performance was even finer - they were extra enthusiastic, sitting at the edges of their seats and waving to us at the end of each movement. We all decided that it was great for the ego to perform in South Korea!
Where do you dream about performing one day?
MT: Ever since I was about five years old, my dream performance location has been Carnegie Hall. I have no idea why from such an early age - I must have overheard someone talking about how all the greats have played there, and still do, so maybe it was the idea of the thrill of walking on the same stage as all my heroes, and the possibility that I could be added to their ranks. And, I always loved the famous Carnegie Hall joke about how you get there - by practicing. The joke seemed both so funny and so true, and the practicing part I could have control of! So, I just figure if I practice enough (and have a bit of luck), I'll get there one day, in one form, or another. To me, it doesn't matter in what capacity - even with a college orchestra, or youth school project as a supervisor - the goal is just to perform there!
You are currently in your third year of Music studies at the New England Conservatory. What are your hopes for the future as a professional musician?
MT: Orchestra has always been my main passion ever since my first exposure to it. I was probably six when I was in my first orchestra, and I was hooked the second that I understood that all the sections had their own part to make either melody or harmony, and that everything was supposed to all fit together like pieces of a puzzle to make one beautiful (hopefully!) picture. From that moment, my desire to be in increasingly better orchestras has never waned.
Presently, the next steps I'm planning are to audition in just less than a year from now for both cello performance and orchestra master's programs in the US. As well as graduate programs, I'm also hoping to audition for the Berlin Philharmonic Academy, as it would be my dream to be associated and play with my favourite orchestra in the world, the Berlin Philharmonic. If everything were to be perfect in a magical world and I could have anything I wanted, then after completing the two years in the Academy, perfection would be achieved by being accepted into the actual Berlin Philharmonic. I'm both a dreamer and a realist, so that's what I'm aiming for (I'm studying German in school and this summer in Germany, and am also trying to meet up and have lessons with some of the cellist in the Phil), but along beside that path, the realist part of me will be extremely happy to play in whichever of the best orchestras that I can get into!
Watch Magali's performance of the Prelude from Bach Cello Suite no. 3 in C Major: