What’s behind the creative mind Karen Kaderavek

By Hannah Polinski

There is no doubt in Karen Kaderavek’s mind when the lights go up on stage. With her body wrapped around the cello, she is in complete control of the sound that will fill the room.

Stagefright isn’t an option for the Sutton-based cellist, who has been using the same instrument since 1985. With years of experience and a career that spans across the globe, she is confident in her ability to interpret music that evokes deep emotion in its listeners. While she may get nervous in the days or weeks leading up to a show, all of her worries disappear as soon as the cello rests against her body.

“The cello is part of me,” she explains. “It’s an extension of who I am.”

Being the daughter of a musician and a cello lover, Karen was guided towards the instrument at the age of eight. At the time, classical music was still a man’s world. Brass and wind sections of the orchestra were male-dominated, but her father saw that strings were more open to women, meaning that she would be able to go farther with cello than another instrument like French horn or clarinet.

Not that the cello is a delicate or less-challenging instrument by any means. It requires a great deal of physical strength and stamina to play the instrument, which she built from a young age.

Early in her career, Karen often found herself the only woman in the room at auditions. “In those days, as a woman, I would have to play better than men. Not just be on par, but had to outplay men.”

She rose to the challenge, landing her first job at 23 as the principal cellist of the Vermont Symphony. Gender imbalance was not going to stand in her way of playing music, and her confidence grew in this role as she learned how to lead the cello section of an orchestra.

Her career went on to include a number of other impressive positions as a soloist, chamber artist, and performer. Some of her most notable achievements include being the principal cellist of the six-time Grammy-nominated Boston Baroque, playing at Carnegie Hall, her first solo recording Cello Alchemy, and touring across North America and Europe. Offstage, she launched a career in academia, teaching musicology and performance at various universities and colleges in North America.

Dynamics in the orchestral world have changed since she first began, but Karen’s love for cello has remained the same. The cello is often described as a large violin, but its distinct and beautiful sound is what distinguishes the two, which can be akin to a human voice. It’s that touch of intimacy that makes the cello so intriguing, and brings a musician closer to its core.

“It’s the only instrument you really wrap yourself around,” she explains. “It’s really like hugging something. You feel the vibration of the instrument going through your body.”

When she doesn’t have the cello in her hands, Karen is the host of a weekly radio show on CIDI 99.1fm, called The Classical Music of the World. Every Sunday and Wednesday from 10 a.m.-noon, she shares indigenous music from different countries around the world. Each episode begins with a different theme, and includes an emphasis on Canadian content in addition to songs from a variety of cultures.

Karen’s scheduled cello performances are currently on hold due to pandemic protocols, but that doesn’t mean she’s stepped back from her craft. Thankfully, practicing is a socially distant activity and she has been able to stay in tune with both herself and her music. A return to the stage remains something for the undetermined future, but until then, Karen is happy to be working on a solo program with her trusted cello at her side.

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