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Nick Photinos

Nick Photinos
Strings - Cello

Four-time GRAMMY Award-winning cellist Nick Photinos, founding cellist and former co-Artistic Director of Eighth Blackbird, is one of the most innovative and multifaceted cellists of our time. An ardent advocate of new music, he has worked closely with many of the foremost composers of this era and has premiered hundreds of works throughout his career. Apart from multiple Grammy wins, he has received Musical America’s Ensemble of the Year Award, the Macarthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions, the inaugural Chamber Music America Visionary Award, the Naumburg Award, and the Concert Artists Guild Grand Prize.

Described as a “commanding soloist” ( whose “virtuoso cello playing is scintillating” (Chicago Classical Review) and “outstanding for his exquisite precision” (, Photinos has collaborated and toured with an astounding array of artists including rock/pop artists Björk, Wilco, Bryce Dessner, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, film composer Gustavo Santaolalla, classical artists Dawn Upshaw, Philip Glass, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, and jazz artists including Sheila Jordan, Laurence Hobgood, Zach Brock, and Matt Ulery. He has appeared as soloist with numerous orchestras including the Cleveland, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Toronto, Utah, and Atlanta Symphonies, the last with whom he recorded Jennifer Higdon’s On a Wire. He has performed across the globe including the Sydney Opera House, the Barbican in London, KBC Hall in Seoul, Carnegie Hall in New York City, Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles, and Red Rocks Amphitheatre outside Denver.

In recent seasons Photinos debuted in Sweden, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, in a solo recital at the Winnipeg Gallery of Art, and at the inaugural Chosen Vale International Cello Seminar. He also performed across nine US states and returned as a soloist to the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival and the Bang on a Can Summer Festival, where he has taught since 2007. In 2019 he reached millions of listeners on “Live from Here” with Chris Thile and on Netflix’s original movie The Two Popes.

Photinos’ numerous recordings span the Cedille, Nonesuch, New Amsterdam, Greenleaf, and Naxos labels. He recorded for Wilco on their Grammy-nominated album The Whole Love, and with Autumn Defense on their album Once Around. His debut solo album, Petits Artéfacts, deemed “a bold solo debut from one of the most notable artists in contemporary music today” by PopMatters, was released on the New Amsterdam label in 2017 and features first recordings of the most acclaimed names in new music (David Lang, Bryce Dessner, David T. Little, Andrew Norman) as well as a younger generation of groundbreaking composers (Pascal Le Boeuf, Molly Joyce, Florent Ghys, Angelica Negrón).

During Photinos’ 24-year tenure as the founding cellist and co-Artistic Director of Eighth Blackbird, he performed over 1000 concerts and premiered hundreds of new works, including Steve Reich’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Double Sextet and works by Andy Akiho, Michael Gordon, Amy Beth Kirsten, David Lang, David T. Little, Nico Muhly, Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez, Julia Wolfe, and Pamela Z. Eighth Blackbird held multi-year residency positions at the Curtis Institute of Music, the University of Chicago, and at the University of Richmond.

Photinos is a graduate of Northwestern University, the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. He lives in the Chicago area with his daughter and wife, with whom he is co- Artistic Director of Chamber Music at Bethany, a concert series bringing world-class instrumental and vocal chamber music to Chicago’s north side.

Teaching Philosophy

My teaching philosophy is simple: help musicians discover what they want to say (artistry), and give them the tools to say it (technique). And just as each piece of music demands different tools, so does each performer. I strive to deeply know every student, help them identify what they want to achieve, and then give them the technical exercises, repertoire, and wisdom that will expand not just their technique, but their entire artistry and worldview. I love to dig deep into specific technical demands, exploring modes of expression through bow use, vibrato, phrase direction, and a million other technical details to give each student the biggest possible musical palette to work from, and then help that student define and refine their vision for the music they play. To that end, there are several guiding tenets I use:

performance is storytelling: What is the story? Who are the characters?

the goal of technique is to have no technique: Do not let your artistry be dictated by your technical ability

all teaching is self-teaching: Learning only happens when one does the internal work to process, and the external
work to apply. Both come from you.

fail better: Learning doesn’t happen when things are easy, but when we must develop ways around and through
obstacles. Failure is not the inevitable falling down, but the refusal to get up.

be of service, not self-serving: Be of true service to others and to the music, and you will best serve yourself.

always have a plan: Picasso said it best: “Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we
must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act.”

question everything: do not take anything as sacred, for what works for one may not work for another