Cellist Rachel Gawell is a bold performer with a gutsy approach to her instrument. Trained classically alongside today's top-tier string players, she has a passion and natural instinct for challenging musical environments. From rock bands to chamber music ensembles to experimental noise music, Gawell's playing distinguishes itself by pairing a rigorous conservatory skillset with enthusiasm for expanding what is possibile on the cello.
Born and raised in Maryland, Rachel began studying the violin at age 4. Liking the growl of the low notes best, she switched to cello at age 8. Five years later she was accepted into Peabody Sinfonietta, and from the first rehearsal of Beethoven's 5th Symphony and Mahler's Songs of a Wayfarer, Gawell's enthusiasm became a devotion. She began private study with National Symphony Orchestra principal David Hardy, continuing throughout her high school years at Baltimore School for the Arts and Bachelor of Cello Performance at Peabody Conservatory. She studied chamber music with Robert van Sice, Maria Lambros, Michael Kannen, and Alison Wells. Rachel participated in prestigious classical musical festivals including the Fontainebleau Conservatoire (France), Bowdoin International Music Festival, Encore School for Strings, and Boston University Tanglewood Institute. She was featured twice on NPR's From The Top, and performed Bachianas Brasilieras No. 5 alongside Yo-Yo Ma and Baltimore Symphony cellists for the gala opening of the Music Center at Strathmore.
Rachel gained a love of contemporary and avant-garde music through participation in the Henry Mancini Institute, Peabody Camerata, and Bowdoin's Gamper Festival of Contemporary Music. She has performed some of the most challenging repertoire for the instrument including Donatoni Alamari, Rzewski Coming Together, Didkovsky Caught by the Sky with Wire, Denisov Sonata for Saxophone and Cello, Ginastera Puneña No. 2, and Reich Triple Quartet. She has premiered over 50 works by living composers. At Peabody, Rachel co-founded No Signal, an eclectic ensemble dedicated to contemporary music and breaking the bounds of the “classical concert,” with like-minded musicians including saxophonist Zach Herchen, composer Kevin Clark, percussionists Michael Compitello and Greg Jukes, and soprano Elisabeth Halliday. Kevin Clark's The Seafarer for acting cellist, commissioned and premiered by Rachel as part of No Signal, was made into a film which won honors at festivals in 2012.
Gawell studied at the Rotterdam Conservatory, having been invited personally by Netherlands Chamber Orchestra principal Herre-Jan Stegenga. During her time in the Netherlands she served as principal cellist with the Ricciotti Ensemble, performing orchestral concerts, community outreach, and impromptu (“wild-op”) street performances all over the country. Rachel was also principal cellist in the Codarts Symphonic Jazz Orchestra, performing alongside guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkle in the Festival Jazz International Rotterdam. She co-founded experimental noise improvisation trio Anorak with drummer Onno Govaert (Cactus Truck) and pianist Andrea Taeggi (Lumisokea), appearing on Dutch radio and completing successful tours across Europe and the United States.
In April 2015 Gawell and producer Michael Costaney released EP "How to Land a Hot Air Balloon," launching Baba Sonya, which has since enjoyed viral success on Spotify's U.S. Viral Top 50 playlist with single Human-Made Machines. Rachel is a founding member of Boston-based band The Ballroom Thieves, having played over 150 shows with the band in their first two years including bills alongside Dispatch, the Lone Bellow, Houndmouth, and Little Green Cars at such prestigious venues as Summerfest, The Sinclair, Great Scott, and Club Passim. She can be heard on The Devil & The Deep and The Ballroom Thieves. Gawell went on to tour and record with River City Extension and is featured on Deliverance for which she contracted the string quartet. Skilled at improvisation, speed memorization, and arranging for strings, she works as a session musician in recording studios in New York City.
Gawell is a teaching artist at The New York Philharmonic's Very Young Composers and Symphony Space. A proponent of tried and true instrumental technique, she also encourages students to unlock their artistic expression through experimentation and improvisation. Her teaching centers around practicing efficiently for results, goal setting, ensemble skills, and concert attendance. Passing on the great knowledge she received from her teachers, Rachel is committed to fostering a love of music in the next generation of cellists and friends of the arts. Rachel lives in New York City.