Isaac Pastor-Chermak leads a diverse and active musical life at home in Northern California and around the United States. A quintessential 21st-century artist, he engages deeply as a cellist, teacher, conductor, and administrator, motivated by an abiding love of sharing great music with friends and collaborators.
Though he is active in nearly every facet of today’s classical music profession, Mr. Pastor-Chermak is a career orchestral player. In any given weekend of the season, he can be found performing as Principal Cellist of the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony; Associate Principal Cellist of the Stockton Symphony; Assistant Principal Cellist of Opera San Jose and Fresno Philharmonic; and a member of the Berkeley Symphony, Monterey Symphony, Santa Cruz Symphony, Santa Barbara Symphony, and Dayton Philharmonic. Mr. Pastor-Chermak fills his summers with creative teaching and chamber music projects. In addition, he is Assistant Principal Cellist at the Eisenstadt Classical Music Festival in Austria, and Co-Principal Cellist of the Lake Tahoe Music Festival. In past seasons, he has enjoyed time as Principal Cellist of Portland Opera, as well as membership in the West Virginia Symphony and Walla Walla Symphony.
Mr. Pastor-Chermak also maintains a wide range of chamber music commitments — both standing ensembles and ad-hoc projects with favorite colleagues. He is the cellist of Black Cedar Trio, the only flute-cello-guitar ensemble in the United States. Mr. Pastor-Chermak frequently partners with pianists Miles Graber and Alison Lee in sonata programs. To him, the cello-piano sonata is the most challenging genre of classical music, requiring a soloist’s virtuosity and a sensitive ear for accompaniment, often simultaneously, and he relishes the opportunity to tackle ambitious programs with Mr. Graber and Ms. Lee a few times a year. With Ms. Lee and violinist Nicole Oswald, Mr. Pastor-Chermak is one-third of Ensemble 1828, a dynamic new piano trio based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Among Mr. Pastor-Chermak’s most notable projects are nine performances of the complete Bach Suites for Solo Cello, most recently in July 2020. With Ms. Lee, he performed the complete Beethoven Sonatas for Cello and Piano twice in 2017, a program they reprised on Beethoven’s 250th birthday in December 2020. With the symphony and opera world on hold during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, Mr. Pastor-Chermak tackled a robust schedule of solo and chamber music projects, distributing concerts digitally to a national audience.
As a recording artist, Mr. Pastor-Chermak regularly appears in both live and studio recordings. “Backlash Bach,” a CD featuring Bach’s Sonatas BWV 1027-1029, was released Summer 2020. “The Shadow Dancer,” featuring Elliott Miles McKinley’s String Quartet No.8, was released on the Parma/Navona Records label in December 2019. Preludes and Prologues, his debut CD with pianist Alison Lee, is due out January 2021.
Active as a teacher as well, Mr. Pastor-Chermak mentors a small-but-mighty studio of talented young cellists age 8-18. His cello students regularly take top prizes in regional competitions, and alumni of his studio study at the finest music schools and conservatories in the country. In 2015, he founded Solano Youth Chamber Orchestra, a dynamic and versatile group of 25 high-school string players, and served as its Music Director and Conductor for five seasons. Mr. Pastor-Chermak was for many years a chamber music coach in the Berkeley, CA public schools. This formative experience shaped his teaching philosophy of joyful community-building through top-notch music-making, and introduced him to some of his best friends.
As a community leader in the arts, Mr. Pastor-Chermak sits on the Board of Directors of two worthwhile organizations: the East Bay Music Foundation, which presents competitions, showcase concerts, and benefit events for young musicians in the area; and Calliope – East Bay Music and Arts, a brand-new business hub for visual and performing artists launched in 2018.
Mr. Pastor-Chermak grew up in Moscow, Idaho, spending the first decade of his life on a working farm. He began his cello studies in Idaho with Linda and William Wharton. After undergraduate work at the University of Idaho, he received the Bachelor of Arts degree in music, with honors, from the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied cello under Irene Sharp, conducting under Marika Kuzma, and music history under Richard Taruskin. His studies at Berkeley culminated in winning the Lyon Prize, “for academic achievement and distinction in performance,” and the Witzel Prize, “for creative achievement in stringed instrument performance.” Mr. Pastor-Chermak received the Master of Music degree in cello performance from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he studied cello under Jean-Michel Fonteneau. Mr. Pastor-Chermak held an assistantship in music history at the Conservatory, participating in instruction and curriculum design in the undergraduate music history survey. For his outstanding work as a scholar and academic teacher, the Conservatory awarded him honors in music history. He concluded his formal education with the Barbara K. Jackson Fellowship in Orchestral Conducting at the University of California, Davis.
Mr. Pastor-Chermak plays an 1889 Riccardo Antoniazzi cello, and a modern bow from the workshop of Ole Kanestrom in Port Townsend, WA. He performs the sixth Bach suite on a 1982 five-string cello by Antonius Garcius Rosius. His instruments are maintained exclusively by Roland Feller Violin Makers of San Francisco, and his bows are maintained exclusively by Brianna Goldberg Bows of Pasadena.
Mr. Pastor-Chermak makes his home in the hills of Berkeley, California, but is at home wherever the music takes him.