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Classical 101

Columbus Tubist Finds Unlikely Performance Space

Tony Zilincik plays the tuba in the back stairwell of WOSU's headquarters.
Jennifer Hambrick
Columbus tubist Tony Zilincik plays in the resonant back stairwell of WOSU's headquarters.

You might expect a classical musician looking for a performance space to seek out a velvet-cushioned concert hall. But Columbus tubist Tony Zilincik searched high and low for a different kind of venue and found a performance home in a most unlikely place.

“There’s something attractive about stairwells,” said Zilincik, an associate professor at Capital University’s Conservatory of Music. “Anytime somebody goes on vacation to Europe, you always see pictures of bright doorways and stairwells.”

But it’s not how stairwells look that Zilincik finds most attractive, it’s how they sound. With high ceilings and lots of hard surfaces for soundwaves to bounce off, stairwells often have surprisingly good acoustical resonance.

In this video Zilincik’s tuba resounds in the fabulous acoustic of WOSU’s back stairwell.

Tubist Tony Zilincik performs the traditional Syrian Hijazker Longa, arranged for solo tuba by Gary Buttery.

Zilincik’s recent performance at WOSU wasn’t the first time he found himself playing on the stairs. About a decade ago, he ended up turning one of Capital University’s stairwells into a performance venue.

Capital University Conservatory’s Ensemble Now had been founded in the mid-1980s to perform contemporary music but, in more recent years, had gone silent. When Zilincik revived the ensemble in 2011, he restructured it with a new emphasis on improvisation.

“A lot of our colleagues in the business have never improvised before. They can do a great job sitting down and reading a chart in orchestra or band or solo (performance), but you look at them and you say, ‘Make something up,’ and a lot of them will freeze,” Zilincik said. “I wanted to give our students an opportunity to sit down and explore their instruments in an improvisatory way.”

Zilincik says he also wanted to find an acoustically satisfying rehearsal and performance space for the group. But the conservatory’s resonant main concert hall was often booked for performances at times when Ensemble Now needed to rehearse.

At the same time, Zilincik wanted to welcome students to the outside-the-box spirit of improvisation.

“We were looking to do something sort of musically different,” Zilincik said, “so I think it was crucial to move the students’ minds away from the concert hall idea of performance and into sort of a spatial idea of performance.”

Zilincik looked around the conservatory building for an unusual space where his group could play. The three-story stairwell behind the conservatory dean’s office became Ensemble Now’s rehearsal and performance home.

“It’s a beautiful concrete stairwell,” Zilincik said. “We’d rehearse in there and then we would invite people to our concerts in there, and they would line the stairwells while we played.”

During the last two years, the pandemic forced Ensemble Now again to go quiet. But Zilincik says he hopes to resurrect the group yet again in the coming academic year.

“We have to wait for fall (semester) to see if anybody will sign up for it,” Zilincik said. “I’m hoping at least to get it together for our Now Festival (of contemporary music) in February.”

If he does, and if you want to hear the group play, just remember – don’t take the elevator.

Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.