June 6, 2013

Experience Quartetto Gelato


---- — PLATTSBURGH  — Peter De Sotto fearlessly makes spontaneous decisions.

It was one such life-changing decision that led him to abandon his position with the Toronto Symphony and professionally pursue Quartetto Gelato, which he started, in part, as an outlet for his voice.

De Sotto (violin and tenor), Alexander Sevastian (accordion), Elizabeth McLellan (cello) and Colin Maier (oboe) perform a program of classical, operatic and folk works at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Strand Theatre. The concert concludes the North Country Cultural Center for the Arts’ 2013 Spring Performance Series.

Violin was De Sotto’s first instrument.

“My father was a strolling violinist and a very well-studied classical violinist,” De Sotto said from his Toronto residence. “He used to moonlight as a strolling violinist and stroll around the tables and took requests from people.”

The elder De Sotto had an eclectic repertoire, which included operatic arias and show tunes. 

“Anything that people wanted to hear,” De Sotto said. “My dad had a great ear and could play any tune. He was a bit of a songsmith. As a kid, I had this great culture passed down to me.”

When De Sotto was in the symphony, he felt something was missing. 

“I started moonlighting as a strolling violinist as well,” he said. “As I was strolling, playing songs, I couldn’t be heard with the violin. I started singing along. People said, ‘My God, you have a beautiful voice.’ 

“I started studying with every teacher imaginable. I was 26 when I first started singing. It’s very unusual. I took lessons in Toronto and New York. I studied with the greatest teachers around. I was lucky to record all these great tenor arias.”

In 1989, he founded Quartetto Gelato with his late wife, the oboist and French-horn player Cynthia Steljes.

“I was studying seriously opera, and the next thing you know, we sold 50,000 CDs in a year,” he said.

In choosing to leave the symphony, he didn’t doublethink it. 

“I just make my move, and I make it happen,” he said.

Quartetto Gelato has had a few incarnations since its inception. He’s in love with playing with his present quartet members. 

“I have a very, very interesting group now. They are very nurturing and giving people. The audience feels that onstage. They are phenomenally talented. Our cellist (McLellan) is a chamber-music player, and our oboist (Maier) doubles for 14 different instruments. He’s truly a virtuoso on the oboe. Colin is quite brilliant on all of them. He seems to be good at anything he does,” De Sotto said.

Prior to a Russian tour, Maier learned Russian in two months.

“He did speeches. He did them candidly and interviews in Russian. He’s quite impressive. He’s a third-degree black belt in Aikido,” De Sotto said. 

“Alexander, our accordion player, is a four-time World Champion on accordion. He’s one of these people with a phenomenal memory. He can remember a 20-minute contemporary piece in a couple of weeks and never look back. He has that kind of mind.”

Quartetto Gelato is working on an album of original material.

“We decided on all original pieces written for our eclectic style — Italian romantics, virtuosic show pieces and gypsy elements, but all new repertoire,” De Sotto said.

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WHO: Quartetto Gelato WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday.

WHERE: Strand Theatre, 25 Brinkerhoff St., Plattsburgh.

ADMISSION: Tickets are $20 general, $40 priority seating ($30 North Country Cultural Center for the Arts members) and $10 students. Tickets are available at the NCCCA, the Lake Placid Center for the Arts or online at

CONTACT: 563-1604