December 7, 2023
The Elves and the Cello Maker by Zlatomir Fung on WQXR

A New Audio Play by Cellist Zlatomir Fung

Produced by WQXR’s Artist Propulsion Lab

Debuts December 21

A new holiday audio play, The Elves and the Cello Maker, written and performed by New York-based cellist Zlatomir Fung, debuts cellist on WQXR’s Artist Propulsion Lab podcast stream on December 21. Fung’s boundless virtuosity and sensitivity as a cellist have earned him enthusiastic accolades around the world, but this is his first foray into play writing.

The Elves and the Cello Maker is a production of WQXR’s Artist Propulsion Lab (APL), which spotlights emerging and mid-career performers and composers and provides the participating artists with opportunities to utilize WQXR’s digital and broadcast platforms, engaging collaborators and reaching its audiences. “When I was invited to be a part of the 2023 Artist Propulsion Lab, I immediately began to think of ways to integrate my love for music and my love for the audio medium,” says Fung. “I've long had an interest in creative writing, so I was honored when I was granted the opportunity to write a Christmas-themed audio drama for children. I love the idea of huddling around a fireplace, with a radio—or in today's world, a phone or a computer—and allowing the sound of someone’s words to inspire fantastical images in your mind.”  More information about APL and the 2023 cohort, which included Fung, can be found in this press release.  

Based on the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale The Elves and the Shoemaker, Fung’s play tells the story of a New York City cello maker (WQXR host Jeff Spurgeon), his cello playing daughter, June (operatic mezzo Briana Hunter), and a mischievous elf named Q (drag performance artist and violinist Thorgy Thor) who saves Christmas for both of them through the power of music. Carter Brey, principal cellist of the NY Philharmonic, makes a cameo appearance as himself, and Fung joins the cast as the Uber driver.  A group of familiar voices from WQXR and WNYC’s airwaves—Lulu Miller, Brooke Gladstone, Kerry Nolan, Arun Venugopal, Paul Cavalconte, Nimet Habachy and Clayelle Dalferes—round out the cast, and a few New York Public Radio staff members usually found on the other side of the microphone are also represented in the cast: producer Elizabeth Nonemaker, engineer Miyan Levenson and NYPR President and CEO LaFontaine Oliver. Cellist Nicholas Canellakis plays cello and the role of Q’s elf friend, Fi.

WQXR’s Chief Content Officer Ed Yim noted, “When APL began, we hoped that musical performers and creators would stretch our imaginations and push us to new possibilities of what WQXR can do and be for the musical community.  Zlatomir’s project is a beautiful example of how an artist’s creativity can result in unique and joyful programming for our listeners.”

“I wanted to incorporate elements that would evoke familiar imagery for listeners—like Santa Claus and his Christmas elves,” said Fung. “In the Brothers Grimm story, benevolent elves help a down-on-his-luck shoemaker. I changed the setting to modern-day New York City, added in a few more characters, and wrote some cello music to help tell the story. The central idea remains the same: people experiencing a Christmas miracle.”

Zlatomir Fung (left) and Nick Canellakis recording music for The Elves and the Cello Maker

Fung goes on to say, “My goal was to capture the sense of wonder and love that I’ve experienced in my own life as a musician. I'm constantly overwhelmed with gratitude when I think about all the people, all over the world, that I've shared musical experiences with. That shared musical connection is unlike anything else.” The two main elf characters, Q (who finds herself transported to the human world) and Fi (who turns to his cello when Santa’s big concert is cancelled), never really meet, but for Fung, “the magical musical connection they share makes their relationship the deepest one in the play, and it’s ultimately transformative, as the best relationships and miracles are.”

More information about WQXR’s Artist Propulsion Lab (APL).

Listen on WQXR’s Artist Propulsion Lab Podcast, beginning December 21.

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