Remembering Atlanta Symphony Orchestra cellist Christopher Rex

christopher rex
David Coucheron (left), Julie Coucheron (middle) and Chris Rex (right) performing together at a concert. (Courtesy of Julie Coucheron.)

When the longtime Atlanta Symphony cellist Christopher Rex died in March, there was international recognition of his musical achievements in numerous obituaries. Last month, cellist Yo-Yo Ma dedicated his encore performance to Chris with the ASO. Rex was known for his sweet disposition, sense of humor and outstanding talent. An upcoming concert by the Georgian Chamber Players, once joined by Rex, will take place this Friday, May 13, in tribute to the late cellist at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church. Atlanta Symphony concertmaster David Coucheron joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes to reflect on his special relationship with Rex.

Interview highlights:

Memories of a mischievous musician:

“He was a jokester at heart, and I think so am I,” said Coucheron. “I also remember specifically one time we played the [Zoltán] Kodály ‘Duo for Violin and Cello’ … There was a moment when the cello had a lot of 16th notes, and I’m just waiting for him to finish those, and then I take them over. And without any warning, he just sort of kept playing those 16th notes as if they were supposed to be there. I just naturally burst out in laughter because I could never think of anybody who would have thought of doing that just for fun. There was no reason for him to do those, but he just wanted to see how I reacted. I couldn’t even continue playing because I was laughing so hard.”

“We played the Ravel ‘Duo for Violin and Cello,’ and I hadn’t ever done it before … and he kind of talked me through the whole piece because it’s a very complicated and difficult duo,” Coucheron recalled. “Once we were done, I had to leave to get some water, and I came straight back and he had found a checkbook that I had left and he had written a check to himself for $2 million. And in the memo, it said ‘coaching fee.’ And I always put that check-up in my room at the Symphony Hall, and it’s still there and it will never leave.”

Rex’s love for Norway and Norwegian chamber music:

“Chris was at my festival in Oslo several years, I want to say, three or four times, and he was always very excited to go,” said Coucheron. “He discovered that Oslo, the capital of Norway, used to be called Christiania. That was the old name for Oslo before it became Oslo. So he thought, ‘Oh, this is a great name for our trio because this is where Julia [Coucheron] and David are from, and it also contains my first name, Chris.’ So that’s how he named our Christiania Trio, which we played everywhere with that name.”

“How he managed to make the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival the internationally-recognized chamber music festival it is today is really remarkable. I often asked him, ‘How did you do that? How did you do that?’ I think it’s his dedication to music, his dedication to quality and wonderful, amazing playing, his enthusiasm for chamber music and his charisma, I think, was what all came together and, with the help of the locals in Amelia, propelled that festival to be really widely regarded as a really premier chamber music festival.” 

An upcoming chamber music concert in tribute to Rex:

“We will be playing the Mark Gresham clarinet quintet, which we had planned to play with Chris for many years, and we finally found time to do it this spring,” said Coucheron. “My sister and I will pay tribute to Chris by playing the Greig ‘C minor Sonata,’ which was one of his favorite sonatas. And we already talked about his connection to Norway and Norwegian music, and he loved Greig.”

The Georgian Chamber Players will perform “Mozart, Grieg and Gresham” in tribute to Christopher Rex on Friday, May 13, at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church. Tickets are available here