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Monday, March 03, 2014 - Chamber Music Guests Enhance Student Learning

by Gillian Ellis

When Duo Sonidos, the acclaimed guitar and violin duo, play in Varner Recital Hall on Sunday, March 16, the first season of the Chamber Music Society of Detroit at Oakland University series will be successfully completed. In addition to bringing the finest in chamber music performances to the Varner audience, our guests have provided our music students with some unique educational opportunities.

In October, Kaitlin O’Connell, a music performance major who plays flute and studies with Sharon Sparrow, attended the workshop on improvisational techniques offered by our first guest performers, Classical Jam. Kaitlin said she doesn't have much experience in jazz, but she knows improvisation is at least as old as Baroque fugues. The workshop was open to anyone playing any instrument. Classical Jam would play a rhythm or melody call and invite the participants to respond with a version of what they had heard. Kaitlin said, “I think improvisation is a great skill to cultivate because it works your knowledge and concepts of rhythm and key.”

The musicians in Classical Jam play cello, violin, viola, flute and percussion. They are Juilliard-trained musicians well known for creating performances quite unlike anything else on the stage today. When flutist Marcos Grandados asked if anyone wanted to perform with him, Kaitlin said she “gladly accepted the opportunity.” Along with two other students and Dr Jessica Payette, the music faculty member who is coordinating the educational aspect of the CMSD at OU series, Kaitlin improvised on a piece of Brazilian music as Marcos took the lead. The real thrill came later when they were all invited on stage to perform at the Varner concert. Asked about the experience as a whole she said, “I was very grateful to be able to meet the group, especially the flutist. It was the greatest experience ever to be communicating alongside the musicians.”

In November, The Cavani Quartet, the quartet-in-residence at the Cleveland Institute of Music, gave a pre-concert lecture discussing their repertoire and rehearsal methods, lending insight into how they work collaboratively to prepare their pieces. Violin performance major Piaras Kent, who graduated last December, attended the lecture and the concert. He was struck by how the Cavani musicians approach the music first as individuals, and then worked to find a way to blend their four performances into one. Piaras, who studied with Elizabeth Rowin, loves music history and he was intrigued that the quartet allowed their knowledge of the techniques of the musical time period to inform their performance.  “Their performance is influenced by the academic, but they don’t allow it to take over. They still allow the music to speak. And they’re very good at it.” Piaras said, “Their Debussy was probably the best string quartet performance I’d ever heard.” And he summed up his impressions with this: “As a group they are so much on the same page, it’s almost as though they are the same word on that page.”

The third performance of the series was given by the Kyodai Brass Quintet in February.  These two sets of brothers met at the Cleveland Institute of Music.They offered a masterclass for brass students and the OU ensemble Tubas D'Amore performed the first and second movements of Quartet for Tubas by Frank Lynn Payne. James Long and Ian Lester play euphonium with Tubas D'Amore, and Annette Brewer and Graham Roese play tuba.

Ian Lester wrote to tell us about the experience, first explaining that having a tuba quartet that performs at concerts and participates in competitions has been a tradition at Oakland for the past few years. They rehearse twice a week, working diligently on repertoire and fundamentals like intonation and ensemble sound, knowing these are essential to success.

Ian explained in some detail how Kyodai’s tuba and trumpet players helped the student ensemble. “[They] gave us many great tips and words of advice, most of [it] was regarding clarity of articulation and the blend/balance of the quartet, and . . . they demonstrated what they meant on their own instruments. Those demonstrations let us know exactly what they were talking about. All of their advice was extremely helpful, especially the tips the tuba player gave to us about clarity of articulation. We were in the midst of preparing for the annual Oakland Chamber Music Competition, and as we continued to prepare for the competition, we utilized the advice and incorporated it into our music. So, when the date of the contest arrived, we made sure to use as many of the techniques they gave us as possible. Our hard work and dedication, in combination with the help of the Kyodai Brass, resulted in a great performance than ended up winning us the competition!”

Ian was impressed by the guest ensemble’s playing. “Kyodai's overall sound and balance was great and they showed spectacular range, consistency, technique and musicality in their playing. What stuck out most to me was how much expression they play with. They really connect with the listener. ” He was also amazed by their stamina! “The program they performed at the concert consisted of several difficult and lengthy works that would normally wear out an ensemble. However, they showed no signs of fatigue or loss of focus throughout the entire recital.”

The final concert of the series, Duo Sonidos, will be on Sunday, March 16 at 3 p.m. You can buy tickets for that performance here. On Thursday, March 13, Duo Sonidos will offer a masterclass featuring Kelsey Szymanski, soprano and Lauren Wilson, guitar, performing Letters from Composers by Dominick Argento. This event is free and everyone is welcome to attend in Room 134 from noon until 12:50 p.m.

And then, of course, there is the whole next season to look forward to, and what a season it will be! We are proud and delighted to announce that on four Sunday afternoons in the season 2014 - 2015 the Varner audience will be able to enjoy the Juilliard String Quartet (October 12), Celino Romero, guitar, with James Lentini, guitar, (November 9), the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, (February 8), and Quintet Attacca with Panayis Lyras, piano, (March 15). For more details visit the CMSD website. Tickets are available now if you buy a subscription to all four concerts via the CMSD website.

And of course, we anticipate that once again, our young musicians will have the opportunity to play for and learn from these distinguished guests.

Photos:
Upper right: Duo Sonidos who will play the final concert of the 2013/14 CMSD at OU season on March 16.
Middle: Flute student Kaitlin O'Connell.
Middle right: Recent violin performance graduate Piaras Kent.
Lower left: Tubas D'Amore member Ian Lester.