Meredith College’s week-long celebration of the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth ended — appropriately — with a program of works by the festival’s principal subject (mostly), played by students. The (mostly) young people ranged in age from Kevin Zhou, 10 (of Fuller Elementary School’s fifth grade, a student of Margaret Evans) to soprano Megan Crosson, a seasoned professional who is continuing her education. Some of the others were high (or home) schoolers at varying academic levels — Erica Spear, Abigail Taylor, Thibaut Davy, and Katherine Barton (who will matriculate at the college in the fall). Meredith has a long history of providing non-credit lessons to members of the greater community through what is called its School of Music — the author of this review benefitted from such tutelage in the early ‘60s.
The other artists were, with one exception, current Meredith College students. They were, in order of appearance, soprano Sarah Moore, mezzo-soprano Megan Coble, and pianists Mary Royall Hight, Elisabeth Bjork, Katie Yuri Kim, Erica Rogers, and Chelsea Stith. The non-student was teacher Donna Jolly, who accompanied the singers. The teachers represented by these students included Evans, Ellen Williams, Angela Stephenson, Tom Lohr, and Kent Lyman.
For folks without direct family ties to the young artists, the program itself carried considerable appeal and indeed served as a splendid cap to the festival. There was lots of fine Chopin, most of it very handsomely realized. There were a batch of nocturnes — seven of ‘em (two in E-Flat — Op. 9/2 and 55/2 — and in C-Sharp minor, Op. 27/1, B minor, Op. 32/1, E Minor, Op. 72/1, F-Sharp minor, Op. 15/2m and B-Flat minor, Op. 9/1), four waltzes (in B Minor, Op. 69/2, C-Sharp minor, Op. 64/2, E minor, Op. Posth., and A-Flat, Op. 34/1), and a prelude (in G Minor, Op. 28/22) a polonaise (in A, Op. 44/1) and an étude (in A Flat, from Trois nouvelles études). There were also four vocal works, but not from the fairly well-known set of Polish songs by Chopin. Instead, there were two French items — a duet and a song — by Pauline Viardot (1821-1910) and two more from a Chopin-Viardot collection titled Twelve Mazurkas. These are sufficiently rare that a brief introduction (or program note) would have been welcome.* The rest needed no formal introductions.
Some of the playing was a bit uneven, perhaps due in one or two cases to nerves, but all the performances were thoroughly acceptable and some were remarkably fine. The younger artists played with poise and technical and artistic skill that compared favorably with the more mature ones, and some of the college-level performances compared favorably with performances heard earlier in the week, delivered by the pros. Among the standouts were a series of four nocturnes in a row, toward the end of the concert, played by Bjork, Kim, Rogers, and Stith. (In the interest of full disclosure, Bjork and Stith are CVNC interns, and it was a rare opportunity for this critic to get to critique two young critics!) The opening reading, by young Kevin Zhou, set just the right tone for what was to come with the nocturne Op. 9/2, and the last player, the remarkable Katherine Barton, drew the evening to an outstanding close with two waltzes surrounding the Op. 9/1 nocturne.
The place was packed — it really was standing room only for a time — and it was apparent that the crowd loved everything about this grand finale. If one ascribes to the belief that these players reflect the teaching they are receiving, then things are in very good hands, literally and figuratively, at Meredith College. Bravi tutti!
*Three of the four are apparently arrangements of Chopin mazurkas with words added by Viardot, a pretty amazing character who might merit a mini-festival at Meredith, all by herself, sometime.