Every time a concert is scheduled in the intimate and inviting wonderland of the Kuhn Studio tickets sell out well in advance of the event. Jon Kuhn, regarded as one of the leading glass artists in the world, has long been a generous patron of fledgling local music festivals. His support of the long defunct Foot Hills Chamber Music festival has been succeeded by the current Carolina Summer Music Festival. These concerts are a welcome musical relief during the doldrums between the end of the big summer festivals and the start of the Fall Season. Hearing a concert in the Kuhn Studio Gallery is like being in the mythical cave of Ali Baba but, instead of gold and jewels, all about the ceiling and sides complex prismatic glass sculptures bathe the listener in an ever-changing kaleidoscope of colors.
Musicians for the current festival are drawn from members of the Carolina Chamber Orchestra and frequently feature faculty or former students of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. This well-chosen program, entitled "Chopin & Champagne," featured familiar piano works and a less often played duo sonata by Frédéric François Chopin (1810-49). All but one of the five solo piano works was played by Paul Gillies who received a Bachelor of Music degree in piano from UNCSA in 2001 where he was a student of Eric Larsen. He received his Masters of Music degree from the Manhattan School of Music where he studied with Marc Silverman. Gillies has been recently on the faculty of UNCSA and is currently on the piano faculty of UNCSA Community Music School as well as teaching music history at Salem College.
Gillies' selection of four well-known Chopin pieces gave plenty of scope for him to display power as well as sensitivity and lightness of touch. Each of Chopin's Ballades is a single-movement work of large proportions in which the composer plays with the sonata principle, bringing initially separate ideas into association. In Ballade No. 3 in A-flat, Op. 47 this transformation ends in an apotheosis. While most of the composer's Scherzos are derived from both the minuet and the rondo, Gillies' choice of Scherzo in C-sharp minor, Op. 39 is built upon the sonata-allegro form. According to John Gillespie in Five Centuries of Keyboard Music, a mazurka was "originally a Polish dance of heroic cast' with a basic rhythm in triple meter with the principal accent on the second or third beat rather than on the first." Chopin composed more than fifty mazurkas which reflect a vast array of emotions. Fanatasie in F minor, Op. 49 has the character of a composed-out improvisation.
Gillies' playing of these works immediately impressed with the crystal clarity of his articulation, even in the fastest passages, as well as the rich sonority he conjured from the glass sculpture encrusted Kuhn-Bösendorfer piano. When called for in the ballade and the fantasy, Gillies's slight of hand delivered a storm surge of sound. He brought out lyrical and tender sounds in the mazurka. Cascading volleys in the treble as well as a chorale-like theme were strikingly brought out beautifully in the scherzo.
Triangle music lovers may remember Barbara Lister-Sink from an earlier stint at Duke University before she moved on to a long career based in the Salem College School of Music where she is Acting Director of the department. Several performances with the Ciompi String Quartet (Ciompi was the leader then) were memorable. Besides an active career as soloist and chamber musician, Lister-Sink directs the U.S.'s first Professional Certificate Program in Injury Preventive Keyboard Technique. Lister-Sink turned in a beautifully phrased performance of Chopin's beloved Barcarolle, Op. 60. The composer's rhythmic framework of 12/8 meter was well maintained and her trills were thrilling.
Chopin's few chamber music works are not often programmed so the selection of his Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 65 was most welcome. The cellist was Evan Richey who studied at UNCSA with Robert Marsh and at The Juilliard school of Music with Lynn Harrell. He has been a member of or performed with The New Jersey Symphony, The Colorado Philharmonic, and The Concordia Orchestra. Since returning to the Triad, he has applied his musical skills as producer through his company, Ovation Sound. His many classical recordings have been released by Centaur, Bridge, and Albany records, among others. Richey, superbly accompanied by Lister-Sink, gave a fine performance of the four movement sonata. A few fleeting episodes aside, the balance between cello and piano was good. Richey's intonation was excellent and he produced a deep, rich string tone. His phrasing was well chosen. The slow Largo was exceptionally well-played.