The fall marathon presentations of the Duke University String School, a.k.a. DUSS, took place in Baldwin Auditorium, on the East Campus of Duke University, starting with the youngest players at 3 p.m.. Along the way there were chamber music events at 4 p.m. and a substantial evening program that began at 7 p.m. and that ended, two hours later, with victuals for all the participants, a spread Kitchen characterized in remarks at the end of the concert as "a repast."
This long-running Duke-based program offers instruction in string instruments and general music, too, to children from Durham and surrounding regions. It's not the only program like this - we've recently reported on the work of Raleigh's Philharmonic Association, and the capital is also home to a commendable training program for beginners, the Community Music School.
Dorothy Kitchen has been DUSS' leader since the beginning, but she'd be the first to credit all the help she receives from other teachers, coaches, and mentors, from her staff and volunteers, and from the students themselves, whose passion for music Kitchen and the others encourage. That the world is a better place than it might otherwise be may be due, at least in part, to the ripples that have spread out beyond the little pebbles dropped into the DUSS pond for all these years.
The evening's music began with some brief offerings from an ensemble known as the Intermediate II Orchestra, directed by Stephanie Swisher and Kathleen Krull. There are about 60 members of this group, including some adult fill-ins and keyboardist J. Samuel Hammond, who helps fill in harmonies that would be provided by winds and brass if this weren't just a string orchestra. The adults help the youngsters tune their instruments and then help keep things on track, musically speaking. An arrangement of a traditional "Dona Nobis Pacem" and music by Haydn, Frackenpohl, and Rimsky-Korsakov showed this orchestra's skill levels to be developing. When the music wasn't pressed too much, the results were pleasing. I, too, remember needing to get into a certain groove and finding those long-held, slow-moving notes generally easier to manage than those quicker little solid black things with those little flags on the stems. Conducting styles matter too which is probably why "Dona Nobis Pacem" and the Frackenpohl were more expressive than the others. In contrast, the Haydn excerpt seemed hard-driven, and that may have contributed to some of the ensemble problems during it.
A performance of the first movement of Mendelssohn's Piano Trio No. 2, in C minor, Op. 66, filled the gap between the intermediate ensemble and the "senior" orchestra. This trio movement was however given in a version for piano, violin, and viola (in lieu of cello) by violist Aria Cheregosha, whose colleagues were violinist Melody Lin and pianist Michael Gao. The transcription worked well enough and, as played, sounded fine, but chances are no one would want permanently to give up the original version, in which the cello can and generally does exude far more warmth than a viola can muster. There was little apparent interaction among the players, but they kept the music together.
Dorothy Kitchen then led the 100+ players of the Duke University String School Youth Symphony Orchestra (which is also augmented by some adult players, especially in the wind section, and which also features pianist Hammond as the harmony filler-inner). Three soloists were heard in this concluding section of the program: violinists Jasmine Sun and Elizabeth Eason, and pianist Andrew Tyson. He is a Curtis junior; a recent interview was published by CVNC and is available here.
Sun performed the "Winter" Concerto, from Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, with accompaniment from some 16 of her DUSS colleagues. There's often strength in numbers, especially in student groups, and big ensembles tend to sound better, overall, than smaller ones. Here, challenges involving intonation and ensemble were often more evident than elsewhere in the concert.
Eason played the slow movement of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, turning in a very attractive performance during which she received excellent support from the rest of the orchestra.
Tyson was a splendid player when he still lived here, and now he has booked three profitable years at Curtis, working with Claude Frank. It was a special treat to hear him play the opening movement of Chopin's Concerto No. 1, in E minor, Op. 11. Indeed, this was so good that it was disheartening to have him stop before playing the rest of it — although here that supplemental piano sounded a bit out of place. Kitchen, brandishing a red pencil (thereby hangs a tale, to be sure...) in lieu of a baton, elicited good responses from the orchestra, and the place erupted with applause when the joint undertaking ended. It may be worth noting, however, that Tyson was not inundated with flowers, as Sun and Eason were. To be sure, if these young artists opt to give up music (perish the thought!), they will be able to make a good living, hawking all those leftover bouquets!
A rousing performance of the Overture to Nicolai's The Merry Wives of Windsor brought the evening to a close.
DUSS' spring concerts will be listed in our Triangle calendar when they are announced.
Pianist Andrew Tyson to Perform with Duke University String School Youth Symphony
by Dorothy Kitchen
November 17, 2008, Durham, NC: On December 6, 2008, at 7:00 p.m. Andrew Tyson will solo with the Duke University String School Youth Symphony; he will play the first movement of the Chopin e minor concerto.
Tyson has won many awards: the Eastern Music Festival concerto competition in the summer after he completed the ninth grade, the second place in the Music Teachers National Association's national solo competition in his senior year, the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts' silver medallion in his freshman year at Philadelphia's Curtis School of Music, and, this past spring, the Kosciuszko Foundation's Chopin competition. Along the way there were opportunities to solo with the Durham and Raleigh Symphonies and the Chapel Hill Philharmonia plus several recitals on the Concerts at St. Stephen’s series.
In his second year at Curtis, he was selected to be one of 17 young musicians to attend the Taos School of Music's summer chamber music program, with three renowned string quartets — the Borromeo, the St. Lawrence, and the Brentano — and with additional coaching from Robert McDonald of Juilliard and Michael Tree of the Guarneri String Quartet.
He was born at Duke Medical Center in 1986. His mother has photos of him attempting to play from a book of children’s songs sometime between the ages of 1 and 2. He was graduated from Durham Academy in June of 2005 and is currently in his fourth year at Curtis, where he continues to work with Claude Frank.
In remarks shared below, a picture emerges of this unassuming young artist who loves the piano and plays it like Liszt.
CVNC: When did you begin to play the piano and why?
AT: I began taking lessons the summer after the first grade. My sister had begun lessons earlier, and I think I wanted to see if I could play like she did. I was naturally attracted to the instrument and had already written a few very basic compositions in my own primitive notation. My mother was the one who got me started with the lessons, which were painful at first!
CVNC: Did you enjoy practicing at any point?
AT: When I first started, I preferred improvising to practicing — I remember that my mother would often tell me to "stop doodling" and practice what I was supposed to learn for the next lesson. Now, I love to practice, because I am so in love with the music I'm playing. The musical moments I enjoy most are those epiphanies in the practice room when a certain phrasing, articulation, rubato, or whatever suddenly reveals itself. Of course, most of my practicing is not like that and is not necessarily so wonderful; those moments come only after a certain amount of thought and study in and out of the practice room and a certain amount of repetitive busy work.
CVNC: Who have been your teachers?
AT: My first teacher in Durham was Barbara Davis, who taught me how to read music, piano basics, and most of all a love for music. I then studied with Mary Turner in Chapel Hill, to whom I am indebted for her rigorous work on finger technique, control of sound and the most careful and proper methods of studying a score. My last teacher in North Carolina was Dr. Thomas Otten, who teaches at UNC-CH, and was and continues to be a true inspiration. Besides freeing up my technique and introducing to me the world of sound possibilities inherent in the piano, he constantly forced me to be deeply involved with the music and to be expressive at all costs. I now study with Claude Frank at Curtis, another inspiration. As far as I know, he is the only living pianist who can slide on his instrument as a string player would.
CVNC: What drew you to music?
AT: Two things, I think, have been most important in bringing me to music. The first was Beethoven. I know it might sound odd, but at a certain time in middle school or high school I would constantly listen to the Beethoven piano sonatas and symphonies; sometimes, I would even pretend to conduct in secret in my room. If it were not for Beethoven, I wouldn't be a musician. His music represents, to me, the best aspects of this world and the next; it is simultaneously the most human and most unearthly music ever written. The other important influence is the joy I find in hearing a great pianist do something splendid with the music. Sometimes I'll hear just one phrase, played on recordings by Cortot, or by my teacher Claude Frank, in a lesson, and I'll grin or laugh out loud because it is just so beautiful.
CVNC: How did the awards you have won affect you in your ambition to be a pianist?
AT: I really haven't done as many competitions as other pianists my age, and so far, awards haven't been very important to me, although that may change. I'm in it for the music.
CVNC: What special ideas about music and the piano's expression of it can you tell us about?
AT: People often talk about the piano's ability to imitate other instruments, and some people go so far as to say that the piano should "never just sound like a piano." Although the piano can produce quite amazing orchestral sonorities, Frank's teaching has made me shy away from any pianistic notions that stray too far from singing. In the end, the piano is a melodic instrument, not a percussion instrument nor a mere orchestral imitator.
CVNC: At school, do you like the atmosphere and the opportunities offered?
AT: I have found the atmosphere at Curtis to be very supportive and open in the piano department, and I have benefited most from the piano seminars — weekly masterclasses or discussion forums with different faculty members. The free exchange of ideas and the ongoing conversations the seminars support have been keys to maintaining senses of openness and flexibility about the music we play.
CVNC: Was Durham a good place to develop your talent?
AT: I feel lucky and privileged to have studied with my various teachers in North Carolina. Another important influence I haven't mentioned is the Duke University String School. I've met plenty of students at Curtis who had had no previous experience with chamber music. The experience of playing in ensembles at DUSS was invaluable!
CVNC: Do you get nervous about recitals?
A: More than I care to think about! I often wake up on the day of a concert with my heart pounding, [but] once I am playing onstage my involvement
with the music helps my nerves to abate.
CVNC: What are your future hopes and plans?
AT: After I finish at Curtis, I'd like to go on to do my Masters somewhere. After that, it's difficult to say, but any combination of teaching, solo playing, and chamber music playing would be appealing to me.
CVNC: Who was the most influential person in your development and encouragement to become a pianist?
AT: In the end I'd have to say my mother. I'm eternally grateful for all of her encouragement and support throughout each stage of my development!
CVNC: What effect did chamber music at Taos have on you?
AT: Taos was just incredible for me. Robert McDonald and all the other amazing coaches there made me realize how much effort it takes to connect with other musicians when we play together. Furthermore, that sort of connectivity has applications in solo music, too. I came away from the summer — last summer — with a new sense of openness and freedom about music.
CVNC: What is your next pianistic adventure after this one with DUSS in December?
AT: I am playing a recital at the Chopin Foundation in Miami in January. This summer I hope to go to a musical festival and perhaps enter a few competitions.