There was a mixed program, a scholarship-benefit event, in Hill Hall, on a busy Sunday afternoon. The mostly-violin lineup included a slew of folks, all distinguished, at varying stages in their careers, ranging from seasoned pros to advanced students with some truly heart-warming stops in between. There were 15 of 'em – plus a stray vocalist, a cellist, and a solo pianist plus five more keyboardists in accompanying roles There was music by Beethoven, Bach, Prokofiev, Scriabin, Kreisler, Rachmaninoff, William Bolcom (the only living composer represented), Britten, Fauré, and Telemann. All the players had ties in some way or other to UNC, including the current chair of Duke's Department of Music, who accompanied UNC's former chair. But, to tell the truth, the most important artist, and the reason for the concert and for all these others showing up to play, wasn't there. This made for a somewhat bittersweet affair, musically and emotionally.
The missing artist – and God knows he's sorely missed by all these people, who were his fellow artist-teachers, his colleagues, his students (past and very recent), kids and adults he had mentored, and his friends – was of course Richard Luby, UNC's long-time violinist and so very much more, who passed away a year ago suddenly, totally unexpectedly, while at the height of his artistic powers. (See in particular page 4 of the PDF file available here.)
(At the foot of this little essay I will put links to his insightful feature article for CVNC, written upon the occasion of what turned out to be his last traversal of the complete Sonatas and Partitas of Bach, and to reviews published here of those Bach concerts, of his last appearance with the UNC Symphony Orchestra, and of his last CD, issued posthumously.)
So the concert was an occasion, a time to remember and to be sad – somewhat – and to rejoice, to celebrate his life and his art and his students and his many contributions. The art lives on, in the work of those whose musical lives he touched. This gives hope for the future. All must be well, downstream.
The bios of the players are on page 3 of that aforementioned PDF, so we won't repeat them here.
Part of a Beethoven sonata found Cynthia Burton ('11) and pianist Tonu Kalam in exceptional form; it was a special treat to hear the Maestro (of the UNCSO) at the keyboard once more, playing in tribute to his long-term colleague. Two movements of a Bach solo sonata played by Emily Hanna Crane ('98) brought back fond memories of Luby's own radiant performances of this music. Prokofiev was the last composer Luby played with the school's orchestra, so part of one of the Russian master's sonatas was welcome. The muted selection, realized by Matt Kiefer ('06) with the assistance of Thomas Otten, seemed ghostly, other-worldly. Here, and in the following number, one felt Luby's strong presence. The next gem – a reflective nocturne for the left hand by Scriabin – was played by Nicholas Luby, a bright star in his father's eyes; what a treat it was to have heard them play together! Christin Danchi ('13) and Frank Pittman then turned to lighter, more sentimental fare, by Kreisler and Rachmaninoff, the latter the hymn-like song "It's Peaceful Here," as arranged by Heifetz. (During this number, too, spirits surely took flight.)
Wrapping up the first half were three of Bolcom's Cabaret Songs, said to have been favorites of Luby, played by Jane Hawkins and sung by Terry Rhodes (who sounded at the very top of her game – and never mind Renée Fleming at the Super Bowl). The last given was "Amor," which served as another little love letter to Luby and his family.
Part two brought back Pittman, who has elevated accompanying to new artistic levels hereabouts, and Tasi Matthews ('95) for Beethoven's Romance No. 2. This too took flight, thanks to the inspired playing by the concertmaster of the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra, who gave the piece unencumbered, from memory.
Cellist Brent Wissick offered a movement from Britten's Sonata in C, assisted by Clara Yang; the music is spiritually engaging and at once ruminative and uplifting, and it ends in harmonics that reach into violin range.
Nicholas Luby returned with Sophia Han ('12) for the finale of Fauré's first sonata.
And then Jennifer Curtis, who as a child studied with Luby and who since his death has shepherded his Chapel Hill students, took the stage with six current members of the UNC Violin Studio – Elizabeth Eason ('17), Ledah Finck ('16), Robert Garbarz ('15), Ina Liu ('15), Avery McGuirt ('16), and Taishi Namura ('16) – plus Edith Gettes ('85) and Lisa Carney Doherty ('90) for Telemann's second Concerto for Four Violins, TWV 40:202, a piece Luby's students were periodically obliged to play at his house, following "dinner with…" the Master Violinist himself. I am reminded that Luby was a student of Mischa Mischakoff, the long-time concertmaster of Toscanini's NBC Symphony Orchestra. Having worked with such a taskmaster, I was somewhat surprised when I learned that Luby did this sort of thing to his own students, but of course it's one of many, many incentives that help transform young fiddlers into superior violinists.
One generally shouldn't review weddings, funerals, or most memorial events, so let me simply say that with very few exceptions – there were some – the playing and the partnerships were exceptionally fine tributes to Luby, whose artistic fingerprints were everywhere to be seen and heard and felt. The little malfunctions are known by those responsible so there is no need to list them here!
In closing let me add that this artist significantly enriched this writer's life, professionally and personally. He was among the first musicians I interviewed when I began writing for Spectator. He became our local guide to early music (along with Brent Wissick, Elaine Funaro, Penelope Jensen, and a host of others). Again and again and again he gave us, seemingly inexhaustibly, the gift of music. And he was our always enthusiastic friend. With that in mind, I hope I may be permitted to avow that he surely would have liked this concert!
There's a Richard E. Luby Memorial Fund, meant to grow into an endowment to provide financial support to students. Contributions in the form of tax-deductible checks may be sent to The Professor Richard E. Luby Memorial Fund, CB# 3220, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3320. Contributions may also be made online at http://musi.unc.edu/make-a-gift.