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This is my first time attending an Eastern Music Festival event, and it was quite a treat. Every year, EMF presents a concert featuring the orchestral fellows, in partnership with the Cemala Foundation and Triad Stage. The Pyrle Theatre in Greensboro is the venue for these concerts. This charming theater is next door to a convenient parking garage, which makes it quite accessible. Much like the All-Star Game happening at the same time, all the fourteen musicians had a chance to play, with a different ensemble for each of the four pieces on the program. The fellows were coached by violist Chauncey Patterson, who also performed on the final piece.
As a theater designed for plays, not so much for chamber music, there are some compromises; the acoustics most notably were not optimal for the purpose. The ensembles played rather close to the audience, but that put them a good distance from any walls, in a hall that is already dry. There should have been an acoustic shell behind the musicians to help with that; it wouldn't have been that difficult to set up and would have made a big difference. Maybe they can do that next year.
Another problem with the concert was quite understandable, but I rather wish the folks in charge could have made arrangements to fix the problem. As the program was rather ad hoc, it was not possible to print the names of the musicians in the program with the music they played. All the fellows were listed at the back of the quite voluminous program (which covered all the EMF concerts), but this did not help to know who played what, and who was on the stage. Nor were the musicians announced during the concert, nor was there a note tipped into the programs with this information. It is important for the audience to know who is playing during any concert, especially as this helps give exposure to young musicians at the start of their careers. These fellows are recent graduates from conservatories and graduate schools who need what notice they can get. I inquired during intermission and got a list. We will fill in the gap here as much as possible.
The first piece was Joseph Haydn's String Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, No. 4, composed around 1770. This quartet is one of a set of six in Opus 20, known as the "Sun Quartets," which did much to set the pattern for the classical string quartet. In this work in particular, the second violin has a prominent part, and in fact the relative equality of all the parts is a novel invention, to be copied widely in the general development of chamber music going forward.
Violinist Tania Moldovan, first violin, is a native of Romania. She graduated with a Doctorate in Music from Florida State University in 2015, and this is her third year as an EMF Orchestral Fellow. Second violinist Melanie Riordan has a BFA from Carnegie Mellon, and a Master's Degree in Music from McGill University. She has used music to uplift children in underserved communities. Violist Justin Ouellet attended Temple University, and has a BA in viola from the Longy School of Music. He is on the faculty of the Oakland School for the Arts. Cellist Trace Johnson won the 2014 Lyric Chamber Society of New York's Chamber Competition, and the 2014 Lynn Conservatory Concerto Competition, and a 2015 scholarship from the National Society of Arts and Letters South Florida chapter.
The orchestral fellows and their home towns are listed here.
The second work on the program was Sergey Prokofiev's String Quartet No. 2, Op. 92, the "Kabardinian." Prokofiev had to flee Moscow shortly after the German invasion of the USSR in June 1941. This led to travel in parts to the east until his return in October 1943. In November 1941, he was in the Kabardinian region, and he used material from the folk music he found there.
First violinist Kelsey Philbrick began studying violin at age 8 in the Chapel Hill area. She has a BM from UNC Greensboro, and graduated from Appalachian State in 2017. She now lives in Boone. Second violinist David Parks is a Greensboro native, and is now a member of the Winston-Salem Symphony. He has an MM in violin from the University of Miami, and a BM from UNC Greensboro. This is his third year as an EMF Orchestral Fellow. Violist Junstin Ouellet attended Temple University, and has a BA in viola from Longy School of music and Emerson College. He also is on the faculty of the Oakland School for the Arts. Violist Wanlin Cui was born in Harbin, China, and is in her second year of the Masters program at the University of North Texas (my old school). It was at UNT that she switched from violin to viola. Cellist Kevin Maa handled this very difficult cello part with very impressive skill. He started his college studies at Rutgers, and transferred to Montclair State University to complete his undergraduate degree.
After intermission, we had an odd work for trombone and marimba, an arrangement of the "Café 1930" second movemnt of Histoire du Tango by Astor Piazzolla. It was a curiosity, well-played (as were all the performances this evening), but the two instruments are far from a natural fit, and here, the composition seemed to simply be two different pieces played simultaneously.
Trombonist Alex Krwczyk is principal trombonist of the Richmond Symphony of Indiana and of the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic. He is an EMF alumnus and a graduate of the University of Iowa and Indiana University. Percussionist Catherine Cole is also an audio engineer, a three-time EMF alumna, and spent the 2017 season at EMF as a Percussion Fellow. She completed an MM from the Eastman School of Music, and has a BM from Florida State.
Finally, we had Felix Mendelssohn's String Quintet No. 2, Op. 87. This is a late work of Mendelssohn, as there was only one more work before his death in 1847. His late works frequently do not have the spark of his youthful music that won him immediate success and fame, and which continue to be core works in the literature. This quintet still has elements we associate with Mendelssohn, although the scherzo is an andante (oddly enough), very different from his usually rapid romps. This was not a happy time for Mendelssohn, as his sister died before he did; his final string quartet is a depressing work indeed. This piece is not so depressing, and has an upbeat finale.
Violinist Kristin Baird performs with the Florida Orchestra as an extra, and has worked previously with a long list of orchestras. She got a BM and MM from the Cleveland Institute of Music. Violinist Gina Buzzelli is from northern Colorado. She has a BM from Ball State University and an MM from the University of Northern Colorado. She is an EMF alumna. The coach for the entire concert, Chauncey Patterson, played viola. He has been principal violist with the Denver Symphony and Buffalo Philharmonic, then moved to be violist with the Miami String Quartet for 15 years. He is now solo viola for the Florida Grand Opera in Miami. He started viola at age 8 in the Burlington, NC, public school system, and went on to UNC-CH, the Cleveland Institute of Music, and Curtis Institute of Music. Violist Sarah Cornett has a BM from the University of Michigan, and is now a graduate student at Texas Tech. And finally, cellist Isabel Dimoff is an EMF aluma and this is her second year as an EMF Orchestral Fellow. She is now studying at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
The audience was highly receptive and appreciated the excellent quality of the performers, who uniformly displayed sensitivity and technical mastery. Certainly all of the musicians merit careers in the field. Best of luck to all of them.
The Eastern Music Festival continues through July 28. For details, see our calendar.