My Exploration of Chamber Music

posted on   by  Loi Heldt

By Sarah Rosier

 

When I was a few years younger, there was a time every year when my mom would ask me if I wanted to re-audition for chamber music. As a cellist, that decision mainly involved considering if I really want to be stuck with “boring” baselines and the duty of “keeping the tempo steady.”  After all, cellists don’t usually get the exciting melody. You might even call us overlooked. I remember one concert looking out and seeing all eyes trained on… you guessed it, the first violinist. Having mastered my part to be able to play it with thought and character, I was a little miffed, even if I was relieved, I didn’t need to learn all those high notes. 

 

Yet every year as a kid, I would realize chamber music was not something I wanted to give up. Why? Because there was still something about chamber music that I found incredibly fun and appealing. First of all, it was an affirmation that practicing everyday was worth it, because it gave me the ability to make music with other musicians who were learning to appreciate music, just like me. We could discuss musical character and play off of one another in a way completely unique to chamber music. With four players, we could create an explosion, then just as quickly create musical tranquility.

 

Now, I am even more aware of the importance of chamber music in my life. It has allowed me to play Dvorak (where I get to play multiple melodic lines) with the wonderful musicians of Amici, and delve into some of the greatest musical works of all time. Ultimately, music is not just about playing exciting roles, but it’s about finding ways to share that music with others. Chamber music is a very special way of doing that

Brahms, Elgar, and Music through Grief

posted on   by  Loi Heldt

by Adrian Hsieh

 

As I read through the details of Brahms’s life, I found some pieces of information quite fascinating. As it turns out, in the 1860s, just around the time when the Sextet was written, young Brahms was not having much success. In addition to a failed relationship and the death of his friend and colleague Robert Schumann, Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1 was met with terrible reception. Interestingly enough, Brahms didn’t seem to use the Sextet as an opportunity to express his anguish, as many composers did. The only movement that seems to reflect this emotion at all is the second movement, which, fun fact, he rewrote as a piano arrangement for Clara Schumann.

 

This idea of expressing through music reminded me of Sir Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto I had played recently. Elgar, a huge admirer of Brahms, was similarly in a difficult spot in his life. The composition of this particular concerto contains a beautiful, grief-stricken melody that really pulls on the listener’s heartstrings. Last summer, I had the wonderful opportunity of playing this magnificent piece with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in Vancouver, B.C.  Different from my other performances, what made this opportunity so special was that I played in an outdoor concert by Deer Lake in the beautiful Burnaby park in front of an audience of over 12,000.

 

As for the Brahms Sextet in B flat major, one of my favorite moments in this work is the melody in the fourth movement. The movement starts with a cello solo, which I will play, that is then passed around between instruments. 

 

I am extremely excited to play this wonderful piece with the members of Amici, my cello teacher, and my sister, who is about to leave for college.  

South America: My Personal and Musical Journey

posted on   by  Loi Heldt

by Victoria Wolff

I am so thrilled to have been invited back for second round of performances with Chamber Music Amici! The music of this upcoming program has afforded me a unique opportunity to reflect on some aspects of my personal life as they connect to my musical life.  I am particularly excited to be playing the music of Alberto Ginastera, whose music offers a rich brocade of colors and textures as we sample and savor the sultry rich tones of Argentina. Ginastera was born in 1916 and is considered one of the most important 20th century composers of the Americas. Although he was born in Buenos Aires, his father was Catalan and his mother Italian. This brings up an interesting and little known fact (which Jessica Lambert so deftly pointed out to me in rehearsal today) that Ginastera increasingly throughout his life preferred for his name to be pronounced not “Hinastera”  (as I smugly insisted upon) but Jinastera  as in “George”.  Although he identified strongly with his father’s Catalan roots, his music was highly inspired Argentina, and is preeminent among the inspirations for Ginastera’s music. That being said, as I have gotten to know the piece we are performing, “Impresiones de la Puna” I am struck by how South American it is in a broader context.

20 years ago I met my husband in a salsa club and we danced Cumbia, Salsa, and Merengue until the wee hours of the night. My husband, whose name happens to be Victor, (and yes I made him watch the 1982 Julie Andrews film Victor, Victoria!) is from Peru. Getting to study Ginastera’s music has reminded me not only of my initial attraction to Victor’s person but also his culture. South America is such a rich melting pot of cultural influences; from the Indian and Spanish mix Criollo, Huayno music of the people of the Andes (Incas), to the African roots of Negroide music. I fell in love with it all. Then there was the food (cooked not only by him but his sister and mother) Ceviche, Aji Amarillo, Arros con Pollo, Papa ala Huancaina, Anticuchos and Aji de Gallina.

Impresiones de la Puna has afforded me a trip down memory lane, and I am remembering key moments in my life with Victor. I found out I was pregnant with our second child, my boy, in the high altitude of Cuzco, and climbed Machu Picchu feeling so much better than I did at sea level in Lima. “Puna” means altitude, and when I hear this piece I think of relief from morning sickness! Actually the refreshing air of the Andes made me feel related to my husband’s Incan heritage, as if somehow my northern European blood and his shared common genetic traits.  The flute in the first movement of the piece is “Quena”: a pan-flute. This instrument is so indicative of the mountains of South America, and I can’t even hear one measure of the third movement “Danza” without envisioning my Suegra (mother-in-law) dancing in traditional dress waving her white handkerchief. “Cancion” allows nostalgia to fully envelope my heart and I am wistfully grateful for all my relationships in this life: with Music, my husband, and the lovely musicians of Chamber Music Amici that I get to play with!

A Few Words from A Guest…

posted on   by  Loi Heldt

By Jacqueline Cordova-Arrington, flute

I believe that chamber music is the most intimate forum for performing musical works. Prior to moving to Eugene, I performed as the resident flutist of Carnegie Hall’s chamber music collective Ensemble Connect. As a member of the ensemble, I had the opportunity to collaborate with some of the world’s best musicians in performances throughout New York City. The ensemble has no artistic director. For the first time in my career, I felt a sort of musical emancipation from the orchestra model with conductor. I absolutely love playing in orchestras, but suddenly I felt that I wasn’t just a participant in a concert but a real co-creator of an artistic experience. My voice really mattered. While this statement is beautiful, that doesn’t mean that the experience of co-creating was always artful or fun. Imagine getting 18 musicians, in our largest configuration, to agree on musical ideas. In the process, there were disagreements and disappointments, but in the end, our group always managed to come up with a composite performance that represented a little bit of everyone’s perspective. Our combined ideas were almost always better and more inspiring than any individual’s single idea. In the ensemble, I learned how to better communicate with colleagues but also gained access to the musical insights and perspectives of musicians I greatly admire.

Chamber music can also be a gateway for musicians to connect with audiences more personally. As a high school student, I fondly remember attending and performing in chamber music recitals at the Kimmel Center in my hometown of Philadelphia.  I remember sitting just a few feet away from Emmanuel Ax in the audience and as a performer I fondly remember chatting with audience members on stage directly after concerts. Chamber music performances have the power to create an intimate sense of community amongst musicians and concert goers. After our performance, please come up and say hello! I’d love to know what you thought about the performance.

Interview Question: What are your non-musical hobbies?

I love to cook!  I have always enjoyed pairing different flavors and textures to create something indulgent for the palette. Experiencing a good meal can definitely be enjoyed alone, but my fondest memories include those meals ending with long talks around the table with close family and friends. For me, cooking a great meal is the ultimate experience of abundance of food and community.

Beethoven 2020 and My New Year’s Resolution

posted on   by  Loi Heldt

by Jessica Lambert, Artistic Director

You probably all know by now that I am excited about Beethoven 2020, the 250th anniversary celebration of Beethoven’s birth. (Google it: BTHVN2020!) I asked myself today what would the great man have thought of all this global hullabaloo? I think he might have loudly mocked us, hopefully not rail at us for the way we play his music, but I also think he would love it.

As part of my enjoyment of this celebration, I have set myself a New Year’s Resolution to read lots about Beethoven and select a different genre of his works each month to listen to. January is about symphonies; February will be the piano sonatas; and so on. I have no intention of listening to everything he wrote! I’ll let myself pick and choose, and really seek to acquaint myself with each piece through multiple hearings by multiple artists.

I am currently reading American composer and author Jan Swafford’s Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph, which is really marvelous and really long. I am at page 268 of 936 and channeling the Little Engine that Could. But despite its intimidating length, I enjoy every page.

I also have on my nightstand a mercifully shorter work I cannot wait to start: Conversations with Beethoven, a work of fiction by Sanford Friedman. I have peeked into it and think he had a brilliant and strangely moving idea. When Beethoven became deaf he had people write whatever they wanted to say to him in “conversation books.” Friedman has re-created those conversations based on the actual people close to Beethoven in his last months.

The entire novel is designed so you read what, for example, his nephew Karl or one of Beethoven’s doctors writes in their side of a conversation, and then there is a blank space where we get to infer what Beethoven’s spoken response would be.

On the one hand, it is an exercise in imagination, but in another way, it is almost as if we ourselves are deaf; we cannot hear his voice. I can only sense his anger, impatience, and fear; his tenderness, longing, and immense fortitude in those blank spaces. It is a very emotional experience for me.

Now, in all honesty, I have never made a New Year’s Resolution that I have kept, so please help me by occasionally asking me where I am with my resolution. Even more, I hope you will share with me your own insights on Beethoven and what he means to you.

Composers at Christmas, by Jessica Lambert

posted on   by  Loi Heldt

As the holidays approach, I found myself wondering about what some of my favorite composers did during the holidays. Luckily, some of them (and their family members) kept journals and wrote letters giving us a tantalizing glimpse into their holiday households.

The Mendelssohn family typically spent Christmas at home, enjoying quiet time with their extended family. Fanny Mendelssohn reports on December 25: The Christmas candles are burnt down, the beautiful presents stowed away, and we spend our Christmas day quietly at home. Mother is asleep in one corner of the sofa; Paul in the other, Rebecca absorbed in the Fashions…. Our Christmas Eve was very merry and pleasant. Felix had written for Rebecca a children’s symphony which we performed. For me he has written a piece of a different kind, a four-part chorus with small orchestra accompaniment on the chorale “Christe, du Lamm Gottes.” I have played it several times today; it is most beautiful.

Gustav Mahler, on the other hand, got the holiday blues in 1886 and wrote to a friend: Last night I spent a sad Christmas Eve once again sitting at home all by myself, gazing out, seeing all the windows opposite aglow with Christmas trees and candles. And then I again I saw before me yourself and your family, the old congenial circle, now lost to me…. then I no longer saw anything because a veil of moisture moved before my eyes, and the whole world, through which I am destined to wander without rest, was blotted out by a few tear-drops.

Brahms sent a letter to Clara Schumann in 1890 with this description of his holiday: How could I be better occupied on 24 December than sitting in imagination beside you at your breakfast table and talking and hearing all about the kind and charming things you are preparing…. Here next door in my library there stands a beautiful large tree which will remain concealed until this evening from my hostess’s two darling boys…. We could not have finer Christmas weather. All the trees and bushes are covered with frost and snow and it is a real joy to go out for a walk in the mild air. On that Christmas day Brahms had lunch at his favorite tavern, the “Red Hedgehog,” and took a nap in his favorite coffee shop later in the afternoon.

Perhaps the most well-known composer’s Christmas story we know of (and I would love to play this work this coming year) is that of Wagner in 1870 secretly writing Siegfried Idyll for his wife Cosima and performing it on Christmas morning. She wrote: When I woke up I heard a sound, it grew even louder, I could no longer imagine myself in a dream, music was sounding, and what music! After it had died away, R came in to me with the five children and put into my hands the score of his ‘Symphonic Birthday Greeting.’ I was in tears, but so, too, was the whole household. After breakfast the orchestra again assembled, and now once again the Idyll was heard in the lower apartment, moving us all profoundly; Now I understood all R’s working in secret. 

Chamber Music Amici wishes you all a joyful holiday and our best wishes in the New Year!

 

Meet Anthea Kreston

posted on   by  Loi Heldt

It’s been an amazing, surreal 4 years. In my craftsman bungalow in downtown Corvallis, I got the call that I had been invited to Berlin to audition for the fabled Artemis String Quartet. I had one week to prepare two rounds of audition – early, middle and late Beethoven, Dvorak, Shostakovich, Schumann, Brahms, Bartok. I prepared it with our 3-year-old hugging my leg, clearing my schedule and moving into my mother-in-law’s house in Eugene so I could devote every precious moment to score study, practicing and developing a complex musical plan, knowledge of the compositions and the history which surrounded them. When, 10 days later, I called Jason from Berlin at 4 in the morning, saying I got the job – the first American violinist to be in a major European String quartet, I could hear in his voice the entire mixture of everything these 4 years has brought to us – his pride and steadfast belief in me, knowing that he would give up his career for me, that the girls would begin to know me more as a visitor than a mother, and that we would, in 11 days time, be landing in a new country, a new language and culture for us all to learn. And that it would be great. And scary. And that it might just tear us apart. Or it might make us stronger than we had ever been.

It was quick, but we went in with eyes open. Jason and I had been members of the Avalon string quartet in our 20’s, working with the Emerson, Cleveland, Tokyo, Guarneri quartets as well as being closely mentored by Isaac Stern. So – although only one of us was to take this huge career step, it was an advantage for me to have a home partner who not only knew the repertoire and what to expect from a career such as this, but also to know how all-consuming, emotionally complex, and personally difficult a job like this is. On top of it, I was the replacement of a beloved German man who had taken his own life 7 months prior. The quartet has been looking and not finding the answer for these 7 months, until we found each other on that rainy day just off the Gendarmenmarkt in the heart of East Berlin.

Stepping into the ring, I was strong, tough, flexible and ready. I was at my prime, both in terms of my playing, strength of nerves while standing on the greatest stages of the world, and being able to handle the rigors and loneliness of a life on the road. Jason and our girls would meet me as often as we could manage – in London, Vienna, Paris, Prague, Florence – they have been more places than I can even remember. The concerts for me are both crystal clear and a wash of airplanes, trains, after-concert dinners, and bright lights. Writing a weekly column for the London-based music website Slipped Disk kept me feeling my life, processing as I went along.

And, when the last original member decided to retire 3 months ago, I realized that this was when my story would also change. Our girls have been in Germany for half their lives, Jason needs to begin his career again, we want to meet the cousins who have been born since we left – to know what it feels like to make a s’more over a campfire, looking up at the silhouette of a mountain range and covered by a blanket of stars. To be in the place that feels more like home than any place I have ever lived – a place that has the values and freedom I want my girls to grow up in. And that place is Oregon.

Q & A with Eunhye Grace Choi

posted on   by  Loi Heldt

Jessica Lambert: I am so very happy to have Grace with Amici! As we have started our Schumann Quintet rehearsals I want to say that one of the things I admire about Grace’s playing is the singing quality of her phrasing. She has an extraordinary sense of line and breath which shapes her playing of even the simplest melody. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Grace for a short interview.

Q – Do you have an upcoming musical project you are excited about?

A – I will be performing Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time with my husband Wonkak Kim along with another New York based husband-wife group, Schroeder-Umansky Duo, in January 2020. We are performing as a part of the Holocaust Memorial organized by the NYC’s Sheen Center. The unique collaboration of the two husband-wife duo as well as playing this masterpiece at this important event is truly exciting!

Q – Describe a typical day in your life.

A – I prepare the morning routine for my family and drop off my daughter Tayeon at her Montessori. I then try to find a few hours to do house chores and some practicing. I usually end up with several rehearsals/coaching with various instrumentalists ranging from high school students to professional musicians in and out of town. After picking up my daughter and entertaining her a bit, I usually have dinner with my husband and Tayeon. We really enjoy cooking at home, but when we are in a certain mood, we also like to explore the increasingly interesting dining scene around Eugene and beyond.

Q – When did you start playing chamber music and why is it important to you?

A – I first seriously playing chamber music as a Master’s student in Collaborative Piano and Chamber Music program at Florida State University. I got to meet and interact with so many different musicians and friends, and that have given me lasting impact in both my musical and personal lives. Today, the chamber music is where my musical heart truly lies.

Q – What are your non-musical hobbies?

A – I recently started flower arranging along with a group of close friends. It is led by a friend who spent many years as a professional florist. I also enjoy baking, and the frequency of my baking has recently redoubled!

Q – Can you tell us something about your best teachers and what you learned from them?

A – I am so lucky to have studied with Dr. Caroline Bridger a pioneering pedagogue of collaborative piano and immensely kind soul. She has taught me how music should be explored and communicated with as much open mind and sincerity as technical mastery, etc. She always showed such example herself both in her teaching and playing, and I try to carry her legacy in every musical endeavor I lead.

Jason Duckles is Back!

posted on   by  Loi Heldt

I am back in Oregon, and I love it.   I moved here with my family from Vancouver, BC, in the 80s, it was my home away from college in the 90s, my escape from the East Coast in the 00s, my location of choice to start a family in the 10s, and after 4 years in Germany, I’ve moved back because it’s the best place I’ve ever lived. Oregon’s wonderful mix of outdoor life, culinary delights, cultural passion, and fantastic people is hard to find anywhere else in the world, and so, what a pleasure it was to be driving down Highway 99 this week between Eugene and Corvallis, for a morning of rehearsal on Beethoven’s Opus 1#2 piano trio.

What brought me to Oregon in the first place?  In the 1980s, Vancouver, CA school districts began cutting their public school string programs, and my mother, a public school string teacher, found the strong string programs of the Willamette Valley a fantastic choice to look for employment.  As a high school student, I remember being immediately struck with the enthusiasm surrounding the arts, and this enthusiasm made Oregon so inviting and welcoming.  It felt immediately like home.

Our program starts with a 26-year-old Beethoven – he wrote the trio we are rehearsing this week, and the expansive nature of the movements, the symphonic nature of a previously innocent chamber music genre, show Beethoven’s compositional personality already in full form.  What a great way to spend a crisp November Oregon morning.

Amici Welcomes Grace Choi!

posted on   by  Loi Heldt

by Jessica Lambert

The earliest chamber music memories I have are of playing piano trios with my mother at the piano and my sister on cello. I even remember the first pieces we played: a little Beethoven Minuet, Schubert’s Serenade “Ständchen” (oh, how I loved that melody) and a group of Christmas carols. I think I was seven years old. A few years later, our piano trio became more serious, with an absolutely superb young pianist named Frances Teng. We played together for years and I loved it.

The piano chamber music literature has remained, I think, my favorite genre. That may be slightly weird because a majority of people would say the string quartet form is more perfectly balanced. But I love the contrasting timbre the piano brings and the depth of harmony. I also enjoy the particular challenge of bringing together strings with piano and trying to create a cohesive sound. Or maybe it just feels comforting to have that solid friendly bulk of a piano behind me on stage? Either way and both ways, I love it.

So you can imagine how thrilled I am to welcome Grace Choi to Amici. As Steve writes below, the two of us had the opportunity to play with Grace on the Higdon and Beach trios. I admire the power of her technique as well as the breadth of her musical vision. We are now getting the chance to spend more time with her and I find she has quite a funny side as well which I know we’ll all enjoy!

My bucket list of pieces I want to play with her keeps growing. Now that I think about my list I am actually a little afraid of scaring her off but you have no idea how hard it is not to write up the kind of list I used to send Santa Claus and send it to her.

It is in these last couple of months of the year that the Core musicians of Amici sit down to hash out our programming for next season. It is very much a democratic process. We all come with ideas to pass around the table and debate what makes a solid, interesting program and that means each of us has to hear the sad news that we don’t get to play everything we want. I really enjoy the process though. Discussing our programming is always stimulating and sometimes entertaining, too. (Ah, if you could be a fly on the wall!) This year I assure you my list includes a fair amount of piano repertoire so here’s to hoping some of my pieces make the cut!

by Steven Pologe

I have known Grace Choi for a number of years because she occasionally performs at the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance with some of our students.  However, I did not know her well until we rehearsed and performed the Amy Beach and Jennifer Higdon Piano Trios last season.  I discovered that Grace is a skillful pianist and excellent musician, but most of all that she is a warm gracious individual.  Jessica Lambert, the violinist in those piano trios, and I both enjoyed getting to know her and thoroughly enjoyed the two weeks we spent rehearsing together.  Grace will make a wonderful addition to the Amici core and the larger Amici community.  I am looking forward to more music making together.