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.

Q and A with Kathryn Brunhaver

posted on   by  Loi Heldt

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

On Sunday, November 10th I have a concert at the Shedd with Mike Anderson’s microphilharmonic playing some repertoire that I am very excited about. We are doing an all-Beethoven program with his septet for strings and winds, as well as his trio in B-flat major for piano, clarinet and cello. I feel very at home with Beethoven’s music and have never had the chance to actually perform either of these works, so I can’t wait to dig in.

Describe a typical day in your life.

Every day is different! Generally though, I usually spend my mornings practicing and doing any individual work that needs to get done (sending emails, etc), while most of my teaching and rehearsing happens in the afternoons and evenings. On weekends I often have concerts and other freelance gigs such as weddings and church services. The irregularity in my schedule is one of the things about being a musician that I find both fulfilling and challenging. I love being my own boss and having a lot of variety in the projects that I do, but it can be difficult finding work/life balance. Fortunately, I have a wonderful partner who is also a career creative, so he “gets it.”

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

I grew up in the Seattle area and at the time there were some fabulous chamber music programs run by former members of the Philadelphia string quartet—Karen Iglizen and Irv Eisenberg. I attended their intensive string quartet camp the summer after my freshman year of high school and it was an incredibly formative experience for me. In fact it was a big part of why I started getting serious about the cello as a teenager, and I think many other professional musicians would say something similar about their early chamber music experiences. The camaraderie and connection that is formed while playing chamber music with other musicians is almost addictive; there is truly nothing else like it!

What are your non-musical hobbies?

I often balk at this question because many of the things that I would consider my hobbies are also musical. For example, I love to sing and write songs. But I am working on cultivating (or re-cultivating) some hobbies that are totally unrelated to music, which I think is part of my search for work/life balance that I mentioned earlier. Now that I am two years out of my doctorate, I have finally started to read for pure enjoyment again. I recently finished Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson and am definitely planning on reading more of his novels. Watercolor painting is another hobby I am starting to explore, although I am not very good at it yet!

Can you tell us something about your best teachers and put in a nutshell what you learned from them?

I have been very lucky to have studied with excellent teachers from the time I started playing the cello, but for the purposes of the post I would like to talk about Steve Pologe. I came to Steve in the fall of 2013 feeling a bit lost both personally and professionally. As a 24-year-old incoming DMA student, I was already a strong player, but at some point earlier in my studies I had withdrawn emotionally a bit from what I was doing. Music conservatory life can be harsh and it was easier to focus on my technique rather than put myself out there so much. Above all, Steve encouraged me to get in touch with my own unique musical voice and to convey that voice with directness and conviction. He helped me rebuild my connection between my heart and my playing, and never allowed me to lose sight of this in spite of any professional ups and downs. Steve is also incredibly generous with his time with former students, and I am grateful for his continued mentorship and friendship.

What was your first really nice cello as a young person and what do you listen for and feel when trying a cello? What qualities of sound and touch are important to you?

While I was an undergraduate at Peabody, I auditioned for and was loaned an instrument from the Carlsen Cello Foundation in Seattle. They allowed me to pick between three different cellos and I settled on a late 19th century French cello of unknown maker that had a lovely, dark and rich sound. When I started studying with Steve, he thought that this cello didn’t have enough power, so I sent in another audition video and ended up with a cello made by Joseph Puskas in 1979. This instrument had all the power I wanted and then some, but was perhaps a little bit too bright on the A string and could sound brash if I wasn’t careful. Overall, I was very happy with it though, and when I had to give it back to the Carlsen Cello Foundation upon graduating (they only loan instruments to students), I was worried about finding a professional-level instrument in my price range. After a year of searching, I finally found my current instrument at Duane Lasley’s shop in Seattle. It was made by Hubert Clark in 1989, the same year I was born, and I like to think that this is a sign that we were meant to be. It has a beautiful balance of both power and complexity of tone color, and I couldn’t be happier. I fall more and more in love with it every day.

Getting Ready

posted on   by  Loi Heldt

By Jessica Lambert

Hello friends! Our first concert of the new season is almost here and rehearsals are underway. The process of preparing new music for a concert is probably slightly different for everyone. My habit is to play through it a couple of times before making any decisions on fingerings and bowings, then I start listening more closely to my own playing, perhaps listen to a couple of recordings, and only then get down to real business.

But another thing I do is delve into the lives of the composers. I am not really interested in their professional activities. I like to read letters and accounts of their everyday lives and activities, learn about the quirks of their personalities.

I knew only the basics about Handel that every musician knows but the more I delved, the more I loved Handel! There is an enormous amount of information out there; lots of his friends (and frenemies) wrote about him during his lifetime. Somehow I had missed knowing many elements of his life and personality and I feel so happy knowing what a fantastic person he was.

Some of the tidbits I enjoyed and want to share with you include this marvelous portrait of the man. Charles Burney, the wonderful writer of the music scene in London wrote in 1785 of Handel:

“He was impetuous, rough and peremptory in his manners and conversation, but totally devoid of ill-nature or malevolence; indeed, there was an original humour and pleasantry in his most lively sallies of anger or impatience, which, with his broken English, were extremely risible… Handel’s general look was somewhat heavy and sour; but when he did smile, it was his sire the sun, bursting out of a black cloud. There was a sudden flash of intelligence, wit and good humour, beaming in his countenance, which I hardly ever saw in any other.”

Wouldn’t you like to spend an evening, maybe have dinner with him?

Or maybe not! The famous painter Joseph Goupy was invited to dinner by Handel who explained it would have to be a “plain and frugal meal” because of his financial situation. After dinner Handel excused himself for several minutes and Goupy (concerned or snoopy?) peered through a door and saw Handel eating “delicacies” he had not offered his friend! Goupy went home and drew a mean-spirited picture of Handel as a pig and that was the end of their friendship. Many people commented on Handel’s, shall we say, generous physique, with his friend and biographer, John Mainwaring writing in 1760: “He paid more attention to food than is becoming to any man.”

But, in a final note, let me also mention that Handel was extraordinarily generous and initiated benefit concerts throughout his years in England, donating money associated with The Messiah in particular. His annual performances for the Foundling Hospital in London alone raised over £7000 which is roughly equivalent to £1,419,510.76 in our time.

Musicians of his time (and ever since) have regarded Handel as a giant. I now approach the Trio Sonata and Concerto Grosso we will perform with deep affection and respect for this complex and passionate man whose legacy includes not only his mind-boggling number of masterpieces in a mind-boggling variety of genres, but also a lifelong determination to help the less fortunate.

Q & A with Margret Gries

posted on   by  Loi Heldt

Q   What is your primary instrument?
A   My primary musical instrument is whatever I’m performing on for the next concert. Since childhood my training has been equal parts keyboard and strings, beginning piano in second grade and violin in fourth grade. I began studying organ in high school and harpsichord in college, and even though I was a philosophy major at Pacific Lutheran at Yale University, I was fortunate to have had equal access to music classes and performing opportunities.  One of the great gifts of that experience was discovering the expressive possibilities of harpsichord repertoire, using period instruments and performing techniques and developing an understanding of historical traditions and contexts. Even with these wonderful keyboard options, I was always reluctant to give up violin. For years I’ve played violin in regional orchestras and learned a lot of chamber music as a member of a quartet. But it was in 1976 that on the final day of a string quartet retreat I heard Stanley Ritchie play the Biber chaconne on Baroque violin. That experience changed my life! The sound of the Baroque violin was so unique and provided such a new perspective on the early repertoire. Fortunately, I was able to study with Stanley for several years and played many programs in period instrument ensembles in Seattle. This led to serving as concertmaster with the first period instrument orchestra in Seattle, and then beginning in 1999 as leader of the Jefferson Baroque Orchestra in Ashland. I currently serve as music director of the Oregon Bach Collegium, established in 2008 with the goal of presenting historically informed performances of early music for audiences in the Willamette valley. Our model is J. S. Bach’s own Collegium which united efforts of Leipzig’s students, professionals and lovers of music. In a similar way the Oregon Bach Collegium provides opportunities for local early music musicians to participate in concerts here.  Moving to an even earlier repertoire, I studied vielle with Margriet Tindemans. A highlight of that experience was playing programs in churches along the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain with Margriet and a vocal ensemble from the Netherlands.  It has been a privilege to have so many opportunities to explore sound through these various instruments, and I feel that each experience has helped inform my musical understanding.

Q  The best teachers?
A  I think my best teachers were those who encouraged me to think for myself. These influential teachers, whether in music or in philosophy, taught me to open my arms wide enough to see issues from many different points of view. They inspired me to be curious, to be thorough and to express my ideas accurately. Ultimately, I learned that over one’s lifetime we each eventually become our own best teachers.

Project I’m excited about?
A  I am scheduled to teach the graduate level Music in the Classical Period course during Winter term, and I look forward to participating in the intense musicological conversations that are part of teaching our music history curriculum at U of O. We have exceptionally inquisitive students and I anticipate interesting discussions based on our reading of the most recent resources for this repertoire. In our history curriculum we also look for connections between the study of music history and the decisions one makes as a performer. This involves not only basic score study and learning about contextual references, but also addressing current issues in performance practice. My background in teaching courses in the Philosophy of Music also provides opportunity for discussions of meaning and value of music.  I find that students are eager to explore these questions as they develop skills in analytical thinking.

A Piece of Heaven

posted on   by  Loi Heldt

By Colin Pip Dixon

Many years ago I had one of my most important experiences in chamber music. It formed me and taught me what chamber music could really mean. I was studying for a year at a unique music academy located in an 18th century palace in the middle of nowhere in Poland. We were a small group of students from all over the world, coached by well-known teachers who would come for one or two weeks from many different countries. We were on full scholarship, housed, and fed for free.

In the first months, I felt intimidated by the other students and couldn’t find my place. I experienced an unspoken mean-spiritedness hidden behind smiles that was new to me, and I found myself retreating into the woods (both metaphorically and literally, spending more and more time alone in the surrounding forest).

I became friends with an Australian clarinetist named Gillian, and we started working on a Khatchaturian trio together with a Hungarian pianist. The pianist clearly wasn’t into the piece and neither were most of the teachers, who thought the piece was second-rate Soviet music by a mediocre composer. Even though Gillian and I really wanted to work on it, nothing came of it in the end.

When the winter term began, some new students arrived. Among them, two young women from Yerevan, Armenia — a mezzo named Anna and a pianist named Margarit. They were different from the others. Very different. They barely spoke English at first (which was the required common language) and their serious expressions, their being dressed mostly in black with white lace, and their general quality seemed to come from far away and long ago. No one talked with them much at first.

Since our Hungarian pianist no longer wanted to work on Khatchaturian with us, Gillian and I decided to ask the Armenian pianist (after all, Khatchaturian was Armenian). We gave Margarit the music. “I look and I tell you,” she answered us, taking the score and holding it close to her heart.

She came back to us a couple of days later and nodded, “Yes.”  Anna (the singer) and Margarit were inseparable since their arrival, so it just seemed natural that Anna joined us for every rehearsal…. She would turn pages, help with the communication, give us feedback or criticism, and she sang for us. Yes, we began every rehearsal with her singing Sharakan — a capella 12th century religious songs that sounded like a cross between Gregorian chant and Middle Eastern music. Her voice was extraordinary, and we would lie on the floor of the lavishly furnished palace rooms with our eyes closed, transported as we listened to her.

When we rehearsed the Khatchaturian, our two Armenian friends would show us how a passage in the trio was inspired by a specific Armenian percussion instrument, or a traditional Armenian dance (and they would go ahead and dance for us). We would rehearse for hours, laugh, play games with the music, eventually deciding to perform the trio by heart. We also decided we would begin the performance with Anna singing a Sharakan, and then transition without a break directly into the trio. This somehow set up the musical and cultural context that the trio was coming from. It also reflected our group and our rehearsals. Anna was as much a part of the trio as the three of us were. We would rehearse late past midnight and never saw the time go by.

One of the deans of the academy (a cynical Polish woman who had worked in her youth for the Ministry of Culture under the former communist regime) later told me, “When the doors opened and you all came out of your rehearsal room, we could see that there was something different about all of you — something different from the others. The look on your faces, it was as if you had discovered heaven.”

In contrast, there was another group at the Academy that had assembled all of the “best” musicians and they were preparing a Brahms quartet very seriously. As far as I could see, they were out for the kill. They rehearsed for hours and hours, and I remember seeing the door to their rehearsal room swing open violently at the end of the rehearsal. Each of them would leave in a huff — storming out in a different direction with (so it seemed) smoke coming out of their ears and nostrils.

Little by little, Gillian (the Australian clarinetist) and I began to realize that our Armenian musicians, who seemed so modest, awkward, and out of place, were actually truly phenomenal musicians and artists … probably the best at the academy. We felt like we had won the lottery. And they had slowly become our dear friends. The four of us were known as “the Armenian Mafia” (Gillian and I were Armenian by adoption). The teachers at the Academy began to take notice of our little group and our Khatchaturian (which we had assumed would was destined to only be heard by the walls of our practice rooms) was programmed at the end of term festival in Krakow in the city’s beautiful chamber music hall. When the local news station came and asked to film a group for the evening news, the Academy director chose us.

With this group I had the incredible experience of the whole somehow magically becoming more powerful than each of the parts. It was an experience that only chamber music can give — here we were all giving fully as individual musicians and yet we were speaking together as one, and both our individuality and our collectivity were equally important. All cultural differences and barriers of language disappeared in the music. Somehow the excitement and love of the music and work we did together in our rehearsal rooms was palpable to others — teachers and an audience, and it was in some ways more powerful than other groups who were out to prove something.

The memory of that experience has guided me throughout the years of making music. Gillian and I went to Yerevan 10 years later to be reunited with our “Armenian Mafia.” Anna was now a celebrated singer in Armenia, and Margarit an accomplished pianist and teacher. We played a full program together and concluded with the Khatchaturian. More than ever I was filled with a sense of gratitude that life had allowed me to be a part of this, and that my playing had been lifted up by these other wonderful musicians. Once more I had the impression that we had discovered a little piece of heaven.

CMA’s New Blog!

posted on   by  Don Hirst

Hello and welcome to the Chamber Music Amici Blog. Your post author here is Don Hirst. I’m currently Board President, and, in another life, Webmaster for this website. Loi Heldt, Executive Director, asked me earlier this year to set up a blog for Amici; this is it. We are still figuring out how this works, what use it may have, and how it will be managed.

For now, I’ll just say that we plan to use the blog to provide better insight to Amici’s activities and plans for coming concerts, and to announce bits of interesting news about Amici.

I’ll let Loi and other folks on the Board and Staff chime in to expand on these topics.

If you have comments, please use our contact us form to send them in.

Thank you for your interest and support.