Heroes: Introducing a younger generation to chamber music

By Ariana Kramer
Posted 6/26/20

Each year, the Taos School of Music invites a select group of 19 young master musicians to engage in a summer of in-depth learning under the tutelage of highly skilled chamber music faculty. The school also offers a musical festival comprised of a series of live concerts by its young masters and faculty.

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Heroes: Introducing a younger generation to chamber music

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Each year, the Taos School of Music invites a select group of 19 young master musicians to engage in a summer of in-depth learning under the tutelage of highly skilled chamber music faculty. The school also offers a musical festival comprised of a series of live concerts by its young masters and faculty.

When the coronavirus pandemic made it impossible for Taos School of Music to hold its usual chamber music school and festival, director Elizabeth Baker and the board of directors chose to look for a silver lining.

They found it in an opportunity to offer a free virtual music festival to audiences well beyond the small mountain communities of Taos and Taos Ski Valley that have served as the location for the school and festival since the early 1960s.

Baker told me she has worked closely with the school's faculty to curate a full season of 16 prerecorded concerts and seminars, many of which come from the school's vast video and audio archive.

The festival began on June 21 with a faculty concert by the Borromeo String Quartet. It continues this Saturday (June 27) and Sunday (June 29) with two unique concerts by young masters.

Each of the season's concerts will be livestreamed from the Taos School of Music's website, Facebook page and YouTube channel. All concerts begin at 7 p.m. with an introduction by a live host.

Visit taosschoolofmusic.com for the complete festival schedule.

Saturday's (June 27) concert features three works: Anton Arensky's Piano Trio, Gabriel Fauré's Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 120 and Ludwig van Beethoven's String Quartet.

The Arensky Piano Trio is performed by violinist James Poe with his Yale colleagues, cellist Bobae Lee and pianist Na Young Koo, on a 2020 recording at Yale School of Music. Poe will be coming to Taos School of Music next summer as part of the 2021 cohort.

The Fauré Piano Trio will be performed by violinist Rannvieg Marta Sarc, cellist Russell Houston and pianist Jiaxin Min from a 2018 Taos School of Music recording.

The Beethoven String Quartet features violinists Andrea Jarrett and I-Jing Huang, violist Hyobi Sim and cellist Julia Yang from a 2013 Taos School of Music recording.

On Sunday (June 28) Bartók's String Quartet No. 4 will be performed by violinists Abigail Fayette and Jordan Koransk, violist Lisa Sung and cellist Julia Yang from a 2015 Taos School of Music recording.

Schubert's Piano Trio D. 898 features violinist Robert Anemone, cellist Josh Halpern and pianist Drew Peterson from a 2014 Taos School of Music recording.

If you haven't yet listened to a concert by the Taos School of Music, this is the perfect opportunity to tune in to this exquisite chamber music. While the usual crowd of classical concertgoers in Taos tend to be on the older end of the age spectrum, this summer is a great time to introduce younger family members and friends to the world of chamber music and the Taos School of Music.

According to Baker, the Arensky Piano Trio is a very romantic piece that shows off the virtuosic skills of all players, while the Fauré Piano Trio, also in the romantic vein, will envelop the listener in beautiful melody. The Beethoven String Quartet is an early work by the famous composer and follows the classic string quartet forms established by Haydn in earlier decades. Baker said it is a demanding work which requires extra ensemble precision.

Baker said the Bartók String Quartet is a five-movement work that shows off extended string techniques which are difficult to execute.

"The fourth movement is a fine example of Bartók's 'night music' style. This is one of my favorite quartets of Bartók,' said Baker.

The Schubert Piano Trio is a late work, composed in the last year of the composer's life, and published eight years after his death. Baker said the piece is an unusually large scale work for piano trio.

Taos News asked Baker to respond to a series of questions via email to find out more about how this year's Taos School of Music's virtual chamber music festival came together.

What role have the faculty had in this year's virtual festival?

The Borromeo String Quartet, artistic director Robert McDonald and I have worked together to curate an eight-week Young Masters series, gleaned from 11 years of recorded performances. These recordings initially were meant as education material to assist the students in perfecting their craft, which was already at the professional level. Serendipitously, these recordings became the source material for half of our virtual festival.

All three faculty string quartets, our piano faculty Robert McDonald and Thomas Sauer and guest faculty artist violinist Ara Gregorian will be contributing recordings from past performances for their virtual festival contributions. And, finally, all three faculty string quartets will present seminars focusing on specific Beethoven string quartets. The Borromeo String Quartet will focus on Op. 133, the Shanghai Quartet on Op. 18. no. 1 and the Daedalus String Quartet on Op. 127.

How did you select the pieces for this year's concerts? What criteria did you use?

The pieces were selected from a combination of sources, with initial suggestions from Borromeo String Quartet members and McDonald. I then combed through 11 years' worth of recordings, spending over 25 hours in the process, to find these recordings and then some.

From the suggestions given, I looked for variety of repertoire combined with extraordinary performances. It was a challenging undertaking as the amount of material from which to choose was very extensive and of exceptional quality.

How far back into the archives did you go?

We went as far back as 2008 to feature an extraordinary Young Master performance of Tchaikovsky's epic Piano Trio, the Borromeo String Quartet's Beethoven Op. 133 seminar and the Franck Piano Quintet performance.

What are the musical themes, if any, for this year's festival?

This is the 250-anniversary year celebrating Beethoven's life, so the faculty's programs and seminars will focus on his music. It is also interesting to note that Beethoven went deaf and spent much of his life in social and sonic isolation. The fact that he composed such great music while deaf is a testament to the ability to rise above adversity.

It is interesting to note that, due to COVID, we have had to isolate ourselves physically, and yet we are rising above that challenge to find ways to create community and stay connected. The Taos School of Music Virtual Festival is our attempt to do just this.

Anything else?

This is our first foray into the world of online performing and we are so excited to share this journey with you. All concerts will be freely offered and we deeply appreciate donations. So, come, listen and enjoy!

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