Summing up a MAW Summer

By Steven Libowitz   |   August 24, 2021

Despite the pandemic, the Music Academy of the West managed to complete what seemed a remarkably ambitious, largely in-person season that brought together 100 fellows – the vast majority of the virtual-only “student” participants from last year – a full complement of faculty members, and an audience eager to once again enjoy classical music from superior artists. Indeed, the academy even added to the live performances as allowed and produced what was surely one of the more inspiring seasons in its history.

The one event I attended at Hahn Hall — the Community Chamber Concert II on July 27 — was one of the added ones, and it served as a microcosm for much of what MAW makes possible during a typical summer, missing only the master class and large ensemble playing. While it’s the orchestral part of the program, the concert featured 29 fellows in total, a huge percentage of the instrumental contingent on campus spread out over the 11 pieces played, something that would only have happened during this strange pandemic summer when cramming as much as possible into one concert made sense.

Bookended by bold brass numbers by Henri Tomasi and Oskar Böhme, with tubist Cristina Cutts Dougherty as the only fellow to play both, the concert covered a wide breadth of eras and styles. The territory explored ranged from two solo piano pieces played by Nan Ni and double bassist Andrew Joseph Gantzer’s nimble take on Edgar Meyer’s playful but challenging “Froglike” to a sumptuous Beethoven septet. Stops along the way included two marvelous percussion pieces in Steve Reich’s “Nagoya Marimbas” and Ivan Trevino’s “Catching Shadows,” the latter the sole work of the night featuring a faculty member in Michael Werner

The chamber concert also managed to cover another category — a relatively rare one on campus — via a world premiere of the piece “Four Preludes for Flute and Bass” by Lillian Young who was joined by flutist Arin Sarkissian. The composer explained that part of her mission was to make the two instruments each sound something like the other, an insight that gave the piece more color. 

That was followed by Nicky Sohn’s “Five Miniatures for Viola and Double Bass,” which violist Evalynn Tyros commissioned from her current composer roommate when she discovered that bassist Jonathan Yeoh — who she said she’d known from years back – was also stationed in Montreal for MAW’s 2020 virtual fellows class. The minis made more sense after she explained that one was based on a Korean melody to pay tribute to Yeoh and another on a Greek folk song to salute her own heritage. 

Pardon the math, but the $10 tickets for 100 minutes of music works out to 10 cents a minute. Talk about bang for your buck! 


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