It was a dark and stormy night, or fixing to get that way, as concertgoers gathered at Kirby Horton Hall at Sarah Duke Gardens, filling all the seats. The evening’s concert featured two married couples; the two members of duoJalal, and Duke teachers Andrew Waggoner and Caroline Stinson. All have years of experience making music together, while each comes from a distinct background with individual talents to bring to the mix. The result is unusual, original, and of the highest quality.

DuoJalal, named after the great Sufi poet Jalal al din Rumi, has been performing for eleven years. Kathryn Lockwood was a violist in the all-female Lark Quartet for sixteen years, ending this year with the quartet’s disbanding in its thirty-fourth season. She teaches at University of Massachusetts/Amherst and Montclair State University. She plays an 18th century Italian viola that has a remarkable mellow tone. Summers find her performing with the Broyhill Chamber Ensemble in Boone, the Elm City ChamberFest in Connecticut, and the Telluride ChamberFest in Colorado. Her husband, percussionist Yousif Sheronick, of Lebanese descent, has extensive performance experience in rock, jazz, and classical music. He has a master’s degree from Yale and was recently featured in Drum! magazine. In playing with the string instruments at this concert, he had a delicate touch and a real mastery of soft playing, something sometimes missing among percussionists.

Composer and violinist Andrew Waggoner has had an impressive career with many awards, grants, and commissions. He just completed his first year teaching composition at Duke, where the solution to the “two-body problem” was solved when his wife Caroline Stinson joined the music faculty last fall. He and Stinson are Co-Artistic Directors of the Catskills-based Weekend of Chamber Music.

Cellist Caroline Stinson has just completed her first year at Duke with the Ciompi Quartet. She performed with the Lark Quartet for ten years and taught at Juilliard from 2008 until 2018. She has worked with a long list of prominent composers and musicians, in the US, Canada, and Europe. We look forward to  having her play here in the Triangle for many years to come.

Stinson started off the music with the most familiar of all solo cello works, the Prelude from Suite No. 1 by J. S. Bach. With something like this, the challenge is to say something new with the same old same old. Thankfully, with a masterpiece like this, that’s still possible, and Stinson pushed the dynamic variability and rubato with a delicate touch that was most effective. About the time she started, the heavens opened up, and the rain continued throughout most of the concert. (I hope the background patter didn’t hurt the recording!)

For all but one of the following eight selections, Waggoner recited poetry to introduce the music. The poetry wasn’t formally associated with the compositions but rather set the mood. For the first piece, Waggoner recited “A Summer Invocation” by Walt Whitman, followed by “Summer in the High Grassland” by Zhao Jiping, performed by duoJalal. Sheronick used a kanjira, a South Indian frame drum the size of a tambourine but without the jingles, and had a maraca attached to his foot.

Second, came the poem “Burning Island” by Gary Snyder and a free improvisation between violinist Waggoner and Sheronick on a frame drum. It was quite interesting to see how much Sheronick got out of such simple instruments.

Third, we had six of Bartók’s 44 Duos for 2 Violins, arranged for viola and cello by Péter Bartók. The third duo was titled “Hungarian March,” which gave the impression that Hungarians must have one leg shorter than the other. The final duo was “Arabian Song”; clearly, Bartók’s experience of people from Arab countries were really Gypsies.

Fourth, the poem was “For the Nightly Ascent of the Hunter Orion Over a Forest Clearing” by James Dickey, followed by Sheronick’s own “Manta Ray Dance.” This was performed with only a tambourine, this time complete with jingles. Again, it was astonishing to see what could be done with much the same instrument I toyed with as a toddler.

Fifth, the poem was “Singing in the Rain” by Countee Cullen and the music was the Gigue from the Cello Suite No. 4 by Bach, performed on viola by Lockwood.

Sixth, the poem was “Starlings in Winter” by Mary Oliver and the music was “To Think Again of Dangerous and Noble Things” by Waggoner (with the title from a line in the poem). This was performed by duoJalal, this time with Seronick on bells, tar drum, bodhrán (a traditional Irish frame drum), Tibetan prayer bowl, amplified kalimba, and gong. That was the only time in the evening when there was a relative profusion of percussion instruments, but it was done with a tasteful touch.>

Seventh, the poem was “Fern Hill” by Dylan Thomas, leading into “Nocturne,” by Gordon Jacob. This was performed by Lockwood and Stinson.

For the final work, the poem was from The Art of Blessing the Day by Marge Piercy. This was followed by a collection of four anonymous Istampitte Medieval Dances, performed by the entire ensemble, with the melody either in unison or done in fifths.

All in all, a most enjoyable late spring evening, performed by top musicians in fine form.

This summer series continues on July 9. For details, see our calendar.