The University of North Carolina School of the Arts began their Chamber Music Festival with a wonderful student and faculty recital in Watson Hall. The program started with Jean-Baptiste Singelée‘s Duo Concertante, Op. 55, featuring UNCSA saxophone faculty member Robert Young alongside one of his students, Chris Forbes. The saxophone duo was supported by UNCSA’s Collaborative Piano Department Chair, Allison Gagnon, who provided the backdrop for the rather operatic piece. Gagnon kept the “story” moving along as Young and Forbes had a conversation with their instruments, full of points and counterpoints and contrasting ideas followed by beautiful convergences of each saxophone’s respective melodies. When one saxophone had a frantic run, the other would have a singing line, but the divergence was never chaotic or unbearable. Instead, the entire performance was deliberate and controlled, perfectly depicting the scene.

An all-faculty ensemble followed, featuring pianist Dmitri Vorobiev, oboist Jaren Atherholt and Dean of Music and bassoonist Saxton Rose. The group performed Joaquín Turina‘s Trio in B minor for Violin, Cello, and Piano, a very evocative piece showcasing Turina’s uniquely Spanish harmonies and a wide variety of moods within each movement. Similar to the Singelée piece, Turina’s trio has a conversational aspect to it, but this time the piano has its own soloistic role to play as well. With this in mind, Vorobiev, Atherholt, and Rose worked together to paint vivid images of dances, landscapes, singers, and the sounds of nature. As opposed to Singelée, Turina usually has the instruments in agreement with one another, and even though the story and images brought forth by the Trio were different than Young, Forbes, and Gagnon, the performance was not any less engaging or enjoyable.

The final piece of the recital, Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, Op. 70, was the biggest of the night both in duration and the size of the ensemble. The string sextet was composed of faculty members violinist Kevin Lawrence, violist Ulrich Eichenauer, and cellist Brooks Whitehouse. These faculty members were joined by their respective students Bella Ward, Laurence Brooke, and Sophie Lyman. The influence and beauty of Florence, Italy – the city where the piece was composed – is very present in the first two movements, as it was a city Tchaikovsky loved dearly. This is especially true for the second movement, in which the sextet brilliantly brought out the serene, floating atmosphere and the sweetness of the melody that is so common in Tchaikovsky’s music. Their ability to perform this part of the piece well also made the exciting third and fourth movements even more captivating. The last two movements are where the composer’s Eastern roots are illuminated, with the third movement singing a folksong and the fourth being a Slavonic dance. This provided the sextet with an opportunity to create a great sense of contrast from the beginning to the end of the piece, and they did not disappoint.

This final group spoke directly to the main purpose of UNCSA’s Chamber Music Festival: to emphasize collaboration between students, faculty, and guest artists. The opportunity for students to have a professional collaborative experience alongside true professionals is not only exciting for the performers, but for the audience as well, as they get to witness the growth of these performers in a setting that is not always available to them.

If you would like to witness this growth firsthand, the UNCSA Chamber Music Festival will conclude with a second concert featuring UNCSA faculty, students, and guest artists Jan Vogler and Paul Neubauer on Saturday, March 19 at 7:30 p.m. in Watson Hall and via livestream. See our sidebar for details.