Yale in New York concert celebrates YSM’s guitar and composition programs

Ben Verdery

Benjamin Verdery

In programming Music for Guitars, an upcoming Yale in New York series concert at Carnegie Hall, faculty guitarist Benjamin Verdery reflected on a November 2010 program that featured music by a host of Yale-affiliated composers. That program, by design, celebrated the legacies of the School of Music’s composition and guitar programs.

Verdery also reflected, in curating the upcoming Yale in New York program, on inspiration he found, a little more than 10 years ago, at the Rhode Island School of Design. Verdery’s son was applying to the school, whose application requirements included drawing a bicycle or some element thereof. Accepted students’ illustrations were on view when Verdery brought his son to Providence to visit the school. “It was mind-bending,” Verdery said.

“I’m going to have my friends write a piece of music—just the notes, the pitches and the rhythms,” without tempo or dynamic indications, he decided. Since then, each year, prospective School of Music students applying to study with Verdery have been required to learn and perform, as part of their audition, a piece written by one of Verdery’s colleagues, along with other repertoire. Like RISD’s bicycle-drawing admissions requirement, the commissioned audition pieces leave room for interpretation, giving Verdery some insight into the ability and creativity of prospective students.

Those who have been commissioned by Verdery to compose audition pieces, over the course of the past decade, include former YSM Dean and Prof. of Music Ezra Laderman, faculty composers Martin Bresnick and Christopher Theofanidis; Lecturer in Electronic Music Jack Vees; YSM alumni Bryce Dessner, James Moore, and Brendon Randall-Myers; Yale University Department of Music Prof. Kathryn Alexander; and current composition student Tanner Porter, among others. Audition pieces by the above-mentioned musicians will be showcased as part of Music for Guitars, the third and final concert in the 2018-2019 Yale in New York series. The concert will feature Verdery and current School of Music students and alumni, including René Izquierdo.

The program also includes works by Hindemith (who taught at the School of Music), Mudarra, and Terry Riley; arrangements of music by Bach, Scarlatti, and Schubert; and world premieres of James Moore’s Turning and Verdery’s arrangement, for guitar and string quartet, of Bernstein’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano. Izquierdo will perform Turning, which was this year’s YSM guitar audition piece. Verdery will perform the Bernstein with violinists Kate Arndt and Gregory Lewis, violist Marta Lambert, and cellist Guilherme Monegatto-all current YSM students.

The repertoire for the program reaches back to 16th century composer Alonso Mudarra’s fantasias for vihuela—which will be played on an instrument from the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments—and visits music composed since then and up to the present. The program also taps into the arranging chops of the guitarists who’ll be performing. It’s something “all of us in the world of guitar do,” Verdery said.

“There’s a lot of color and expression of what the guitar is,” Verdery said of the program. There will also be a lot of virtuosity on display—and, like the 2010 program, of which it’s a musical extension, many connections to the School of Music.

The School of Music’s Yale in New York series presents Music for Guitars on Friday, March 29, at 7:30 p.m., at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. A preview concert is scheduled for Thursday, March 28, at 4:30 p.m., in Morse Recital Hall in Sprague Memorial Hall. Admission to the preview concert is free.

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Published March 20, 2019
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Ensemble of YSM clarinetists to perform at Carnegie Hall

David Shifrin

It’s been 235 years since Mozart composed his Adagio in B-flat major for two clarinets and three basset horns. That is, clarinet ensembles have been a thing for centuries. In the mid-20th century, concertgoers in the United States heard performances by large clarinet choirs. YSM faculty clarinetist David Shifrin has organized a pair of concerts geared toward introducing today’s audiences to that tradition. Since Mozart wrote his Adagio, Steve Reich, Peter Schickele, and Jeff Scott have written for clarinet ensemble. Works by other composers have been so arranged.

The second concert in this season’s Yale in New York series, Shifrin said, will trace “the tradition of the sound of clarinet ensembles,” calling on current YSM students, alumni, and undergraduates from Yale College. The program, which includes music by the above-mentioned composers and others, will put on display the “versatility of the instrument as well as the homogeneity of sound.” Nearly two-dozen clarinetists will participate, along with two percussionists who will perform on Scott’s Expeditionary Airmen (Three Day Pass) and arrangements of Benny Goodman’s versions of tunes by Eubie Blake and Henry Lodge. An arrangement of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, Shifrin said, will present concertgoers with “a living, breathing version of an organ,” with each stop played by a human and featuring the full range of clarinets, from the contrabass clarinet—which Shifrin described as the “size of a small vehicle”—to the piccolo clarinet.

By design, the program will show off the range of colors and styles that attracted Shifrin and other musicians to the instrument. It will also show off the musicians who have passed through Shifrin’s YSM studio and those who are currently studying at Yale. “To have this level of virtuosity, clarinetists coming together to play in an ensemble, is a rare type of event,” he said.

YSM faculty clarinetist David Shifrin will present Music for Clarinets as part of the School’s Yale in New York series, with a free preview concert at Yale on Thursday, Feb. 14, and a performance in Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall on Friday, Feb. 15.

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Published February 6, 2019
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A tale of two Tatianas: Yale Opera sopranos discuss challenging role

With performances of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin fast approaching, singers from the Yale Opera program are in their final stages of preparation. Sopranos Madeline Ehlinger ’20MM and Lauren McQuistin ’19MMA, who will be sharing the role of Tatiana, spoke with us about the rehearsal process and their reflections on the opera.

What do you think makes Eugene Onegin such a quintessential opera? 

Lauren McQuistin. Photo by Synthia Steinem

Ehlinger: I think a lot of the appeal of Eugene Onegin comes from its striking likeness to moments and people in our lives. Almost anyone watching this opera will see themselves or people they know reflected in these characters. This, coupled with the sweeping and unabashedly Russian phrases of Tchaikovsky’s melodies, creates an opera that has the ability to move any listener.

McQuistin: Eugene Onegin isn’t driven by its plot, especially compared to other operas. Despite this, it remains a staple in the operatic canon, which can be attributed to the idiosyncratic yet relatable qualities of the characters and their interpersonal relationships. The source material, Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, is to Russia what Goethe’s Faust is to Germany. There is a reverence for this story that prevented so many composers prior to Tchaikovsky from even attempting to put it to music. You can clearly see how Tchaikovsky poured the more hidden parts of himself and his experience into these characters. This relation to them, paired with him being the master of melody, makes something that resonates with people in an unfiltered and very human way. There’s something enchanting about the bareness of the intentions of the characters—Tatiana’s uncensored confession of love, Lensky flying so quickly to anger, Olga’s unashamed wildness, and Onegin’s sole desire to fulfil his own needs. Their interactions and the way they grow (or fail to) create an electricity that drives the opera forward without a convoluted plot. The qualities they display are parts of ourselves that we conceal, but Tchaikovsky puts a magnifying glass on them and refuses to let us hide from them for three acts of exquisite music.

How would you describe Tatiana? How is this role different from other roles you’ve sung, and what have your preparations been like?

Ehlinger: Tatiana, on the surface, is shy, quiet, and lost in her world of novels. And though parts of that analysis are true, she is also bold, dynamic, and full of wit. In opera, you are not always presented with such a layered and complex character. Getting to explore the hugely contrasting elements of her personality through her words and her music has been a really rewarding experience. So many elements of my personality align with Tatiana’s, so I’m using those parallels to interpret her story in a way that feels authentic.

McQuistin: A lot of what has made Tatiana profound for me has come from my experiences as a woman. In operas, especially as a soprano, my role has been as an accessory to a man’s love story, to die, or to go mad. Much of the agency that I have attempted to apply to my characters wasn’t necessarily written into them by the male composers. Quite the opposite, in fact. Tatiana, however, is a character that is entirely in charge of her own destiny. She is an unashamed dreamer and a unique individual, despite those around her not understanding her. She doesn’t descend into madness or apathy, and, most important, she transforms her trauma into success on her own terms. This makes her already extremely relevant to the 21st century, rather than making directorial choices to achieve that. It’s very exciting to present that sort of power on the operatic stage. Her actions are deliberate, and her transparency is brave, which has required a lot of vulnerability during the rehearsal process. She is one of the characters in the opera who goes through a significant change in circumstances, so exploring how she presents before and after her defining moment of heartbreak, whilst maintaining her core values as a character, has been the main challenge.

Madeline Ehlinger. Photo by Andrew Saiz

What is the rehearsal process like for such a huge work? Has singing in Russian posed extra challenges?

Ehlinger: I am a little surprised at how smoothly and fluidly this rehearsal process has unfolded. It is quite a huge work. We all came into staging rehearsals with the music and text diligently learned, due to the help of our dedicated and knowledgeable coaches and teachers. With that base of knowledge, the staging rehearsals felt like the next organic step. And I think we would all agree that the staging has enhanced our singing and interpretation of the text. The Russian was at first a challenge, but it is a language that flows beautifully once it is understood. It was a bit of a challenge, but a rewarding one.

McQuistin: The level of commitment to Eugene Onegin has had to be nothing short of 100 percent from absolutely everyone involved. Due to the interpersonal relationships of these characters being so critical to the shows’ success we have had to commit fully to color them with our own experiences, imaginations, and everything we have in our artist’s toolkit—including dance and stage combat. I have been a Russophile since the age of 16, so I fortunately had a loose grasp of the language and history, but there is no room for approximation in this process. As a class we had the massive advantage of studying Russian lyric diction with Emily Olin last semester, which gave us the necessary tools to get started with reading and comprehension. The text in this opera is more like a novel than a play, with no repetitions of text and extremely florid language, so every ounce of our understanding is required. With the Russian language being so different from the many Romance and Germanic languages that opera fans are more acquainted with, we must be entirely clear with our interpretation and communication, else it becomes impenetrable for both ourselves and the audience. There are certain aspects of Russian opera that differ greatly from other operatic traditions. For instance, Italian emotional climaxes usually are conveyed with a high, sustained note, whereas in Russian opera the melodic lines will utilize descending lines and the lower parts of our range to indicate their points of great drama. Grasping certain characteristics like that is keeping this from becoming a one-size-fits-all operatic approach, and it’s been so exciting to explore and understand exactly how this vastly different musical tradition creates its distinctive sound world.

What has it been like to work with director Paul Curran?

Ehlinger: Working with Paul has been such a rich experience. He’s the best director I can imagine for this opera. He speaks Russian and knows the opera and story in great detail. His expertise has really elevated our work. I have been consistently pushed to overcome my fears as a performer, and Paul has taught me great ways to reach that fearlessness. And I have to mention Perry So, our wonderful conductor, who has really given this music a freshness and incredible energy.

McQuistin: Having direct contact with someone who has worked on the main stages across the world is an experience I will never forget. His resume and accomplishments speak for themselves, but even they can’t fully account for the level of commitment he has to the process, the amount that he demands from us, and his constant search for truth in our performances. As he has worked with the people we aspire to be, he can give us a first-hand account of their own struggles and successes within their individual process. This allows us space and acceptance for our own areas of development and what we still have to learn. The standard he holds us to is something to aspire to, but it is never forgotten that we are in a learning environment, and there is a firm kindness in what is expected of us. From a personal point of view, it is significant for me that he is Scottish. Though I am from Scotland myself, and lived there for most my life, I have never worked with a Scottish director. I believe there needs to be more visibility for Scottish artists, and I want to be a part of that. In my past I have hid my Scottishness to fit in in certain circles, so to work with someone so successful and so unapologetically Scottish has enriched my experience as a Scottish artist working internationally.

Madeline, now that you’re in your second semester of your first year, what are your reflections on your time here in the Yale Opera program thus far?

Ehlinger: I came into this program knowing that the work I was facing would be immense, and I hoped also rewarding. I am glad to say it has been more rewarding that I could have imagined. A lot of that is due to the fantastic group of singers I am surrounded by. The support for one another is abundant, and it really creates an environment with a perfect balance of seriousness and warmth. Yale Opera has helped me grow as a musician in every sense of the word.

Lauren, as a second-year student, now in your second semester, what are your reflections on your time here in the Yale Opera program?

McQuistin: I will never forget the sheer disbelief I felt when I received the call from Doris Yarick-Cross offering me a place in the program. For the longest time I couldn’t fathom that I could have earned a place in a program like this. The program sets a bar for you that initially seems like an absolutely impossible task, and eventually, through relentless support, encouragement, and tutelage, you are given opportunities and performances that make you realize you are achieving that level of performance you initially thought was impossible. Given the small size of the class, we have been able to create a supportive environment where we have been able to challenge ourselves in a safe and productive way. It is truly unique to have so much individual attention and care, which encourages us to take ourselves seriously as artists and performers.

Yale Opera presents Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin on Friday & Saturday, Feb. 15 & Feb. 16, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Feb. 17, at 2 p.m., at New Haven’s historic Shubert Theatre.

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Published February 4, 2019
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YSM Student News | December 2018

Maura Scanlin

Tenor Luis Aguilar ’18MM ’19MMA, bass-baritone Brady Muth ’19MM, mezzo-soprano Rachel Weishoff ’19MMA, and soprano Laura Nielsen ’20MM, were the soloists for the Waterbury Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Handel’s Messiah with the Hartford Chorale.

San Jittakarn ’19MMA won third prize and Yun Lu ’20MM was one of eight semifinalists in the piano division of the 2018 Geneva International Music Competition.

Violinist Bora Kim ’16MM ’17MMA ’23DMA performed with the Sejong Soloists at Carnegie Hall in November for the ensemble’s Annual Gala Concert, which included works by Wagner, Vivaldi, Ewazen, and a premiere by Augusta Read Thomas MM.

Violinist Julia Mirzoev ’20MM was featured as a soloist in Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, K. 364, with the Durham Youth Orchestra in Whitby, Ontario, Canada.

Violinist Maura Scanlin ’19MM has recorded albums with her two folk bands. The Celtic fiddle/guitar duo Rakish released a self-titled debut EP in October, and Pumpkin Bread, an experimental group that blends Celtic folk and jazz, will release its second album in March 2019.

Xiaoyi Xu ’20MMA placed third and Po-Wei Ger ’20MM placed fifth at the Panama International Piano Competition.

Published December 13, 2018
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Pianist Sophiko Simsive ’18MM ’19MMA, on performing with the Yale Philharmonia

Sophiko Simsive. Photo by Marco Broggreve

Asked about Brahms’ First Piano Concerto, which she will perform with the Yale Philharmonia on Thursday, Nov. 15, Sophiko Simsive ’18MM ’19MMA does not get into musical details. “I’ve been trying to think in a more abstract way,” she said, explaining, “I like to relate to pieces on a personal level.” Simsive described herself as “a musician that always tries to identify the emotion in a piece” and wants the audience to feel that though her performance. “I feel very strongly about this piece,” she said. “I want to bring out my personality and I’m trying to bring out the story I’m trying to tell with it.”

While Simsive has long been familiar with the concerto, it was not until she played a piano arrangement of the orchestra part, for a March 2017 recital here at YSM by Dong Won Lee ’18MM, that she started “thinking deep and really getting my hands on” the piece.

Just hours removed from her first rehearsal with the Philharmonia, Simsive said, “I feel very much part of the orchestra.” Thursday’s concert in Woolsey Hall, she said, will be a high point of her time here at Yale, largely because she will be performing alongside colleagues. “I feel completely like I’m playing at home,” she said.

At the first rehearsal, Simsive said a few words to members of the Philharmonia. “I felt so grateful for the opportunity to play with the Yale Philharmonia. I wanted to let them know that for me it felt like playing chamber music with each and every one of them.” Simsive has worked with many musicians in the YSM community and pointed out that she played piano, celeste, and organ as a member of the Philharmonia in September.

As the soloist on Thursday’s concert, Simsive is looking forward to sharing a bit of herself with the Woolsey Hall audience. “I can tell a lot of different stories,” she said, “but they have to feel something—and that something is my life at Yale.”

Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winner Sophiko Simsive ’18MM ’19MMA will perform Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15, with the Yale Philharmonia on Thursday, Nov. 15, at 7:30 p.m., in Woolsey Hall. The program also includes Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra.

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Published November 12, 2018
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YSM Student News | April 2018

The Bonus Quartet

Composer Krists Auznieks ’16MM ’21 DMA had his piece And Flowers Showered, an immersive concert-length work, premiered by the New York City-based ensemble Contemporaneous at National Sawdust in February.

The Bonus Quartet, an ensemble of YSM trombonists, was named a semifinalist in the Senior Winds category at the M-Prize Chamber Arts Competition at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance. The quartet, which includes Zachary Haas ’18MM, Grant Futch ’18MMA, Hillary Simms ’18MM, and Wil Wortley ’18MM, will compete in the finals in Ann Arbor in May.

Violinist Ariel Horowitz ’19MM was awarded second prize in the age 18-21 category at the 2018 International Arthur Grumiaux Competition for Young Violinists in Brussels, Belgium. Horowitz also received the prize for Best Interpretation of a Work by Belgian Composer.

Clarinetist Graeme Johnson ’18MMA won first prize at the Hellam Young Artists’ Competition in Springfield, Mo. Johnson was awarded a monetary prize and will perform the Mozart Clarinet Concerto with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra in January 2019.

Composer Aaron Israel Levin ’19MM had his sextet Springbokkie selected for the Society of Composers Inc.’s 2018 National Conference. It was performed at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wa., in March.

Pianist Szymon Nehring ’19AD received the International Classical Music Awards’ Outstanding Young Polish Artist award. Each year, the ICMA honors exceptional artists and recordings that are selected by an international jury of music critics.

Cellist Justin Park ’18MM won first prize at the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra’s 59th Annual Instrumental Competition. Park will be featured as a guest soloist with the orchestra in the 2018-2019 season.

Congratulations to these and all of our outstanding students.

Published April 16, 2018
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Winners of 2018 Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition announced

The 2018 Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition took place on Sunday, April 8. This year’s competition yielded three winners: tubist Jacob Fewx ’18MM, who performed Arild Plau’s Concerto for Tuba and Strings; pianist Sophiko Simsive ’18MM, who performed Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15; and flutist Jungah Yoon ’19MM who performed Carl Reinecke’s Flute Concerto in D major, Op. 283. As winners, these students will perform with the Yale Philharmonia during the 2018-19 season. Cellist Samuel DeCaprio ’18MMA was selected as an alternate, and violinist Ariel Horowitz ’19MM received an honorable mention.

The judges were violinist Solomiya Ivakhiv, who serves as assistant professor of violin and viola and coordinator of strings at the University of Connecticut, André-Michel Schub, who is on the piano and chamber music faculty at the Manhattan School of Music, and New York Philharmonic bass trombonist George Curran, who is a faculty member at Rutgers University and the Manhattan School of Music.

We congratulate our outstanding students and look forward to hearing them perform next season with the Yale Philharmonia.

Published April 9, 2018
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YSM Dean Robert Blocker to perform with colleagues, Yale Philharmonia

Robert Blocker

Faculty pianist and YSM Dean Robert Blocker

If there is one composer whose music has always resonated deeply with School of Music Dean Robert Blocker, it is Mozart. “From my earliest memories I loved Mozart,” Blocker said. As a young musician, he said, “there was something magical about the sound.”

On Wednesday, March 7, Blocker will share his love of Mozart’s music with the Horowitz Piano Series audience in a concert featuring members of the School’s piano faculty — including recently retired professor Peter Frankl — and members of the Yale Philharmonia, led by YSM lecturer-in-music and New Haven Symphony Orchestra Music Director William Boughton.

The all-Mozart program, a study in collaboration, to be sure, will begin with a performance, with faculty pianists Boris Berman and Wei-Yi Yang, of Carl Czerny’s piano-six-hands arrangement of the Overture to Le nozze di Figaro. Blocker will then be joined by members of the Yale Philharmonia for a performance of Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K. 488.

Blocker has played K. 488 more than any other concerto. “I truly love that piece,” he said. “I learned it with my first and only piano teacher before I went to college. I always learn new things in the piece.”

While the Sonata for Piano Four-Hands in B-flat major, K.358/186c, which he will perform with faculty pianist and School of Music Deputy Dean Melvin Chen, is new repertoire for Blocker. The Concerto No. 10 for Two Pianos in E-flat major, K. 365/316a, which he will perform with Frankl and the Philharmonia, is one that holds special significance.

“When Peter Frankl celebrated his 70th birthday” in 2005, Blocker said, “he invited me to play the Double Concerto with him.” For this occasion, he said, “it just seems like the most wonderful thing to do — create a program and have Peter be part of that.”

The concert, for Blocker, is a celebration of the education he receives every day at YSM. “Colleagues have given me the kind of musical fabric that makes every day better than it deserves to be. The best thing about this job,” he said, “is learning from students and faculty. I don’t even pretend to know what they know. That’s the joy in this.” As he sees it, the March 7 program offers a chance to have all involved “touching the hem of Mozart’s coat.” It is also an opportunity for Blocker to share with an audience the music that for him remains “a musical compass.”

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Published March 5, 2018
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Robert van Sice to perform with current YPG members and alumni

Robert van Sice

Yale Percussion Group Director Robert van Sice recently said that Garth Neustadter’s Seaborne “is the best piece anyone’s written for me since [James Wood’s] Spirit Festival with Lamentations.” Neustadter’s piece, which will be premiered on Saturday, March 3, as part of a concert billed as Robert van Sice & Friends, was commissioned to be a sort of companion piece to Steve Reich’s Sextet.

The March 3 program is built around Seaborne, which is fitting given that Neustadter ’12MM is a YSM alum and the concert will feature current YPG members and a host of alumni. In addition to Seaborne, which includes a film component created by van Sice’s son, Kjell van Sice, the program includes Thierry De Mey’s Musique de tables, “Story” from John Cage’s Living Room Music, and Reich’s Sextet.

Current YPG member YoungKyoung Lee ’18MM said the concert “represents the most important part of Bob’s teaching, which is learning from your peers and having the community together.” Percussionists are told when they arrive at YSM, “You will learn more from the other five students here than you will learn from me,” van Sice said. During the March 3 concert, several generations of YSM-trained percussionists will share the Morse Recital Hall stage, introducing the audience to some of the students who have passed through the School since van Sice joined the faculty in 1997.

While he’s looking forward to celebrating his time on the YSM faculty, van Sice is quick to recognize those who were here before him: Fred Hinger and Gordon Gottlieb. “These are really significant people who I have the privilege of succeeding,” van Sice said.

The March 3 concert, van Sice said, is “going to look way more like a party than a concert.”

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Published February 28, 2018
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Schumann course culminates in performance

Prof. Michael Friedmann

School of Music Prof. Michael Friedmann’s course Schumann’s Chamber Music: Performance and Analysis, which is open by audition to instrumentalists studying at the School of Music and at Yale College, focuses on combining analytical research with practical performance issues. The class culminates in a performance of what Friedmann describes as “a precious and surprisingly undervalued body of repertoire.”

Friedmann, Professor of Musicology and Theory at the Yale School of Music, specializes in the music of Schoenberg, Schumann, and Beethoven, analysis of post-tonal music, ear training, and chamber music coaching. He received a special citation from the Society of Music Theory for his 1990 book Ear Training for 20th-century Music (Yale University Press).

“My approach links analysis to performance,” Friedmann said, “because performers usually rush to get performances ready without the opportunity to make genuine contact with all dimensions of the phrase structure, relation of tonal design and thematic form, and motivic interaction. They also learn how to distinguish the principal elements from countersubjects or other secondary elements. Moreover, a refined awareness of emotional content, and mercurial shifts of emotional ‘topic,’ which directly affect sound and pacing, is often bypassed in favor of a monolithic rendering of the notes.”

Friedmann concentrates on Schumann’s chamber music because “students may not immediately get the opportunity to play this repertoire as they would comparable music of Brahms, Beethoven, and others.”

This year’s concert, which is scheduled to take place on Dec. 12, at 7:30 pm at the Whitney Humanities Center, will feature performances of Schumann’s Märchenerzählungen, Op.132; Piano Trio No. 3 in G minor, Op. 110; Violin Sonata No. 1 in A minor, Op. 105; and Piano Trio No. 2 in F major, Op. 80.

Published December 12, 2017
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