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Bringing Music to Life

As the director of Chamber Music Charleston (CMC), I am always looking for new ways to share our music with Charleston audiences. We are most well known for our House Concerts—intimate evenings and afternoons of classical music presented in a private homes—but sometimes we need to do something different, something unexpected… something that will capture the attention of someone new and energize those who already know us.

CMC performs a house concert at The Palmer House on the Battery.

CMC performs a house concert at The Palmer House on the Battery. Jenny Weiss, Frances Hsieh, Debra Sherrill, Timothy O’Malley, Ben Weiss. Photo courtesy of BT Hunter Photography

When the opportunity to collaborate with Laura Ball, Charleston Dance Institute, and the Gibbes Museum of Art presented itself to us, it didn’t take much time at all for me to eagerly accept. You see, while we have collaborated in the past with some incredible local actors for Music and Spoken Word productions and have even collaborated with singers to stage a mini-opera, we have never had the change to combine our music with dance.

Even more exciting, we are not simply preparing music by a standard, great “European Classical Composer”—say, a Beethoven String Quartet or Brahms Piano Quintet. No, for this collaboration we get to bring a brand new piece of music to life. A piece of music that only months ago was a mere though in the composer’s mind but is now a fully orchestrated score, engraved on paper and in the hands of the individual musicians.

CMC cellist Timothy O'Malley

CMC cellist Timothy O’Malley (playing at the SC Aquarium). Photo courtesy of BT Hunter Photography

How does all of the music come together? First, I had to assemble the musicians based on the instrumentation for the work. Laura Ball, our fearless composer and artistic leader, chose an octet for this work: 2 violins, cello, bass, flute, oboe, percussion, and piano. It was not hard at all to find the musicians to fit the bill, as CMC has a fantastic core of local professional musicians to draw from. The CMC musicians performing for this project include violinists Frances Hsieh and Ben Weiss, cellist Timothy O’Malley, oboist Mark Gainer, and flutist Regina Helcher Yost. We added some good friends: Jean Williams on bass, James Cannon for percussion, and Tomas Jakubek for violin, and warmly welcomed composer Laura Ball to play the piano part. This past week each musician received their individual parts and have been charged with learning the notes, dynamics and tempos. On November 5, the real fun begins as we gather together for the first time to read through the music as an ensemble.

CMC violinist Frances Hsieh.

CMC violinist Frances Hsieh. Photo courtesy of CMC

What happens at this first rehearsal? I know the string players will discuss bowings—the direction that the bow runs across the strings. As a wind player (I am a bassoonist), it took me quite some time to realize how important bowings can be, but I now realize that bowings greatly affect the phrasing of a line of music; making some notes stronger than others and helping build and taper intensity to specific notes. Also, if you have two violinists playing the same music, it is nice to see their bows moving in the same directions!

CMC flutist Regina Helcher Yost

CMC flutist Regina Helcher Yost (playing at the SC Aquarium). Photo courtesy of BT Hunter Photography

For the wind players—the oboe and flute—I bet they will be focused on matching articulations (length of notes and attacks of notes) and pitch, and blending their sounds together. The ensemble as a whole will focus on making sure everyone starts every note perfectly together and changes notes at the same time. They will also work as one as they interpret dynamics and musical lines.

The goal of the musicians for this project is to interpret the notes on the page and create the musical story that will accompany the dance. It is an awesome responsibility, but one that each of our musicians take up with great gusto. There is something incredibly exciting about bringing a new piece of music to life, especially when this music is just one element of a bigger project.

I know I can’t wait to see how this all comes together, and I certainly can not wait to see the dance set to the music! It will be incredible!

Sandra Nikolajevs, president & artistic director of Chamber Music Charleston, and guest blogger

The Gibbes Museum is pleased to present a special performance of The Little Match Girl with Laura Ball, the Charleston Dance Institute, and Chamber Music of Charleston.

The performance will be held across the street from the museum at the Circular Congregational Church. Following the performance, the audience is invited to the museum for a meet and greet with the performers, and to see the exhibitions on view.

Purchase tickets online or call 843.722.2706 x21.

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