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Farewell act: Senior Leonard Bernstein Scholars bid goodbye to Brandeis

By Adam Hughes

Section: Arts

March 26, 2010

GRAPHIC BY Ariel Wittenberg/The Hoo

I walked into Slosberg Music Center last Sunday, and the distant sound of chamber music hit my ears. The doors to the auditorium were shut, and the hall was empty except for the greeters.

Uh-oh.

Timidly, I asked, “Is there a concert at four o’clock?”

“No, it started at three.” Apparently, the two groups set to perform early shows had less material than they planned, and their concerts had been combined and moved forward an hour.

Damn! What was I going to review this week?

“There’s an intermission coming up in about five minutes, though. You can stay and watch the final piece.”

Let me take a moment now to gently chide the Department of Music. In the future, if you’re going to make a last-minute schedule change, please try to update your semester concert calendar, particularly the online version around which I plan my attendance. Also, it would be nice if you could update the myBrandeis campus calendar as well. At the very least, could you try to keep the same time if at all possible?

Then again, maybe I missed something obvious. After all, I appeared to be the only late arrival, and the concert hall appeared to be moderately full. Whatever the case, I was disappointed to miss most of the show but still eager to see whatever I could.

“You’re not completely out of luck,” the usher said helpfully. “You get the very last program we have.”

Well, you know what they say about clouds and silver linings.

As I took a seat to wait for the intermission, I started feeling fortunate that I would catch any of the concert at all. This was a particularly important show for some of the most talented musicians on the Brandeis campus: the Leonard Bernstein Scholars. The Scholarship, which fell victim to last year’s budget cuts, was awarded to “students proficient in violin, viola, cello and piano and with an interest in pursuing the study of chamber music.” It provided a great way for Brandeis to entice some of the best music students in the country, and I hope that our improving financial fortunes allow us to restart it soon.

This was the last show for the Scholars in the class of 2010, and it marked the end of four years of intense study for violinist Joshua Chakoff, cellist Yoon-Jin Kim ’10 and pianist Karen Lowe ’10. I read their dedications as I flipped through my lucky program; each thanked the other two for their extensive musical relationships in intimate, touching ways. Their final piece together, Beethoven’s “Ghost” Trio in D major Op. 70, No. 1, was the same piece they had performed at their first Brandeis concert in 2006.

I had already missed quite a bit of Beethoven. The concert opened with the composer’s Trio in E flat major Op. 1, No. 1, one of his earliest works and fairly typical of the Classical style. Then, the 2010 LBS Trio gave way to the Scholars from the class of 2011 (violinist Ethan Valinetz, violist Emily Gelb and cellist Conner Massey), who performed the String Trio in C minor, Op. 9.

Finally, Chakoff, Kim and Lowe returned to the stage, and I got to hear their farewell to the Brandeis campus. To be honest, I was slightly underwhelmed. Maybe I’ve grown to expect too much from Beethoven, but the “Ghost” Trio (which I was previously unfamiliar with) seemed to lack the magic that distinguishes much of his best work. It was certainly a pleasant piece, but the characteristic bold climaxes just didn’t strike me with the same emotional depth that so many of his chamber pieces reach.

However, this shouldn’t reflect on the musicians themselves, because they performed with a sparkling interplay that only a seasoned ensemble can pull off. Kim and Chakoff proved the strength of their con nection in the first movement, where the sweet main theme is played on the cello and closely echoed by the violin. They remained in perfect time, allowing each instrumental voice an equal share in constructing the piece. Lowe’s highlight came in the second movement with a series of morphing textures and dynamics on the piano that broadened the scope of the music. They closed with the presto final movement, and then it was over: the piece, the concert and their Brandeis performing careers.

It’s a shame to think that such high level chamber music might become a thing of the past for Brandeis undergraduates. Clearly, Chakoff, Kim and Lowe must have had many tempting options coming out of high school, but Brandeis proved it could offer them the resources and the opportunities of a first-rate music school. To hear them perform is to understand what a strong investment that was.

Reviving the Leonard Bernstein Scholarship should be at the forefront of the university’s concerns as soon as it is economically feasible. I feel bad enough about missing half of one concert; I hope Brandeis won’t soon miss all of their music for good.

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