Music Haven

Since many of you are seeing this blog for the first time today, here’s the big news: in August 2010 I joined Music Haven as Resident Cellist. Music Haven is inherently hard to explain because it is so many things to so many different people, and my perspective is only one of many.  The basics are this: Music Haven is a non-profit organization centered around the urban residency of the Haven String Quartet. Fifty-four youth from four “empowerment zone” neighborhoods of New Haven receive tuition-free private instruction on violin, viola and cello, twice a week. The Haven String Quartet performs frequently in the community and surrounding areas with the belief that any vibrant community should have a string quartet.

Being a part of Music Haven has been a transformative experience. While I lived in Boston, I was a member of Discovery Ensemble, a chamber orchestra that performs and does programming in inner-city Boston, and I was very sad to leave that behind; the connection and excitement that comes with introducing classical music to a group of youth who have never experienced it is addictive. That excitement is a regular facet of daily life in Music Haven; my thirteen students are challenging in very different ways than a “normal” teaching studio, but at least once a day I am lucky enough to have an “a ha!” moment, where both student and teacher learn something new.

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Last night the HSQ gave its final community concert of the season; Beethoven, Ives and Kevin Volans at the New Haven Museum. This program was a mental workout of Olympic proportions; three immensely difficult pieces, all with very different challenges. At first I was skeptical that a program of these composers would hang together, but after one performance I wish we had three more! Beethoven Op. 18 No. 1 demands the most of precision and cultivated style; nowhere to hide, Beethoven leaves us out to dry with his first quartet, compounding the issue with each successive piece.

South African composer Kevin Volans gives the String Quartet a new set of challenges; his string quartet “White Man Sleeps” makes us count to 21. Yes, you read that correctly: twenty-one.  Five I can do, seven if I have to, but 21?!? come on. The piece is based on traditional music from the Kingdom of Lesotho, a tiny state within South Africa. Volans creates unique soundscapes with extended techniques and interlocking polyrhythms split between the four voices, as seen in this example.

Last night’s performance of Ives first String Quartet was particularly satisfying after an uber-stressful first half. Ives’ music is most successful when you can really let loose and go nuts; we all had a collective “boy i’m glad we got through that” and went crazy with the standard Ives pan-tonal, pan-rhythmic cacophony. There’s a hymn tune here and there, but there’s lots of triple-forte viola and cello, too, thank you very much.