Living in LA means we're close to Hollywood, but an aspect I didn't really consider before coming here was how close we were to the LA Philharmonic. To the point where the concertmaster of the LA Phil, Martin Chalifour, actually does some teaching at Caltech!
I've had the privilege to be coached by Mr. Chalifour for three concerts I started school here. A quick rundown on the chamber music program--each year is divided into two "semesters," which effectively span 1.5 academic terms (quarters) and end with a final concert performance at the end of each semester. My freshman year, I was in a violin-piano-cello trio when Mr. Chalifour coached us on Dvorak's Piano Trio No. 4, the Dumky. The word dumky is the plural of dumka, a Slavic word of Ukranian origin traditionally referring to an epic ballad of tormented people. Slavic composers modified the dumky form a bit and turned it into a brooding, introspective type of piece interspersed with cheerful sections. Dvorak's Dumky Trio is certainly an exemplary specimen of that genre, opening in the first movement with a somber, low melody in the cello accompanied by frantic pounding in the piano, followed by eerie B minor in the solitary, unaccompanied violin. I've attached a Youtube link to the first movement of the Dumky, played by the Beaux Arts Trio:
My sophomore year, 7 others and I were coached by Mr. Chalifour on Mendelssohn's Octet in E-Flat major, a dream for every aspiring string player (I remember many of my fellow chamber musicians at Interlochen music camp in summer 2012 coveting this piece even then). Mendelssohn wrote this when he was 16. It's usually played by combining two string quartets and contains an allegro moderato first movement, decently sprightly but still managing to sound elegantly contained--contrasting with the slow andante of the second movement, which we also played, but nothing compared to the fiery presto of the fourth movement. Looking back, it was pretty impressive that our chamber music coordinator and coach on other occasions, Delores, managed to find a time when 8 busy Caltech undergrads and the probably even busier concertmaster of the LA Phil was able to meet without fail, every Wednesday night! And we also met by ourselves without our coach almost every weekend, too, on Sunday night to rehearse. (Crowding into Avery conference room and serenading the Averites studying in the courtyard, oh yes...) It was also cool how we pulled together 3 our of 4 movements of this complicated piece for a 25-minute program at our concert. Again, I've attached a recording of Yo-Yo Ma and others playing the Mendelssohn octet in Tokyo in 1989:
And a picture of our octet with Martin Chalifour by Caltech's turtle pond post concert last May!
This year, my junior year, I had probably my favorite chamber music experience yet with a piano quartet consisting of another undergrad and two grad students. For our second semester of this year's chamber season, the quartet and I played another Dvorak piece, his Piano Quartet No. 1 in D Major. It's definitely one of his lesser known pieces, and felt slightly awkward under the fingers at first. But after grinding away at this for 3 and a half months, with spring break in between, the piece shaped up to be one of the most beautiful I have ever heard (and, hopefully, performed). The first movement is an allegro moderato that reminded me simultaneously of soothing afternoons spent flower-gazing on a porch and lively hopping through flower fields, with just enough minor tones once in a while to induce a mental image of kids playing spies between the hedges of a garden. The second movement is a lovely andantino of variations upon a new theme that initially reminded me of lazy afternoons spent on a porch, tinged with nostalgic melancholy that is somehow both rejoicing and urgently reminiscent. I definitely recommend a listen:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xouo8ktxZNc&list=RDxouo8ktxZNc#t=390 (Mvt 1)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KjyqMYdLdys (Mvt 2)
The funny thing was, at our first rehearsal with Martin Chalifour, he hadn't even heard of the piece before! And yet he still managed to leave us with something inspiring even at that first rehearsal. An inspiring musician, man, and teacher Mr. Chalifour is! Needless to say we improved dramatically ever since that first time. Here is a picture of our quartet and our coach after our last rehearsal last week :')
Music has honestly been one of my greatest delights and areas of personal growth here at Tech, even if I haven't had time to practice like I did in high school. So, kids, cherish that time while you still can! Seriously though, the ability to play my violin is going to be something I carry with me now, always, into the rest of this life and beyond, whether it's the ability to play for myself when I'm sad or furious, or the ability to make friends and stay in touch with others by playing in groups. Next up--culinary adventures, both eating and cooking; brunching like adults for my friend's 21st; a snapshot of Caltech's recent Breakthrough Campaign or a peek into all of Caltech's fancy donor events through the ages as I play background music for them; maybe chemistry--we're calculating the efficiency of photosynthesis (!!!!); or retrospective throwback to camping at Joshua Tree National Park over spring break!
For now, though, homework calls. If you're still here, thanks for reading! Till next time,