Ritscher, Wiggins appointed to Con
In an effort to strengthen its String and Historical Performance programs and introduce new musical approaches to its program, the Oberlin Conservatory welcomed two distinguished musicians into its faculty for the 2005-06 academic year.
The appointments include Karen Ritscher, who joins the viola faculty as associate professor of viola, and Webb Wiggins, who replaces Lisa Crawford as professor of harpsichord in the historical performance program.
Although Ritscher and Wiggins have taught at a variety of recognized institutions while gathering acclaim as talented performers, both still expressed tremendous excitement over the possibilities of their new positions.
Wiggins, whose expertise in early music led to a longtime association with the Oberlin Baroque Performance Institute, was exuberant.
“I feel like I’ve won the lottery. This is the best position in the country, and possibly in the world, for what I do,” he said.
Ritscher, too, expressed a similar enthusiasm while attributing it to the abilities of the strings students and faculty.
“I was at Rice before I came here, and while that’s a very established university, I think the students here are more well-rounded, and I enjoy that,” she said. “I was definitely attracted by my colleagues at the Conservatory. I’m very excited to be working with Peter Sloan. I just think the world of him.”
Before coming to Oberlin, both Ritscher and Wiggins were heavily involved in a range of musical and educational endeavors.
Ritscher has performed extensively with the Azure Ensemble, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the Houston Symphony and the New York Philharmonic. She has also taught at the New England Conservatory of Music and Rice University and is the education editor for the Journal of the American Viola Society.
Wiggins, with equally impressive credits to his name, has appeared with the Smithsonian, National and Atlanta Symphony Orchestras, holding teaching positions at Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania and the Peabody Conservatory. In 1993, Wiggins served as visiting professor of harpsichord at Oberlin.
Speaking from his past experience, Wiggins said that the Conservatory’s Historical Performance program has grown in strength since the ’90s.
While he appreciates the talent of his studio and the “fabulous new instruments” which now sit elegantly in his office space, Wiggins strives to further improve the harpsichord program and embellish it with his own style and musical approach.
Wiggins, for example, intends to use his knowledge of vocal technique to coach and build a larger group of early music singers with whom his harpsichordists can perform .
“Obviously, the Con has many fine vocal coaches, but none geared toward early music. Historical performance has never had anyone on faculty to work with singers interested in early music [either],” he said. “I’ve done a good deal with that in the past and enjoyed it. So I’m working with a lot of singers here, too.”
Ritscher, too, plans to work to refine the viola program and expand it along on some of her own terms. Part of her unique style involves an individualistic approach to viola technique and theory, which she plans to incorporate into her lessons.
“I definitely represent a different branch,” she said. “One of my teachers was Karen Tuttle, and she very much emphasized teaching through an emotional and physical approach. It has to do with being body-centered and using the whole self [when playing], and I’m interested in that.”
Ritscher hopes that her method, which will also involve collaborative projects as a goal, will help her violists in exploring new terrain and reaching new heights.
“I’m looking forward to building a vital studio,” she said. “I also hope to get into some cross work with my physical approach. I hope that through this multi-faceted approach, students will develop a better focus.”
But for now, both professors are thrilled with the potential of the students
and the underlying institution, where, as Ritscher said, “Anything’s
possible.” They both look forward to their new roles.