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Concerts that Inspire and Widen Horizons

March 29, 2018

A reflection on Oberlin’s Artist Recital Series

Have you ever been to a concert that changed your life? As passionate musicians, almost all of us conservatory majors can say that we have experienced concerts that inspired us in unique ways. Oberlin hosts over 500 concerts per year, but the most unforgettable performances in my memory box so far have been part of the Artist Recital Series, Oberlin’s annual showcase of renowned professional performers from a wide variety of musical backgrounds.

Recently I was talking to a cellist friend who graduated from Oberlin a little while ago. She was reflecting on a special moment during her first year when Yo-Yo Ma was brought in as part of the Artist Recital Series. She recounted how awed she had been by his infectious love of music. How she had left the concert in a haze of inspiration, and how it reminded her of what making music is all about. She said it sent her straight to the practice room, where she spent hours experimenting with her own sound.

My last visit to an Artist Recital Series concert was in February, when the Grammy Award-winning vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth visited Oberlin. Honestly, I had no idea human voices were capable of making sounds like that (perfectly in tune, of course).

Almost every artist on the Artist Recital Series engages in a residency, in which they interact with students through workshops or master classes. In conjunction with the Roomful of Teeth concert, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw shared her experiences with us in a Composers Forum. She was asked about her approach to working with people, to which she responded: “Trust is a big thing when working with people. Appreciate all the people that participate in making something happen. Appreciate the person who puts the chair on the stage.” In another event the group hosted as an ensemble, they introduced their audience to Tuvan throat singing, Inuit throat singing, and yodeling, among other things. It was a fascinating presentation both musically, and culturally.

As part of the Artist Recital Series, I have attended master classes with Pinchas Zukerman, Tessa Lark, and many other great artists. Almost all the subsequent performances gave me new ideas to ponder and implement in my life as a musician.

After watching an Artist Recital Series performance by the St. Lawrence String Quartet, my quartet came up with an exercise where we aimed to move and express our musical instincts physically as strongly as St. Lawrence had done the night before. Watching the Cleveland Orchestra play Beethoven in Finney Chapel, I thought about new ways to blend more integrally with my section in the orchestra. The Punch Brothers helped widen my musical horizons. I confess, I live in a bit of a classical music bubble, but I became an avid Punch Brothers fan after their residency. Sometimes it is refreshing to tune out all the Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Lekeu melodies that are playing in my head throughout the day. Wondering who Lekeu is? if you’ve never heard the Lekeu piano quartet before, you should check it out!

This week, the Brentano String Quartet will be here, and I’m sooo excited! It’s going to be a great concert, I’m reasonably sure of that. I will also say a part of me is already curious to find out more about next year’s Artist Recital Series.

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