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Chamber music event brings internationally acclaimed musicians to ECU

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Artists rehearse for Winter Workshop concerts at ECU. The concerts feature musicians from more than a dozen countries performing together. "There's an opportunity for people to experience something that's not going on anywhere else in the world right now," artistic director Ara Gregorian said.


By Kim Grizzard
The Daily Reflector

Friday, January 4, 2019

While much of the campus has been at rest this week as ECU awaits the return of its students for spring semester, work at A.J. Fletcher Music Center has been almost nonstop.

Musicians from more than a dozen countries have been arriving as early as 7 a.m. to begin sometimes eight-hour days of rehearsal for Winter Workshop. The weeklong event, which began on Monday, brings acclaimed artists from around the world to Greenville for musical collaboration that culminates in three concerts.

“We don't get the First (of January) off,” said Ara Gregorian, artistic director of Four Seasons Chamber Music Festival, which is hosting the fifth annual workshop. “It's just the nature of this week, we need to have that day to rehearse.”

At A.J. Fletcher, no one was complaining about having to report on a holiday. The 25 participants, selected from more than 250 applicants for the program, were happy to be here.

“What we tried to do when we started this was to try to create something that wonderfully talented people would want to be a part of,” Gregorian said. “In a way, what better way for musicians to celebrate the holiday, the new year, than to be able to play this music together?”

In Greenville for his first Winter Workshop is celebrated Hungarian-born pianist Peter Frankl, who has appeared as a soloist with the Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco symphony orchestras. Joining him are acclaimed violinists Ani and Ida Kavafian, violist Steven Tenenbom and cellists Colin Carr and Michael Kannen as well as ECU School of Music faculty members Emanuel Gruber, Hye-Jin Kim, Keiko Sekino and Kwan Yi.

“At this time of year, to have this many amazing musicians together is really unique,” Gregorian said. “In a way, we're the hub of the musical universe in terms of chamber music.”

Cellist Christine J. Lee gave up spending the holidays with her family in Seoul, South Korea, and traveled from London to attend.

“I was very sad to not see my family, but I think we all have to in some sense make sacrifices for our dreams,” said Lee, who was a laureate of the first Queen Elizabeth International Cello Competition and appeared as a soloist with the Brussels Philharmonic, the Houston Symphony and the National Orchestra of Belgium.

Lee, a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music and The Juilliard School and a 2018 Winter Workshop participant, will perform Beethoven's Sonata No. 4 in C Major, Op. 102, No. 1 alongside Frankl in one of nearly 20 ensembles performing today through Sunday.

“A lot of my friends in Europe have heard about it (Winter Workshop), and many of them want to apply and participate,”she said. “So I'm very, very happy to be here.”

So is violist Florrie Marshall, the only ECU graduate among this year's workshop participants. Marshall, a native of Newport News, Va., also is a graduate of the Yale School of Music, where she received the Presser Foundation Graduate Music Award.

“This is really a hotspot for young professionals to get to interact with the faculty in a very collaborative way, which is unique for people who are just coming out of school,” Marshall said. “They give you the opportunity to perform alongside your mentors, with the expectation that you're really going to put in the work and show up prepared.”

This year's participants, who range in age from 18 to 33, received their assignments in early December to give them time to learn their parts. Some arrived in Greenville as early as Dec. 27 to acclimate to the time change.

Like the faculty artists, workshop participants have impressive musical pedigrees. Among them are graduates of prestigious programs at Juilliard, Curtis, Yale and the New England Conservatory, winners of international music competitions and artists who have performed at Carnegie Hall.

Violinist Ani Kavafian recommends the Four Seasons event to her students at Yale. This year, four of them auditioned. One, Ariel Horowitz, was accepted.

“Master classes, it's more than that,” Kavafian said of the workshop. “It's the day in and day out, the lunches, the dinners, the hanging out in a social environment as well as a professional environment.

“You get to know people in a completely different way in a very short period of time,” she said. “Spending a week together is different than just coming and rehearsing and playing a concert.”

That is one reason Kavafian has served as a faculty artist for three of the five workshops,even though the event requires her to work during her winter break and be away from home most years on her husband's birthday. This year, she brought him along.

While in Greenville, faculty and participants are guests in the homes of local residents. Financial support from workshop sponsors provides all participants with a full scholarship for tuition and a stipend to help cover costs of travel.

“I think in order to get it off the ground well initially, we felt like all of those things needed to be there so we could really draw attention to what we're doing,” Gregorian said.

“It's really giving them a home away from home,” he said. “That has also started to gain a real reputation around the musical community across the world.”

For Kavafian, a member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center since 1979, a week in Greenville is a welcome change from her hurried performance pace. Most concerts, she said, involve a rather lonely routine of rehearsing, staying in a hotel, performing and then traveling to the next location on the tour.

At Winter Workshop, participants spend so much time together that they can begin to feel like family. While they are here, they also get to sample barbecue and banana pudding in addition to rehearsing Beethoven and Brahms.

“It becomes a very easy, very congenial place to come even though it does cut into vacation time,” Kavafian said. “They call it workshop but basically the word “work” doesn't feel right. ...It's a different feeling than the regular year.”

East Carolina University’s Four Seasons Chamber Music Festival Winter Workshop will host concerts at 7 p.m. today and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at A.J. Fletcher Music Hall on ECU’s campus. Concerts, which each feature a different program of music from composers including Beethoven, Brahms, Debussy, Mendelssohn and Schubert, are $20 each or $50 for all three. Visit ecu.edu/​arts.