Department of Music brings culture, cuts the cost

Nicholas Bonadies

Contributing Writer

Even today, in a music market where less than 2 percent of all album sales fall under the “classical” heading, it still costs an arm and two legs to attend a classical music performance at a high-profile concert hall—think the Kennedy Center or Carnegie Hall scene, places with means to afford world-class acts.

This is especially problematic for the broke student concertgoer.

Standing room tickets are a cheaper option, but they still fall outside a reasonable price range for many.

“If you were to go up to Carnegie in New York, even the student standup tickets—you’re still going to pay $25, $30 per ticket,” said John Hartmann, director of marketing & external relations for the VCU department of music.

And there’s good reason they’re cheaper—try standing through an entire 2-hour opera.

Fortunately for the live music lover with a thirst left unquenched by MP3s, VCU Music’s “Mary Anne Rennolds Chamber Concert Series” has been offering concerts by the world’s great classical performers at student-friendly prices at the W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts right here on campus.

Any full-time student can get a ticket to an awe-inspiring performance of chamber repertoire for a discounted $10—cushy velvet seating included.

“We try to bring in someone who’s really well established, kind of the big names,” Hartmann said.

Big names for VCU Music this past semester have included the Pacifica Quartet, recently named Quartet in Residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and Arnaldo Cohen, renowned Brazilian pianist—the latter of whom appeared not only in concert, but in a master class with select VCU piano students.

The series also attracts “the up-and-comings, the hotshots—new guys on the block kind of thing,” Hartmann said. He said he seeks to include young performers “who’re going to be making a mark on the classical music world.”

The Jupiter String Quartet, performing this Saturday at the Singleton Center at 8 p.m., are just one such group. The quartet consists of Nelson Lee and Meg Freivogel on violins, Liz Freivogel on viola, and Daniel McDonough on cello. It’s all in the family with this quartet—Liz and Meg are sisters, and Daniel is Meg’s husband, appropriate for an ensemble described on their web site as “particularly intimate.”   The group even graduated together, from the top-notch New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.

According to the group’s bio, Jupiter draws its name from the prominent celestial body in the night sky at the time of the group’s conception—as well as from the astrological symbol for Jupiter, which resembles the number 4.

Since graduating, Jupiter’s members have produced a critically acclaimed recording of the searing and otherworldly Dmitiri Shostakovich “no. 3” and Benjamin Britten “no. 2” quartets, and earned a dazzling reputation performing in concerts and master classes worldwide.

As for what we can expect to hear in Richmond on the 27th, the concert will begin with the Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Op. 18 no. 6” and Béla Bartók’s “no. 4” quartets’’—each work from a starkly contrasting musical era (ca. 1800 and 1927, respectively).

Rennolds Series director, VCU adjunct viola professor and Richmond Symphony violist, Stephen Schmidt, describes the Bartok as ranking among “the greatest of the 20th century” in string quartet literature, and the Beethoven among its “most accessible.”

Antonin Dvořák’s “Op. 96, ‘American’ ” (one of the “big romantic warhorses” of the repertoire according to Schmidt,) rounds up post-intermission. The piece was inspired by distinctly American musical influences picked up during the Czech composer’s stay in rural Iowa in 1893—old slave spirituals, Iroquois drumming and dancing rhythms, and the driving mechanical strain of train engines, to name a few.

“You could not get a better sort of representation of classical chamber music than this concert right here,” said Schmidt, who believes the program should gratify music lovers of any breed. “If someone was asking your desert island discs – if you went to one concert all year long – this would be it.”

The Jupiter String Quartet will perform at the Sonia Vlahcevic Concert Hall in the W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts this Saturday, March 20 at 8 p.m. as  part of the Mary Anne Rennolds Chamber Concert Series. Student tickets are $10, $28 for VCU employees and $32 for general admission.

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