STAUNTON, Va. - Having arrived Sunday in the dark of night on a much-delayed flight from Los Angeles, I awakened Monday to find myself in a town that looks like something from a dream, or a book, or another era, with its red brick buildings, green hills, little local shops.
Staunton, Va. is home to the Heifetz Institute, which is currently in its fifth week at Mary Baldwin College. Before going to any classes or concerts, I had to check out this cute little town, which also has three local coffee shops. (I'm always after the coffee.) Here is a peek down the main street, Beverley:
The Heifetz Institute takes place on the campus of Mary Baldwin College, and here is one of its many beautiful buildings. As you can see, it sits at the top of a big hill, as do many things here.
By the end of the day, the "Health" app on my phone told me that I'd climbed the equivalent of 44 flights of steps!
At noon, I saw a concert at the Temple House, a small venue which was packed with about 130 people: groups of older people, parents with children, students.
During this year's six-week program, the Institute is hosting 41 concerts, which creates many opportunities for its 81 students to perform publicly. On Monday four students (two violists, a cellist and a violinist) played solo works by J.S. Bach and Reger. The Institute puts an emphasis on communication and public engagement, so each student spoke to the audience, giving an introduction before playing and taking questions afterwards.
I enjoyed all the performances. I especially enjoyed hearing Bach's D minor Chaconne for solo violin, played on viola by Aadam Ibrahim. "On the viola," he explained, "it's actually in G minor." Aadam explained that Bach wrote this piece after coming home from a long trip to find that his wife, age 36, had died and been buried in his absence. Aadam said he sees the first part of the music as the lament of someone aged by tragedy; the second part as the heavenly major section, a reflection of happier times; then the third as a return to the minor key, return to reality, return to grief.
At any age or stage, it takes courage to perform this piece, which most violinists would say takes a lifetime to reveal its mysteries. Aadam, a native violist (started at 5 on viola, not violin first), rode it straight through, and you have to know the road well to do that. The bariolage sections were nicely paced and nicely placed. This piece seems so different on viola; more soft-edged perhaps, but also darker. That shaft of light that shines through the major section just doesn't seem quite as piercing; it's somehow more veiled when expressed a fifth lower on viola.
After his performance, in the course of answering audience questions, Aadam talked about his reasons for learning the Chaconne.
During his senior year, he was thinking about his future, and how it might not include playing the violin. Playing Bach's Chaconne was on his "bucket list," and if he was not going to be doing music in the future, he nonetheless still wanted to play Chaconne. And so he began it. Today, at age 20, he performed it for the first time in public. And very obviously, he is still doing music.
Funny what happens, when you choose to go ahead and start doing those things on your "bucket list"!
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Later this week: Look for my blog about an excellent left-hand technique class that I saw Monday, given by Indiana University professor Grigory Kalinovsky.
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