Preludes, Rhapsodies, Duets, Oh My!

On Tuesday night, Sept. 15 in the Studley Theater, the SUNY New Paltz Music Department’s Concert Series continued with a showcase of some of the members of the music faculty at the school. The performers included professors Gregory Dinger, Joel Evans, Ruthanne Schempf, Bob Lukomski, Carole Cowan, Susan Seligman, Alex Peh and Nana Shi. Every performance of the night was either a solo or a duet.

To open the concert, Dinger, a classical guitarist, performed an arrangement of pieces from the soundtrack of “The Wizard of Oz.” This piece was quite something in that it was entirely performed on classical guitar without any accompaniment. The pieces were originally written by Harold Arlen, Yip Harburg and Herbert Stothart. Due to time constraints, he didn’t play the entire arrangement but rather a few selections from the overall work. Among the pieces of music included in Dinger’s arrangement were Somewhere over the Rainbow, Follow the Yellow Brick Road and various other themes from the movie including the theme of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Following Dinger’s performance, Evans and Schempf took the stage to perform two romances, entitled Nicht Schnell, by Robert Schumann. Before the performance of the piece, Evans spoke to the audience about how these pieces were a Christmas present that Schumann wrote to his wife Clara. Evans joked that Schumann didn’t have time to go Christmas shopping so he wrote Clara some music instead. Evans went on to say that the piece was based on anagrams as Schumann loved puzzles and various games of thought.

As always, Evans and Schempf worked fantastically together and complement each other wonderfully. The pieces had an excellent flow and sound to them with the theme of the first romance sticking out to me in particular.

The next piece, Starsailor by Tim Buckley, John Balkin and Larry Beckett, was the most unique piece of the night. It was performed by professor Bob Lukomski. What made this piece so unique was that Lukomski’s vocals were accompanied by a prerecorded track, played off of an iPad, made up of three lines of vocals.

I’d never really heard this kind of electronic music before but the result was something eerie, intense and imaginative which is almost impossible to describe with words. It sounded almost like a chant from the outer reaches of space. Lukomski’s vocals were epic, haunting and kept me absolutely glued to the performance the entire time.

Following Lukomski’s performance, Cowan and Seligman took the stage to perform a work by Joseph Haydn entitled Duet for Violin and Violoncello. The piece consisted of two movements, Poco Adagio and Tempo di Minuetto. Cowan spoke briefly before the performance and mentioned how prolific of a composer Haydn was. To close, Cowan said Haydn’s pieces are an “endless source of beautiful melodies” and that’s why she and Seligman chose to play one of his pieces. The “beautiful melodies” Cowan mentioned Haydn wrote were definitely apparent in this piece.

After Cowan and Seligman left the stage, professor Alex Peh came out to the stage to announce a program change. Instead of playing six preludes by Frederic Chopin, he would be playing three Chopin preludes (which included Chopin’s famous Raindrop Prelude, Prelude No. 16 in B-flat minor and Prelude No. 24 in d minor) and then playing a four hands arrangement of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue along with Shi. Peh spoke about how the Chopin preludes were composed by him when he was living on the island of Majorca in Spain. Peh described the pieces as “ghostly sketches” of pieces. Chopin was extremely sick at the time when he wrote the preludes and was living in a monastery where he apparently saw “dead, floating monks.”

Chopin is one of my favorite classical musicians and Peh played his pieces to perfection. The intensity and passion of Peh’s playing was evident. My jaw dropped multiple times during his performance. The technical skill Peh possesses is something to behold. The pieces were quite dark. When the preludes concluded, professor Shi came out to the stage and the two began to play Rhapsody in Blue. Rhapsody in Blue is one of my favorite pieces of music and it is an absolute treat to ever hear it performed live. Peh and Shi performed an amazing rendition of it and earned a standing ovation at the end of the concert.