What a treat it has been to be in the snow-covered mountains of Vermont performing with the quartet at Scrag Mountain Music. Our hosts and co-artistic directors, Evan Premo and Mary Bonhag are not only exquisite musicians, but warm-hearted, generous, and uplifting people. They have created a community-supported festival concert series that brings musicians from around the world to present concerts in the Central Vermont region; their tagline of “Come as you are, pay what you can” is such a beautiful concept – I thank Evan and Mary for their beautiful vision, and for creating a space where anyone, no matter their means, can attend these performances.
Our first concert at the Green Mountain Girls’ Farm was unforgettable. Held on a sustainable farm run by two incredible women Laura Olsen and Mari Omland – who treated us to a delectable home-cooked farm dinner before the concert – the series opened with a program of Dowland, Golijov, Janacek and Schubert (the cello quintet with Evan Premo playing cello II on double bass!). It seemed only natural that post-concert festivities included hanging out with their two 500-pound pigs, 20+ hens, and the fabulous farm dog, Uno. I’ll drive back to Ithaca tomorrow with a trunk full of farm eggs, root veggies, and their famous heirloom tomato salsa!
I also am embarrassed to say that I missed the December installment of this blog, so I’m playing a bit of catchup – December and January have been stuffed full of incredibly special events and moments; in a way it feels as this has been the most emotionally-packed seven weeks I’ve experienced in a great while. Highlighted by the events over the last 48 hours on our continent that have bred and inspired fear, hatred, and heartbreak, I feel as though I’ve been pulled into a vortex of disbelief, pain, and helplessness. Although challenging, I try continuously to remind myself of the beauty that still exists in so many places, and to use music as a vehicle for human connection, expression, and healing.
December began with the third CMSM show with guest clarinetist Charlie Neidich. I was introduced to Hindemith’s Quartet for violin, cello, clarinet and piano which was a delight to learn and perform; the program closed with Brahms’ divine clarinet quintet. From Minneapolis I dove back into quartet land as we did our first Aizuri “self-present” with a winter solstice concert at the Spring Street Loft in a tasting menu program of selections from Mendelssohn’s Op. 13 quartet, Paul Wiancko’s Lift, Caroline Shaw’s Blueprint and concluding with Beethoven’s complete Op. 130 plus the Grosse Fuga.
The next day I had the honor of joining a group of deeply inspiring musicians and people for an evening of Mozart, Schubert, and wonderful food at Robert and Lucy Mann’s legendary December 23rd gathering. To see Bobby’s glowing, radiant face and Lucy’s glorious energy gave us all such jubilation as we played and ate our way through the evening. Catching glimpses of both of their faces as they held hands and leaned their cheeks gently against each other during the slow movement of the Schubert cello quintet is something I will carry with me forever. It was an honor and privilege to be in such a space.
I then hopped back over to Minnesota to spend the holidays with my family. In fact, all five of us were back together to spend Christmas at our house, just like old times. We took a little ski “staycation” as a nostalgic nod to our old road trips that featured hotel-room ramen dinners and late-night swimming! Baby bro Daniel and I took a day to do some outreach at the Blake School in Edina, where we presented interactive performances for the adorable and beautifully engaged five- and six-year-old scholars at Blake (“Who wants to be the train conductor next!?”).
January began with a trip over the pond back to Italy to finish work on the documentary that was made about Le storie di vita nel legno, the refugee project I was working on for my seven-month stay last year (see video clip below). It was even more special than I had anticipated to be back with old friends and “family” in Manerbio and Bologna. Work on the documentary is nearly coming to a conclusion; the fully edited version will be premiered at Cornell in April alongside a performance featuring the U.S. premiere of the trios that were commissioned for the project.
Before arriving at Scrag, there was a 27-hour journey that began in a rental car in Bologna, and continued with flights from MXP-JFK-SFO and ended in a rental car in San Jose! I went to make my annual visit to Scott Krijnen’s orchestra classroom at Castillero Middle School. Scott happens to not only be one of the most dedicated, tireless and inspirational educators I’ve ever witnessed, but a fabulous cellist as well. He won a $20,000 grant for Castillero last summer for having been selected as “Bay Area Teacher of the Year.” Joining us again were Larry and Trudy Rankin, the parents of Corry Rankin, whose cello now lives, donated, in the home of a deserving Castillero cello student every year. It gave me great spiritual and musical food to volunteer with these 300+ string players again; we closed the week with a performance of Vivaldi’s Winter (the kids did a ridiculously amazing job!) and Beethoven’s G major string trio…
And that brings us to Scrag! I’ll make the late-night drive back to Cornell following our last concert today, where I look forward to hitting the ground running with all of my remarkable students!
With love, thoughts and best wishes to all those that are suffering at the hands of recent decisions made by this 45th Administration and to the families of the most recent attack in Quebec City, QC…