On Monday night, students from the TU School of Music competed in the Heckman Award Competition. The students’ entries were presented in the form of a concert that was free and open to the public.
The competition was held in the cozy confines of Meinig Recital Hall rather than in the spacious Gussman Auditorium. This was ideal for me because it meant that I had a front-row seat for the concert — literally, I was about five feet away from the performers, which was really cool.
The concert consisted of three small ensembles, each of which performed all or part of a single piece. The night began with Beethoven. A string quartet consisting of Corbin Bodley (violin), Megan Kepley (violin), Dominique Barnes (viola) and Matthew Magerkurth (cello) performed the second movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 7, Op. 59 No 1.
This performance may have been my favorite of the night simply because the group exuded a tangible energy. They were nearly flawless — even from my nearby vantage point, I couldn’t catch a single mistake.
The piece began with a call-and-response between each of the four instrumentalists which then echoed throughout the performance. It oscillated between intense interludes, which the quartet emphasized with strong, almost harsh bow strokes, and a smooth, flowing chorus. The structure of it was really interesting — much of the piece was intense, complex and almost inspired a sense of anxiety, but it would always return to that chorus and for a few short seconds, all the players lapsed into the same soothing harmony.
The second ensemble continued the Beethoven trend with the first two movements of Piano Trio No. 4, Op. 7 No. 1. Ellen Dauk (violin) and Jeremiah Neely (cello) complemented pianist Drew Crane wonderfully.
The string players were the focus of the first movement, which was spirited but smooth and seemed like a conversation between violin and cello. I loved the composition of this piece — It was full of lovely cascading melodies, of which I, personally, am a huge fan.
Dauk and Neely obviously worked well together, each keeping a careful eye out for the other’s cue. Every once in awhile, the strings would quiet down, allowing a delicate piano verse to emerge. The only criticism I have of this piece is that from where I sat, I could hardly hear the piano — I’m not sure whether that was a function of the movement itself, my seat or the room’s acoustics.
The second movement was much slower, darker and more eerie than the first. The piano was given a more obvious role in this movement — rather than complementing the strings, it was evenly woven amongst them. Not to use a cheesy metaphor, but the piece sounded like what fog looks like. It crept in, built up to several complex, forceful peaks throughout the movement, and exited with the same fog-like feeling.
The third ensemble parted from tradition in a few ways. Breaking from the Beethoven trend, Jacob Barber (violin), Amber Baxter (clarinet) and Meg Mobley (piano) performed all four movements of Darius Milhaud’s Suite for Violin, Clarinet and Piano. Each of the four movements was brief and energetic, moving the piece right along.
I particularly liked this piece because of the inclusion of the clarinet — I haven’t heard many small ensembles that incorporate the clarinet as a major component, but it seemed very compatible with the violin. The resulting sound was lovely and definitely stood out from the other pieces.
The piece was also unique in that it was much brighter and more upbeat than the previous ones. The first and third movements reminded me of music that might play in the background of a video game battle or a jousting event or some other sort of adventure. They mostly consisted of melodies tossed back and forth between Baxter and Barber.
The second movement was much calmer and shyer, bringing the piano closer to the forefront. It reminded me of bubbling water. The fourth movement stood in stark contrast to the other three — it was much more dramatic and contained more minor chords than the rest of the piece put together.
Professor Diane Bucchianeri, coordinator of the competition, reported that the second ensemble (Ellen Dauk, Jeremiah Neely and Drew Crane) won the competition and an accompanying cash prize of $6000. As a result, they will perform outreach concerts sponsored by Chamber Music Tulsa this spring, and will work as interns at the TU Chamber Music Camp for Middle and High School Students in June.
The pieces performed at the Heckmann Competition Concert were wonderful choices that showcased the musicians’ abilities, and the second ensemble’s win was well-deserved. In all, the concert made for an enjoyable Monday evening and the chance to become familiar with some of the talent right here on TU’s campus.