Berkshire student soloists stand out

Musical strains of intense personal expression and technical virtuosity echoed through Chapin Hall Friday night. The Berkshire Symphony Orchestra (BSO) concluded its season with a showcase of the 2008 BSO Student Solo Competition winners. Student soloists Christine Bowman ’11, Meng-Lun Hsieh ’08, Noah Lindquist ’08 and Katie Palmer ’10 played selections by MacDowell, Saint-Saens, Brahms and Lalo.

Held every February, the Student Solo Competition attracts some of the school’s most talented musicians. To be eligible, participants must be recommended by their instrument or vocal instructor after completing at least one semester of private instruction. Chosen soloists from past years include pianists, vocalists, cellists, violinists, flautists, a harpsichordist and a marimbist. This year’s concert featured three pianists and one cellist.

First-year soloist Christine Bowman began piano lessons at age four and a half. Like many fledgling musicians, she was first a student of the Suzuki camp, a teaching method that emphasizes a play-by-ear technique. She currently studies with Doris Stevenson, who is an artist-in-residence at the College.

In the showcase, Bowman played the first movement of Edward MacDowell’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Opus 23. “I like composers from the Romantic period: Chopin, Schubert, Brahms and the like,” Bowman said, adding that MacDowell also wrote in that period.

MacDowell’s piano concerto was recommended to her by several sources before she discovered it herself. “After listening to a recording and looking at the music, I decided that I wanted to learn it,” she said. “It’s a really exciting piece, and I’ve very much enjoyed working on it.”

Bowman also played the cello growing up, participating in both her school orchestra and the local youth orchestra, but elected to discontinue her cello studies in college and focus on the piano instead. Missing the collaborative nature of the cello, she especially enjoyed the opportunity to play with the BSO. “I really enjoy playing with other musicians,” she said. “The piano is often a lonely instrument. Especially after being a cellist in an orchestra for so many years, I miss playing with others.”

Bowman plans to continue private instruction throughout her time at Williams and to pursue other musical activities once she graduates. “Maybe I’ll teach lessons on the side, or hire myself out as an accompanist for other musicians,” she said.

Senior pianist Lindquist performed the second movement of Johannes Brahms’ Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Opus 15. Like many middle movements, the Adagio does not demand the same technical virtuosity as the other soloists’ selections. However, Lindquist expertly captured the delicate nuances that are often difficult to execute in slow movements. His reasons for choosing the movement were not for technical display: “It’s obscenely beautiful, and it’s not too difficult to put together with an orchestra,” Lindquist said. “Why should the emphasis of a concerto performance be to impress? What is emotionally worthwhile about impressiveness?”

A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., he began lessons at age eight. Lindquist is currently a student of Stevenson’s and a music major who plans to attend graduate school in accompaniment. When asked about the next item he hopes to add to his repertoire, Lindquist insisted, “I want to learn everything – literally, everything.”

Senior pianist Hsieh concluded the evening’s piano repertoire with her rendition of Camille Saint-Saens’s Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Opus 22. Hsieh began piano at age six. After studying with Tanya Gelman of Pittsburgh, Pa., for 11 years, she began lessons with Stevenson at the College. Hsieh is also an accomplished violinist, often participating in BSO and various chamber music ensembles. Hsieh’s favorite part of playing music is performing solo repertoire, but she also enjoys playing concertos with the orchestra.

Cellist Palmer was the only string player to solo with the BSO, performing the third movement of Edouard Lalo’s Cello Concerto in D Minor. “When I went home last summer I attended my old teacher’s recital and two of her students performed the third movement of Lalo,” she said. “I had played the first movement and kind of hated it, but I was surprised to really like the third and I ended up learning it.”

Palmer began her studies in the third grade under Lois Errante, a Connecticut native who, very coincidentally, roomed with Stevenson throughout her college years. Currently she studies with Nat Parke, a visiting professor of music.

Palmer cites chamber music as her favorite part of music-making. “You get to play like a soloist while collaborating really closely with just a few people,” she said. “You get to learn a lot about yourself musically. And you can’t really joke around when you’re alone in a practice room or in a big orchestra rehearsal.”
Palmer plans to attend graduate school and return to the College to teach, research and perhaps once again play in BSO. For her next musical project, she hopes to add Manuel Da Falla’s music for cello and guitar to her repertoire.

At times lyrical and mellow, and others turbulent and virtuosic, the student soloists inspired many with their Romantic selections. Each student made their singular instrumental voice distinctly heard against the 100 or so others in the orchestra in what was an extremely impressive, commanding performance by all.