Composer and classical duo teach and entertain

Prolific composer Samuel Adler spent some time at the College last week lecturing, teaching classes and sitting in on a performance by Duo Fresco, which played one of his pieces.

The members of the chamber music-playing Duo Fresco, Brett Deubner on viola and Christopher Kenniff on guitar, played seven pieces, some modified for their instruments and some written expressly for the duo.

Duo Fresco performed “Into the Radiant Boundaries of Light,” a piece written by Adler, who gave the performance a standing ovation. It was written in 1994 and, according to Adler, has been played many times before. After the performance, Adler said “they played better than anybody” he’d seen before. “I can’t say enough about it,” he said.

The songs performed by the duo are considered chamber music, which is a form of classical music written for a small group of instruments and traditionally played in a palace chamber or a small room.

All but one song that the duo performed had movements, or parts, that were each approximately two to three minutes long. Each movement is named separately and the titles generally refer to the speed and sound. “Duo Concertante,” which was written in 2005 for Duo Fresco by composer Frank Ezra Levy, has six movements. It starts with “Con Moto,” which means “with movement.”

“It’s a beautiful piece,” Deubner said before commencing.

Duo Fresco also rearranged one of the pieces, “Canciones Espagnoles,” which was originally written for voice and piano. “I took the voice (arrangement) and made it my own,” Deubner said.

The duo also came back on stage for an encore in which they played a short piece by composer Siegfried Berlin.

The concert, held on Feb. 7, was the first time the members of Duo Fresco had met Adler, though they’ve spoken on the phone before. “He’s just such a kind person, so supportive,” Kenniff said of Adler. According to Kenniff, Adler is enthusiastic about a composition he wrote for Duo Fresco. The “Five Choral Scherzi” is written for the viola, guitar and a mixed choir.

The members of Duo Fresco have been performing together for four years. Kenniff was at a Halcyon Trio performance at Kean University where he saw Deubner playing. “I was looking for a viola player,” Kenniff, who thought Deubner was perfect for a duo, said.

Duo Fresco’s concert season mirrors the school year with festivals in the summer. Kenniff said the group’s schedule varies, however. “This week, we performed five times,” he said, “but other times we might not play for a month.”

“Frankly, I’m addicted to concerts,” junior music major Christina Merwitz said, when asked why she attended. “Music inspires music. I’m a composer and I benefit from hearing contemporary composers,” she said.

Merwitz was also a student in one of the classes Adler guest-taught. He began her Feb. 8 orchestration class with a quiz on how to write for certain instruments and “how to think about them as composers and performers.” Adler also compared pieces, discussing why each sounded as it did.

Merwitz also picked up information from Adler’s lecture. “He advised that when composing for a specific instrument or performer, think as that instrument or performer,” she said. “If you make composing personal to them and to yourself and love every single note you write down, your music will be fresh and captivate any audience.”

She said this method influenced her and impacted her so much that she took notes on it. “Samuel Adler’s passion for music is truly inspiring,” Merwitz said. “He makes me feel very proud to be a classical musician.”

Adler was born in to a Jewish family in Manheim, Germany in 1928 and fled to the United States in 1939, where he was educated at both Boston and Harvard universities. From 1966 to 1995 he taught at the Eastman School of Music until he retired. He is now a member of the composition faculty at the Julliard School of Music.

He has written “three seminal textbooks,” according to James Lentini, the dean of the school of Art, Media and Music, who brought Adler and Duo Fresco to the College.