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by Mike Telin

McDonoughFor the fourth part of our preview of the Takács Quartet’s complete cycle of Bartók string quartets on the Cleveland Chamber Music Society series at Plymouth Church on March 17 and 18, we spoke with Jupiter Quartet cellist Daniel McDonough and Oberlin’s Associate Professor of Viola and Chamber Music Michael Strauss about performing and coaching the Bartók quartets, and come back full circle to musicologist Peter Laki for final reflections about the Takács Quartet. We spoke with all three by telephone.

Performing the Bartók Quartets. Cellist Daniel McDonough said, “The wonderful thing about the Bartók quartets is that they are so carefully constructed. Like Beethoven, there is so much attention to detail so the challenge is finding clarity in the texture and making sure the evolution of the musical motives are really clear to the audience without ever becoming too cerebral-sounding. We are always looking for an emotional way to bring clarity to the music. Again, like Beethoven, I think the combination of head and heart is wh Read the rest of this entry »


by Mike Telin

CavaniQuartetWhy is it that we so often take for granted the musical greatness that exists in our own town? Case in point: the Cavani Quartet.

Appointed quartet-in-residence at the Cleveland Institute of Music in 1988, the Cavanis are the only ensemble to have twice received the Guarneri String Quartet Award for Artistic Excellence (2005 and 2011). In addition to their numerous recital appearances at CIM they are also committed to taking the great string quartet literature out of the recital hall and into the neighborhoods. An example is the Beethoven & Brotherhood Project – during which the Cavanis played the complete quartets of Beethoven, one at a time, in sixteen public libraries throughout the Cleveland area.

As educators, the Quartet developed CIM’s Intensive Quartet Seminar, the Apprentice Quartet Program and The Art of Engagement for student ensembles devoted to the serious study of chamber music. Read the rest of this entry »

by Daniel Hautzinger

Kulas-OberlinViennese” is often a byword for “light.” It conjures images of bourgeois gentlemen nibbling cream-filled pastries while being entertained by effortless waltzes like “The Beautiful Blue Danube.” The second concert in Oberlin Conservatory’s String Quartet Intensive and Festival, “A Viennese Evening” on Jan. 10 in Kulas Recital Hall, was thus a charming and pleasant affair.

The program began with an oddity, Ferdinand Rebay’s Quartet in d minor for guitar and string trio. Rebay (1880-1953) spent most of his life in Vienna and died in obscurity after being blacklisted by the Nazis, as violist and organizer of the Festival Michael Strauss explained during intermission. Rebay is so unknown that Friday night was the U.S. premiere of the work. Strauss was joined by three other Oberlin faculty members for the piece: violinist David Bowlin, cellist Darrett Adkins, and guitarist Stephen Aron, who suggested the performance.

Guitar is rare in chamber music. Rebay, perhaps understanding its lack of projection, mostly uses the guitar in the d minor quartet to flesh out the harmony or to add rhythmic excitement. Read the rest of this entry »

by Mike Telin

Jupiter-SQFor Michael Strauss, Oberlin’s associate professor viola and chamber music, “Winter Term is all about trying new things, things that are of interest to students that they may not get to immerse themselves in during a regular semester.”

Strauss is in charge of organizing one of those New Things, Oberlin’s first Winter Term String Quartet Intensive and Festival, which runs from January 7 through January 29. The idea is to give student quartets and other groups a taste of the dynamics of a professional chamber ensemble as well as to allow faculty members to coach groups they wouldn’t ordinarily have time for in their normal studio schedules.

“Three quartets signed up, one of which is trying to make a go of quartet playing and two of which are new, although they did come together during the first semester,” Strauss said. “We also have a couple of chamber groups that are involved in the project, including an established piano trio. I wanted a mix of people who enjoyed playing together with people who wanted to be part of creating something from the beginning.” Read the rest of this entry »

by Daniel Hathaway

Hawkeye-TrioThe Hawkeye Trio, a newly-hatched chamber ensemble made up of Oberlin Conservatory faculty members Michael Isaac Strauss, Richard Hawkins and James Howsmon, played its inaugural concert in Kulas Hall at the conservatory on Wednesday evening, September 25.

Three fine chamber musicians who play viola, clarinet and piano and want to concertize together need to do some research. That’s not a standard configuration of instruments. What repertory exists — like Mozart’s Kegelstatt Trio (not included on Wednesday’s program) — was usually written for domestic use by friends and family.

Case in point: Max Bruch’s Eight Pieces, op. 83, were composed for Bruch’s clarinetist son, Max. The Hawkeye elected to play two sets of four pieces each at the beginning and end of their program, leading off with Nos. 8, 6, 5 and 7 and finishing with the first four, in order. Read the rest of this entry »

by Daniel Hathaway & Mike Telin

STRAUSS-MichaelEven before the Labor Day weekend, many of Northeast Ohio’s universities, colleges and conservatories were already up and running. Because students have only just moved in, concerts at the beginning of the term usually feature faculty recitals and performances by visiting ensembles, and there are several of them scheduled for the early days of September.

The first faculty event at the Oberlin Conservatory this fall will feature violist Michael Strauss (left) and his colleagues Alexa Still, flute, and pianists Monique Duphil and James Howsmon in Dmitri Shostakovich’s Viola Sonata, op. 147, Maurice Duruflé’s 1928 Prélude, Récitatif, et Variations for Flute, Viola, and Piano, Op. 3, and Paul Hindemith’s Viola Sonata, op. 11, no. 4, in a free concert in Kulas Recital Hall at the Oberlin Conservatory on Saturday, September 7 at 8.

The staff discussed who would perform the first recital of the semester”, Strauss told us by phone. “I said, yeah, I can do that. I’m sure that many of the faculty would have been fine with the slot, it’s just that no one had made the move.”

Now in his second year as associate professor of viola and chamber music, Strauss admits that opening with Shostakovich’s last work is a little risky. “It’s quite a dark piece and it is a big test in keeping your wits about you. I started looking at music that would fit and I thought of going heavy and then lightening up.” Read the rest of this entry »

by Daniel Hathaway

NewlySTRAUSS-Michael appointed Oberlin viola professor Michael Strauss, who was previously principal violist of the Indianapolis Symphony, has devised an intriguing chamber music program for the unusual combination of viola, oboe and piano which has recently been toured and will be recorded later this week in the conservatory’s Clonick Hall for release as a CD.

The program was presented on Thursday evening in Kulas Hall, when Strauss joined his long-time chamber music colleagues, oboist Roger Roe of the Indianapolis Symphony and pianist R. Kent Cook of Illinois Wesleyan University, in four works by one relatively well-known and three pretty obscure late nineteenth and early twentieth century Romantic composers. The concert, entitled “Poetic Music for Oboe, Viola and Piano”, was enhanced by poetry that inspired each work read by Oberlin English professor T.S. McMillin. I attended the performance virtually thanks to Oberlin’s new “Listen Live” streaming service. Read the rest of this entry »

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