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This article by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the June 9, 2004

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

New Venue, New Flavor for Summer Concerts

For an unfamiliar venue the Princeton University Summer Chamber Music

Concerts committee has planned an unusual season. While its recent

home, Richardson Auditorium is being renovated, the summer series

moves to the cavernous Princeton University Chapel. The series departs

from its normal spectrum of ensembles to take advantage of the

Chapel’s resonant acoustics.

Because of the Chapel’s ample space, no tickets are required. That

means no lines and no need for people with disabilities to phone

ahead.

The Aureole Trio, (flute, viola and harp) opens the season this

Thursday, June 10. The Leipzig String Quartet performs Thursday, June

24. Imani Winds (a quintet made up of flute, clarinet, oboe, horn, and

bassoon) appears Tuesday, June 29. The Manhattan Brass Quintet (two

trumpets, horn, trombone, and tuba) concludes the series on Wednesday,

July 7.

Members of the Aureole Trio, the first group to perform, are Laura

Gilbert, flute; Mary Hammann, viola; and Stacey Shames, harp. Gilbert,

the Aureole’s flutist, was available for a brief cell phone interview

and talked about how she brought the group into being 16 years ago. At

the time Gilbert was a member of Chamber Sounds, a mixed chamber music

ensemble. The director wanted to perform Claude Debussy’s seminal

"Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp" and asked Gilbert to find the

players. "It was easy to do," Gilbert remembers. "I knew people from

Juilliard and other places. We got along fine and decided to

continue."

Written in 1915, the Debussy trio inspired composers of various

nationalities to write for flute, viola and harp, an unexploited

combination at the time. Some 150 pieces scored for Debussy’s

pioneering ensemble followed.

Two of those pieces are on the June 10 program: Englishman Arnold

Bax’s "Elegaic Trio for Flute, Viola and Harp" and Belgian Joseph

Jongen’s "Deux Pieces en Trio."

The evening also includes Carlos Selvado’s transcription of Maurice

Ravel’s "Sonatine," originally for piano, and Johann Sebastian Bach’s

Sonata in G minor for flute and keyboard. Violist Hammann is off duty

while flutist Gilbert and harpist Shames play the Bach sonata, with

harp taking over the assignment of the keyboard part.

Gilbert credits Salvedo, creator of the Ravel transcription, with

bringing the harp to prominence as a solo instrument in America. When

Selvado showed Ravel what he had done, the composer was delighted, if

not astounded by the aptness of Salvedo’s work. He responded by

blurting out: "Why didn’t I think of that!" Gilbert says.

Born in Manhattan to two physicians, Gilbert has two younger brothers.

Their parents produced only musical children. Son Daniel is the second

clarinetist of the Cleveland Orchestra. Son David is a jazz bass

player. Laura reports that her mother, a pianist and singer, has said

that if she had been born in Laura’s generation, she would have been a

musician rather then a physician..

Laura started flute at the traditional age of 10. Now, she reports,

the Suzuki program, where toddlers begin to play instruments by rote,

extends to flute. "Suzuki flute starts at four," Gilbert says. "The

children play tiny flutes."

The first of Gilbert’s three bachelor’s degrees comes from Sarah

Lawrence College, where she majored in music and French literature.

She collected a second bachelor’s degree from Boston’s New England

Conservatory, and a third from New York’s Juilliard School, where she

also earned a master’s degree. Her doctorate comes from the State

University of New York at Stony Brook. Her dissertation was on

Beethoven’s thorny Opus 131 string quartet.

Gilbert lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side with her husband, Joe

Merrill, an Internet security specialist, and their two children.

Daughter Jana is 10. Son Aidan is eight. Merrill is an avid

unicyclist, Gilbert says, and so are the children. She is the only

non-unicyclist in the family.In addition to performing

internationally, Gilbert has an active teaching schedule. Pupils are

waiting at the door as we speak.

After the Aureole performance, the Summer Concerts present the Leipzig

String Quartet, its one bow to traditional programming (June 24). The

ensemble, founded in 1988, is the same age as Aureole. Three of its

members were principals in the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra before

deciding, in 1993, to devote full time to the quartet, which has

toured 40 countries.

The Imani Winds (June 29) came together in 1997. The name "Imani"

means "faith" in Swahili. Expanding the boundaries of the traditional

wind quintet, they pursue the links between European, African, and

American music traditions.

Imani is a member of Chamber Music II, a two-year residency program

sponsored by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center for talented

young musicians. Participants in Chamber Music II perform with members

of the Chamber Music Society,and also on their own. In addition, they

present educational outreach programs. "Imani is the model chamber

music II ensemble," says a spokesman for the Chamber Music Society,

"because of their passion for performing and educational outreach."

The Manhattan Brass Quintet (July 7) consists of four men and one

woman, the hornist. Freelance musicians in the New York area, their

repertoire covers 500 years of music.

The Princeton Summer Chamber Music Concerts have come to be part of

Princeton’s summer fabric. Now in its 36th year, the concert series

was founded by Princeton’s Barbara Sand. The university provides space

for the concerts, but they are otherwise independent. "From the start,

there was a niche for it," Sand told U.S. 1 (July 21, 1993) during the

25th anniversary year.

Sand recalled the genesis of the concerts. Delighted by outdoor summer

concerts in the courtyard of the Yale Law School, she invited the

organizer of the Yale concerts, an amateur violinist, to help her find

a place at Princeton that might be suitable for something similar. He

arrived with violin. She packed up her cello and they started looking.

"We walked all over the campus," Sand said, "he with violin and I with

cello, and tried out the acoustics here and there." The concerts took

place at first in the north court of the Graduate College, and then

moved to its main court.

In the early years Sand readied the space by pruning tree branches and

by transporting lamps from her living room. She recruited local

children, including her own three, to sell lemonade and collect

contributions. Sometimes the children perched in the trees to hear the

music. Listeners sat on the lawn with blankets, picnic baskets, and

sometimes sleeping babies.

In 1991, because of renovations at the Graduate College, the Summer

Concerts moved to Richardson.

The atmosphere remains informal, and listeners are encouraged to bring

children. Sometimes they sleep. Sometimes they cry, and their

music-loving parents remove them after the first wail.

From the beginning, the concerts gave young musicians a chance to

perform. Some of the fledgling groups became international chamber

music stars. Among them are the Cleveland String Quartet, the Emerson,

the Shanghai, and the Tokyo Quartets. Sand attempted to pay them at a

level that corresponded to their skills.

Starting out as a pianist, Sand switched to cello when her daughter

began cello lessons. Coming to grips with the physical means of making

music, she learned to repair the bows used by string players.

Sand was a widely-published music journalist. She founded Chamber

Music Magazine, and served as its editor. She wrote for Musical

America magazine, the American Record Guide, BBC magazine, and The

Strad. Eventually, she undertook a long-term investigation, tracking

the violin classes of super-pedagogue Dorothy DeLay. Sand’s insider’s

view appeared in "Teaching Genius: Dorothy DeLay and the Making of a

Musician" (U.S. 1, May 24, 2000). Published by Amadeus Press in 2000,

the book is now going into a fourth edition in Japanese.

Sand died in New York City on December 22 after an illness of two

months. She leaves behind a host of mourners who cherish her energy,

imagination, and ready wit. She also leaves as a legacy the Summer

Concerts, an institution that gives the public a chance to enjoy the

music that was important to her.

– Elaine Strauss

Princeton University Summer Chamber Music Concerts, Princeton

University Chapel. All concerts at 8 p.m. Free, and no tickets

required. Thursday, June 10 through Wednesday, July 7.


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