Back to basics: MSFO dives into second phase of chamber music performances

As Music School Festival Orchestra students near the end of their time in Chautauqua, they’re entering a second chamber music phase of the Instrumental Program.

Twenty groups — 72 MSFO students in all — will give recitals at 2 p.m. today in McKnight Hall, 2 p.m. Tuesday in Fletcher Music Hall, 4 p.m. Wednesday in McKnight Hall, 4 p.m. Thursday in McKnight Hall, and 2 p.m. Friday in McKnight Hall. All events benefit the Chautauqua Women’s Club Scholarship Fund.

Arie Lipsky, cello faculty and chamber music chair, has worked his magic again to organize students based on the pieces they wished to play and the musicians with whom they wished to perform.

“A lot of music festivals don’t have time designated specifically for chamber music,” Lipsky said. “Here, they take a break from orchestra and set time aside just for chamber music.”

MSFO students have a second chance this week to form new chamber music groups — or not, if they wish.

A string quartet composed of violinists Bram Margoles, Rachel Stenzel, violist Katelyn Hoag and cellist Emily Camras told Lipsky they weren’t breaking up any time soon.

“They told me from the beginning that this stays,” Lipsky said. “In the first phase, they played a piano quintet, and it was just natural. They’re still smiling.”

The group said maintaining a healthy relationship within a chamber music setting is almost like maintaining a marriage.

“When you ask someone to play in chamber music with you, it’s like asking them out on a date,” Hoag said.

Lipsky said the quartet is playing one of the hardest pieces Beethoven composed in today’s recital — String Quartet No. 1 in F major, Op. 59 — and he said they’re the right group for it.

“I just felt that this piece is meant for them,” Lipsky said. “This is the bread and butter of a string quartet — you can really grow as an individual. It’s like the holy grail of string quartets.”

Stenzel said during a festival last summer, her quartet asked their coach Shmuel Ashkenasi if they could do Op. 59.

“He said, ‘You can play any quartet but Op. 59 because those are the hardest, and I don’t even want to touch them,’ ” Stenzel said. “So it’s not only technical difficulties, it’s maturity — it takes experience and years to grow with the music.”

Lipsky said there’s no right time to perform a piece of this caliber. It takes an understanding of the music that the students clearly have.

“It’s a very, very high-level piece, and you have to understand the architecture of the piece,” he said. “The first movement alone is 12 to 13 minutes, but at one point, you just have to do it.”