Sunday Chamber Music

Skeist Chamber Concert this Sunday

The annual Skeist Chamber Concert brings student musicians together and welcomes alumni performers back on Sunday, April 24, at 1 p.m. in Higgins House.

April 21, 2016
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The small venue adds to the intimacy of a chamber concert, says Doug Weeks, director of the WPI Concert Band and the WPI Orchestra, and associate department head of humanities and arts.

The Medwin Honors Quartet members—Kerry Muenchow ’19, Josue Canales ’19, Shawn Wile ’17, and Eric Cheng ’17—will play, as will several alumni. In addition, this year’s recipient of the Skeist Prize, Celina Aherrera ’16, will perform a solo.

The concert is possible thanks to generous alumni endowments. The Medwin Honors Quartet was made possible by Herman “Hank” Medwin ’41, who started an endowment so future students could enjoy playing string instruments as he did at WPI. It is an invitation-only, audition-based quartet for outstanding students, who audition annually, keep up a rigorous rehearsal schedule, and perform in venues throughout the school year.

The annual concert is also possible thanks to the family of Irving Skeist ’35, who played the violin and viola throughout his lifetime while pursuing a successful career as a chemist and business leader. According to an article in the WPI Journal, the Irving, Class of 1935, Dorothy, and Helen Skeist Endowed Fund supports a yearly concert and a scholarship; the Fund also donated one of Skeist’s prized instruments for WPI students to play.

Sunday’s concert features several selections and will be followed by a reception with light refreshments. The quartet will perform Quartet No. 14 in D, Death and the Maiden, by Franz Schubert. Aherrera will join the quartet and four alumni who will then perform L’estro armonico, Concerto in B for 4 Violins by Antonio Vivaldi. Other selections include Sonata for 2 Clarinets by Francis Poulenc with guests Brett Ammeson and Chester Brezniak. Ammeson also joins the quartet for a performance of Larghetto from Clarinet Quintet in A, K. 581 by W. A. Mozart.

“The music program here was one of the reasons I chose to come to WPI in the first place,” says Aherrera. “I joined ensembles and shows all throughout high school, and I love being able to perform. So I knew I wanted to be involved in a musical group on campus. I’m glad that WPI has given me the opportunity to continue performing and playing my instrument.”

The endowment gives the music program some freedom, says Weeks. “It’s a $1 million endowment for a string program,” he says. “It means we are able to do a lot with that amount.” The department was able to hire a string coach to assist the quartet and they are able to go above and beyond what they might typically offer. “We can buy equipment and music,” Weeks says.

The musicians especially look forward to this concert every year. “I never expected the level of literature that we would be performing at a tech school—Beethoven’s 5th and Tchaikovsky’s 4th to name a few,” says Alex Dich ’14, who is returning to play with the group. “Even during my four years at WPI, the music program seemed to continuously grow, and before you knew it we were performing rarely performed pieces at world-renowned venues. This is something that has kept me involved with the WPI orchestral program, even today as an alum.”

Lynne Canavale, strings coach, says thanks to the generous support from Medwin and Skeist, the concert morphed into a true chamber music concert that invites other musicians to play with the honors quartet. But the intangible benefits are wonderful, she says. “There’s really nice chemistry between the students,” she says, many of whom balance a very full schedule to make sure they can fit it in. “They are doing this because they love the music.”

Violinist Muenchow says being able to study chemical engineering and pursue music seriously drew her to WPI. “I love playing music here because everyone you perform with is there because they enjoy it,” she says. “There’s no pressure or unhealthy competition that you’d find at other schools.”

Josue Canales is a first-year chemical engineering major with an environmental concentration, and minors in materials science and entrepreneurship. He has been playing the violin for nine years and this is his first time in the quartet.

“I’m excited about the concert because Death and the Maiden is a very challenging piece, mainly, with dynamics and articulation, and my quartet and I have worked very hard to play it well,” he says. “Going to a tech school, I honestly didn’t have any doubts about the music program at WPI. I knew that WPI’s music program must be rigorous, since it reflects the high level of the students in the program.”

Despite the rigor, the students say the music program offers them something they need. “Music has always been a huge part of my life,” says Cheng. “Playing the cello is almost like an alter ego for me, for me to express myself musically and creatively, away from all the technicality that comes with being an engineer.”

Wile agrees. “I love to be able to be this involved musically at a technology school,” he says. “There aren’t many schools where I could do both. It’s challenging to balance class work and music, but it’s all worth it.”

The concert is free and open to all.

– BY JULIA QUINN-SZCESUIL