SARATOGA SPRINGS Over the next seven days at Skidmore College, classical music lovers can enjoy the stellar offerings of a beloved media star, an internationally known string quartet and a British guitar duo.
All events are in the Arthur Zankel Music Center.
Starting today, pianist Christopher O’Riley and longtime host of National Public Radio’s “From the Top” will give a master class. That will be followed on Friday by his recital as part of the college’s Sterne Virtuoso Series. O’Riley’s program reflects his eclectic interests and his preference to make it an impromptu affair.
“I’ll allow it to take shape,” he said. “It’s constantly evolving.”
This means there may be a bit of Chopin or Scarlatti mixed in with O’Riley’s own transcriptions of tunes made famous by such rock bands as Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Portishead or Nirvana.
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For this show, he will focus on his transcriptions recently recorded on his disc “Out of My Hands” (2009, White Tie Records/Mesa Bluemoon). Tunes might include Portishead’s “The Rip,” Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” and Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them.”
O’Riley’s love of making transcriptions of alternative rock tunes stems from his early interest in jazz. But when it came time to head to the New England Conservatory of Music, he said he hadn’t developed his own jazz voice enough to warrant pursuing it. Instead, he went on to win awards at such competitions as the Van Cliburn, the Leeds, the Busoni and the Montreal and in 1981 at 25 won the Young Concert Artists International Auditions.
Years of touring, recording and collaborations with such soloists as flutist James Galway and choreographer Martha Clarke followed, including a recital years ago at Skidmore College. Last year, O’Riley debuted at The Egg in Albany.
Along the way he developed his abilities to transcribe tunes. More than 10 years ago, he became the host and accompanist for the NPR show “From The Top,” which showcases young classical musicians.
During a break at one show, instead of bantering with the audience he played one of his Radiohead transcriptions. They became so popular that he began to record them and other pianists took them up, he said. Later, he produced a book that included many of those transcriptions.
O’Riley’s free master class is at 7:30 p.m. today. His recital is 8 p.m. Friday. Tickets are $12, $5.
During the day on Friday, the seventh annual three-day Skidmore College String Festival begins.
The Ying Quartet returns as the festival’s coaches and to give a recital on Saturday as part of the Moore Chamber Music Series.
The Ying will coach Skidmore’s five string quartets and those from high schools in Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont, said festival organizer/violinist Michael Emery.
“Having the Ying return is amazing,” he said. “They work so well with high school kids and the Skidmore students, helping them on whatever level they need. And everyone knows their recital will be fabulous.”
Over the years, other quartets have coached, including the Brentano, the Manhattan (twice), the Euclid and the Hawthorne.
“This is a serious festival,” Emery said.
Because the coaching sessions are open to anyone who wishes to attend, area string players from Shenendehowa, Saratoga, Niskayuna and Guilderland high schools were also invited. These include a 1 p.m. Saturday workshop on rehearsal techniques.
Teaching string players is nothing new for the Ying, which includes violinists Ayano Ninomiya and Janet Ying, violist Phillip Ying and cellist David Ying. Ninomiya, a former Naumburg Competition winner, replaces Frank Huang, who has taken a job as concertmaster with the Houston Symphony.
For years, the Ying has been the quartet-in-residence at the Eastman School of Music, where they teach in the string department and in the chamber music program as well as maintaining an active touring and recording schedule. Two of their discs garnered Grammy Award nominations (2003 and 2007) and they won a Grammy Award in 2005 for “4 + Four” (Telarc) in collaboration with the Turtle Island String Quartet.
At 8 p.m. Saturday, the Ying will perform Arensky’s Quartet No. 2, Op. 35a, Moravec’s “Anniversary Dances,” Mendelssohn’s Quartet, Op. 80, and Novacek’s “Rags.” Tickets are $12, $5.
On Sunday, the student string quartets, the Ying and string faculty members will play the Finale from Beethoven’s Quartet Op. 59, No. 3.
The student quartets will play the first movements from chosen quartets: the Felix Quartet from the Manchester Community Music School (NH) will perform from Mendelssohn’s Quartet No. 3, Op. 44; the Spectrum Quartet, whose members come from the Bridgeport and Norwalk youth orchestras, will perform from Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 2; Vermont Youth Orchestra Quartet will play from Mozart’s Quartet No. 19 in C Major.
The Skidmore College quartets will each play from Beethoven’s Quartet Op. 18, No. 4; Beethoven’s Quartet Op. 59, No. 3; Beethoven’s Quartet Op. 59, No. 1; Debussy Quartet; Mozart’s Quartet “The Hunt.”
The festival finale is 1 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free.
The Eden Stell Guitar Duo of Mark Eden and Christopher Stell will debut first in a master class on Tuesday, followed the next day by their recital as part of the Sterne Virtuoso Series.
The duo has been playing together since their days as undergraduates at the Royal Academy of Music. They graduated in 1994 and won several prizes that include funding for further study with the acclaimed guitarists Sergio and Odair Assad in Brussels. Over the next several years, they began touring internationally and recorded seven discs.
An appearance at the 2009 Guitar Foundation of America event in Ithaca brought them to the attention of Skidmore guitar professor and current music department chair Joel Brown, who said he was stunned by what he heard.
“They exhibit technical perfection. They are musical and they play as one,” he said in a press release.
At their recital, the duo will perform Stell’s arrangement of a J.S. Bach concerto, which was based on Alessandro Marcello’s oboe concerto; Leo Brouwer’s “Per Suonare a Due”; Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Tonadilla”; Johannes Moller’s “When Buds are Breaking”; Phillip Houghton’s “Wave Radiance” and Eden’s arrangements of works by Frederic Mompou and Timothy Bowers.
The Eden Stell Guitar Duo’s free master class is at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in Elisabeth Luce Moore Hall Zankel 117. Their concert is 8 p.m. Wednesday. Tickets are $12, $5.