Arts and Entertainment

Stuyvesant’s Surprising Turnout at Chambers Music Society

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Issue 14, Volume 112

By Otto Buff, Jaein Ku 

As the three musicians in the Smetana trio walked off stage to thunderous applause in the Rose Studio, the five members of the Brahms piano quintet walked onto the stage. Years of individual practice and months of rehearsals led to this moment, marking the first time that two groups from Stuyvesant performed in the second round of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s (CMSLC) Young Musicians competition. There was only one chance for these groups to wow the judges and earn a spot in the final concert at Alice Tully Hall. The musicians of the quintet took a deep breath and glanced around at each other, communicating without words, before opening their piece with the junior cellist Marion Rambler’s plucking of the C string.

The annual concert, hosted by CMSLC, offers a great opportunity for talented student musicians to showcase their abilities. To earn one of the eight spots in the regionals (there are four regionals: Long Island, Westchester-Hudson Valley-Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey), each group is required to submit a video online; this portion of the competition was only added in 2019. From these four concerts, 12 groups, including both from Stuyvesant, were chosen to play in Alice Tully Hall, a famous, world-renowned concert hall. Though this regional concert is usually dominated by students from music-oriented schools such as LaGuardia High School and Special Music School, Stuyvesant stole the spotlight this year by sending two talented groups to the regional and final performances for the first time since its first participation in 1985. The first group consisted of freshman pianist Josephine Yoo, freshman violinist Josephine Buruma, and junior cellist Felix Harkness, who played the first movement of Smetana’s piano trio in G minor. The second group, all-junior, was composed of pianist Gitae Park, violinists Zoe Buff and Christina Pan, violist Isaac Lageschulte, and cellist Marion Rambler, who presented the third movement of Brahms’s piano quintet in F major.

To prepare for the competition, the students formed their own groups and rehearsed during school hours with the support of Music teachers Joseph Tamosaitis and Liliya Shamazov. “Finding a rehearsal time for five people in one group was extremely challenging [outside of school],” but the patience and assistance of Mr. Tamosaitis and Ms. Shamazov gave “us an opportunity to shine,” Buff said.

The numerous rehearsals provided a way for these musicians to bond through their shared love for music. Lageschulte states that his best memory was “the end of the piece; every time, it goes really fast, so Zoe and I always look at each other and start laughing. We’re always laughing.”

Buff added that it was also special when teachers and students watched them rehearse outside the auditorium. It made the quintet “feel really special because Stuyvesant is not known for their chamber music, but when the teachers see it, they really think it’s cool, and that feels pretty awesome,” Buff said. During one rare outside-of-school rehearsal, there was an incredible moment where the quintet spontaneously performed the tune “Happy Birthday” for a family member. “That was a moment when I was really proud to have them in my group. It felt like we were getting closer,” Buff stated.

The musicians’ performances were a testament to that idea. The piano trio’s individual quality, musicality, and expression of the piece set them apart from the other participating schools and impressed everyone watching. As for the quintet, it was evident that the members knew each other as well as they possibly could in a musical sense, and they were able to establish a significant group sound that was key to their piece. It is this that makes the piece, as Lageschulte said, “meant to be played in competition.”

Chamber music provides a strong foundation for musicians to teach others and themselves. Sean Takada (‘19), a Stuyvesant alumnus and top violinist who won the competition three times, said, “[chamber music] helps you grow more as a musician because the responsibility falls solely on the group members to improve together, solve issues and stay disciplined.”

Furthermore, playing chamber music opens up a diverse range of beautiful repertoire to explore and helps develop self-confidence and a musical imagination. Rambler said that playing in a group helped her “actually experience and express [her] love for music without overwhelming nerves.”

These talented performers encourage underclassmen and future Stuyvesant students to continue the competition tradition. Takada said that rehearsal with his group was a source of “much needed relief and enjoyment from the rigorous academic classes that filled most of my schedule.” With these benefits of chamber music in mind, the participants hope for a chamber music team to be created. With a growing musical culture and appreciation for chamber music, sending three groups to the concert seems like a possibility.

Wish these two groups the best of luck as they prepare for the Alice Tully Hall concert on May 5!