Lawrence Academy Chamber Ensembles showcase talent of Appleton youth

Gracefully led by teacher Carrie Gray, the Lawrence Academy Chamber Ensembles played in Harper Hall on Saturday, Apr. 13. They played tunes from the Baroque and Romantic periods with pauses in between as Gray educated the audience a bit about the music itself and the process that the ensemble undertook to bring this music to us. There were five performers in total, including Gray. 

The Lawrence Academy of Music is a community program that operates through the conservatory to bring advanced music education and training to younger musicians. The Academy is a nonprofit division of Lawrence University and a member of the National Guild for Community Arts Education. In addition to teaching and training local students from the community, the Academy provides outreach to assist area school music programs, as well as offering guided opportunities for Lawrence Conservatory of Music education students to hone their teaching skills. As Gray stated in the program, “The performance…is about the sharing of a musical journey with an appreciative community,” and it is apparent that this is the most important aspect of the recital rather than “perfection.” I certainly appreciated the talent and passion that these young performers brought to Harper Hall. 

The combined ensemble started off with selections from the “Terpsichore” collection of instrumental dances from 1612 compiled by Michael Praetorius. One can imagine these pieces being played by a much larger ensemble, but these young musicians really held their own and drew their audience into the piece. This first act is the only Renaissance era piece we heard, as Gray moved us swiftly into the 18th and 19th centuries for selections from “Carmen” as well as pieces by Beethoven and Brahms. These pieces seem to all have a dance theme in common, even if some of them aren’t explicitly or exclusively dance-focused. It was quite the interesting program. 

Gray defined the Baroque era in part as being more restrained and the Romantic period being more dramatic, evidenced by the transition of styles from the Praetorius dance collection to the more extravagant “Themes from Carmen” by Georges Bizet. One of the smaller chamber ensembles, comprised of Gray and cellist Marion McKinney, played the familiar “Habanera” theme as well as the “Prelude” and “Argonaise.” They played with the confidence required of two lone instruments taking on such a massive and opulent piece of music. 

The second smaller ensemble took their place to perform “Bagatelle Op 119, No. 1,” by Ludwig van Beethoven, featuring a bassoonist, a cellist and two violinists. They were again assisted by Gray and played beautifully. These young performers had at this point have sufficiently displayed their skill at the strings and bassoon, but they combined again and blessed us with another performance. 

The finale was a piece by Johannes Brahms titled “Hungarian Dance No. 1.” The combined performers did a very good job performing what sounded like a very difficult piece, one that is hard for even seasoned veterans to play, and it was all the more impressive because these are middle and high school students who are doing this outside of their regular school schedule.