Lee-Chin Siow and Natalia Khoma have quite a few friends in high places. The College of Charleston professors, both esteemed chamber musicians in their own right, have used their professional connections to attract dozens of artists to the Lowcountry to teach and perform at the Charleston Music Fest since 2005.
"This is a really great way to tell our colleagues what we're doing here in Charleston," Siow says. "It's a way to showcase our program."
The 2011-'12 series will focus on piano trios, starting on Friday with a concert featuring Finnish-born pianist Matti Raekallio. The prolific musician has performed both solo and with orchestras across the globe, and he's trained many talented musicians while working as a faculty member at the Juilliard School in New York. In addition to his work as a musician, he was a member of an international research team investigating the psychological effects of pianists' choice of fingering.
Raekallio will team up with Khoma and Siow for three iconic classical pieces: Brahms' Sonata No. 2 in A Major for Violin and Piano, Op. 100; Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 "Appassionata"; and Beethoven's Piano Trio, Op. 70 No. 1 "Ghost." Raekallio says, "The Brahms A Major Sonata has a wonderfully vocal feel to it ... It is one of the most accessible pieces [Brahms] wrote, full of human warmth, lyrical feeling, and also moments of passion. The solo piece I perform, Beethoven's 'Appassionata' sonata, is then all about intensity and passion — it is justly famous as one of the most explosive and even scary pieces in the repertoire, with a white-heat relentlessness that has scarcely been equaled in classical music.
"The last work, Beethoven's 'Ghost' trio, got its nickname from Beethoven's pupil Czerny ... who said that the extraordinarily slow movement could bring to mind the apparition of the ghost in Shakespeare's Hamlet, and there definitely is something eerie and haunting about the atmosphere of that section. In the outer movements the trio is full of Beethoven's high spirits and sense of humor."
The Fest will continue on into next year, with a concert from Furman University's Poinsett Piano Trio featuring David Gross, Deirdre Hutton, and Christopher Hutton in January. April 6 is Moscow Conservatory Night featuring New York Philharmonic violinist Anna Rabinova and pianist Volodymyr Vynnytsky performing with Khoma. The season wraps up later that month when Siow, Khoma, and Vynnytsky team up for Songs of Triumph.
Siow says that exposing CofC students to such successful musicians is key to their professional development. "We want to reach out to more people and especially students," she says. "The young students, we do this for them. It's not really like sitting in a classroom. When you see something like that, you say, oh, I want to do that as well, and maybe one day if I practice really hard I can aspire to play all over the world and create friends all over the world. It's kind of how I started when I was little."
While the concerts are naturally a huge part of the Fest, Siow says the master classes, offered to music students at CofC, are key as well. "We want to inspire students to aspire for excellence, because really nothing beats face-to-face time with a live role model," Siow says. "The master classes are an integral part of our festival. This festival was conceived because of that, because we wanted our students to see us in action and to work with great artists and pedagogues. And of course for our own selfish reasons, we wanted our friends to see what a beautiful city that we live in to make them jealous."