Harpsichords Ring-in 50th Anniversary of Norfolk Chamber Consort

Harpsichords Ring-in 50th Anniversary of Norfolk Chamber Consort
(Andrey Kasparov and Oksana Lutsyshyn. Photo by Glen McClure)

By Jeff Maisey

Old Dominion University Professor of Music Andrey Kasparov and Oksana Lutsyshyn have been the dynamic piano duo co-chairing the prestigious Norfolk Chamber Consort since 2009.  Through their collaborative artistic vision the Consort has continued to flourish and inspire university students, classical music enthusiasts, patrons and newcomers to the arts. 

Perhaps the most important role Norfolk Chamber Consort plays is serving the community a deeply rich classical music experience that goes well beyond the “greatest hits” and over-performed works of the masters. They showcase the “deep cuts” of the composer catalog, and that is great appreciated by fans.  

As you might expect, Andrey Kasparov is excited to present the 50th anniversary season, one that begins with harpsichords. 

 

How did the Norfolk Chamber Consort get its start 50 years ago?

According to Dr. Allen Shaffer, the Norfolk Chamber Consort’s former Artistic Co-Director, in a presentation that he delivered on the occasion of the organization’s 45th anniversary, “The Norfolk Chamber Consort was founded in 1969 by Kay Gardner, who was a flutist with the Norfolk Symphony (now Virginia Symphony) and adjunct instructor of flute at Norfolk State College (now University). Gardner’s artistic vision for the Consort was to be new, fresh, inventive, forward looking, imaginative and provocative.”  

I would add that Kay Gardner was a multifaceted personality. A renowned composer, author, spiritual leader, record producer, radio personality, she was a co-founder of New England’s Women Symphony, which exclusively programmed and recorded works by women composers. In addition, she is considered to be a pioneer of sound healing.

 

 

How has Norfolk Chamber Consort evolved over time? Is its mission the same as when it began?

 

In the same presentation Shaffer continued, “The Consort grew up in the tumultuous 1970s. It showed its brashness in those heady days through its choice of venues, the appearance of its musicians on the stage, the lively atmosphere of informality, and its adventurous repertoire of exclusively 20th century music.

The new group’s earliest seasons were played at the Norfolk Theater Center on Freemason Street. The second floor featured a large room with a thrust stage like a theater in the round. The piano was an old, occasionally out-of-tune, spinet. Admission was $3.00.

The concerts were billed as “Come As You Are.” Informal dress for the musicians was encouraged. The musicians liked to joke that they were wearing their “dress Levis.” The concerts were presented amidst an air of informality, even improvisation. The performers, regardless of the amount of involvement in a program, were paid $50.00 per concert. This arrangement was simple, but hardly fair. This policy lasted for only three seasons.

Improvisation included dropping rocks into buckets of water, or having bugs’ movements on a grid projected via overhead projector onto a large screen. Each instrument was assigned to a different bug, and the bugs’ movements determined what was played. It was a short performance— the heat from the projector killed most of the bugs. A second season eight-hour marathon concert was followed by a jazz combo presentation.

Clarinetist F. Gerard Errante, joined the faculty of Norfolk State in 1970 and joined the group soon after. The following year Allen Shaffer, organist and harpsichordist, who specialized in Baroque music, also joined. Kay Gardner left the area in 1972, asking Shaffer to become director. He accepted on one condition, that Gerry Errante be part of the leadership team.

They went on to lead the Norfolk Chamber Consort as co-directors for the next thirty eight years. The group was reorganized with a new constitution and an active board of directors as “The New Norfolk Consort.” After gaining tax exempt status they were able to compete for grants. Larry Epplein was on that board and still is. [AK – He remained on the board until 2017.]

Early venues for the Consort included the Unitarian Church on Yarmouth Street and the Chrysler Museum Theater. In the mid ‘80s Walter Chrysler invited the Consort to become Artists in Residence at the Museum, but the NCC leaders chose to remain independent. In 1991 Chandler Recital Hall at Old Dominion University was completed and the Consort moved in. In recent years the Consort has made occasional appearances at Ohef Sholom Temple and annual appearances at Christ and Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church, in Ghent.

Shaffer and Errante expanded the repertory beyond the avant-garde to include Barber, Poulenc, Debussy, Ravel, Rorem, Ives, “Les Six”, Stravinsky and a host of others as well. Baroque, Classical and Romantic music soon followed. The programs were now being built on themes, offering an opportunity to mix and match music from across the historical spectrum.

Errante left the area in 2008 and pianist/composer Andrey Kasparov became the Consort’s new artistic director and Shaffer became artistic advisor (2008 – October 2013). In 2009, Oksana Lutsyshyn joined Kasparov as artistic co-director.”

Since Oksana Lutsyshyn and I became Artistic Co-Directors, we have striven to maintain the Consort’s themed, diverse and adventurous programming. In order to bring these creative ideas to fruition, we have sought to develop collaborative ties with other organizations and recruit top performing talent in the area.

Among very important developments in the last decade has been cultivating much closer ties with Old Dominion University’s Department of Music. The evolving composition of the music faculty allowed for more frequent and meaningful participation of faculty members and their advanced students at NCC performances. Simultaneously, the idea of annual joint performances with F. Ludwig Diehn Concert Series was implemented. Frederick Bayersdorfer, the then Arts Assistant to the Dean of the College of Arts and Letters, was a strong supporter of this venture, which led to numerous sold-out concerts over the past decade. Among distinguished guest personalities and groups NCC has worked with as a result of this cooperation are marimba virtuoso Kevin Bobo, Windscape (a New York City based wind quintet), Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet, Ensemble Galilei, NPR’s Neal Conan, author Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno, Norwegian tuba virtuoso Østein Baadsvik, as well as the Jasper and Harlem String Quartets.  The latter two groups as well as a return engagement of Kevin Bobo were accomplished during the tenure of Dr. Cullen Strawn, the current Executive Director for the Arts. We have also collaborated on several large-scale regional projects with Starr Foster Dance from Richmond, members of Hampton University’s Terpsichorean Dance Company and the music faculty of Norfolk State University. At ODU, outside the Department of Music, the Consort partnered with the Literary Festival, Institute for Humanities, Department of Dance and the “Shakespeare and Our Times” Conference.

Another seminal event for our organization was founding the Lisa Relaford Coston Scholarship Competition in 2012 to commemorate the late African-American mezzo soprano Lisa Relaford Coston, whose memorial CD Oksana and I sponsored and produced. This competition is for aspiring young singers in the state of Virginia pursuing a voice major at a higher education institution. Both winner and runner-up are offered scholarships and a performance opportunity with NCC. To date, there have been four competitions. The winner of the 2018 competition, baritone Ricky Goodwyn, Jr., will debut with the Consort on April 29, 2019, as part of the 50th-anniversary performance.

In 2015, Wayla Chambo, a flutist and the host of WHRO 90.3 FM’s Afternoon Delights, joined the Consort as Associate Artistic Director, and has since appeared regularly with the organization.

 

 

Your 2018-19 season opener is titled “1-2-3-4 Harpsichords.” Can you discuss each of the works you’ve selected for performance and why you chose each?

 

The works were chosen to showcase expressive capabilities of the harpsichord as a solo instrument as well as in combination with other harpsichords, strings and wind instruments. The program opens with Johann Sebastian Bach’s famous Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue for solo harpsichord. It then continues with Concert Royal No. 4 in E Minor by the French Baroque composer François Couperin, written for flute, harpsichord and cello continuo. The first half concludes with Sonata in C Major for two harpsichords by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, J.S. Bach’s most talented son. (By the way, Mozart meant C.P.E., not J.S., when he famously exclaimed, “Bach is the father. We are the children!”) The second half will feature two concertos by J.S. Bach, one written for three and the other for four harpsichords with strings, the latter composition being an arrangement of Concerto in B Minor for four violins, cello and strings by Vivaldi, of whom J.S. was a huge fan.

 

 

The harpsichord, as an instrument, is different from piano as it plucks the string rather than hammering it. What in particular do you enjoy about the tonality and uniqueness of the harpsichord sound?

 

To me, it is a unique combination of percussiveness and an incredibly tender tone, which has a special quality of being playful and pensive at the same time.

 

 

As an educator, do you believe the harpsichord is an instrument that should be showcased for its historical aspects as well as for the musical works specifically composed for it during the Baroque period?

 

I believe it should be both. The historical aspects of the harpsichord are highly valuable to those seeking to experience the original environment, whether it be the general public, students, performers or scholars. But the harpsichord is also very much alive today as a concert instrument, which is absolutely indispensable for performing certain compositions that are written for it and simply do not work on any other keyboard instrument.

 

Any additional thoughts or comments?

 

Oksana and I would like to extend our utmost thanks to our dedicated board members, subscribers, fans, sponsors, advertisers, media outlets and, of course, our enthusiastic audiences. It truly takes a village to run this almost 50-year-old organization. We are also extremely grateful to you, Jeff, and Veer Magazine for the years of steadfast support.

 

WANT TO GO? 

1-2-3-4 Harpsichords

Norfolk Chamber Consort

October 1

ODU Chandler Recital Hall

7:30 PM

Pre-concert discussion @ 7:15 PM

www.ncconsort.org