Classical music fans treated to top-notch performances at Morrison Artists Series

SF State

The Alexander String Quartet and guest artists performed at Knuth Hall in the Creative Arts building on Monday, Oct. 8, 2012. Photo by Andy Sweet / Xpress

The excitement buzzing around the corridors of the Creative Arts Building for the 57th season of the Morrison Artists Series can be heard just like the music reverberating throughout its chambers.

Funded by Edward Hohfeld, administrator of the Charitable Trust endowed by the Alexander Morrison estate, the series has been able to sustain itself over the years. A longtime friend and law firm partner of Morrison, Hohfeld believed that high-quality chamber music should be available to everyone, not just those who had the money to pay for a ticket to the symphony. Since it began, the series has hosted more than 350 admission-free concerts.

Hohfeld thought that music should be taught to students by providing them the opportunity to learn from the best contemporary musicians. That is why every artist performing at the series will also host a master class. Richard Festinger, artistic director of the event, will give a lecture before each performance.

“These are top ensembles. They don’t get any better. We bring the best ensembles,” Festinger said of the series’ lineup.

Tickets for the performances normally range from $60 to $100 as the ensembles playing are of the highest caliber, according to Festinger. He chooses all the performers who play the series and prepares multimedia presentations to correlate with the performance.

“I don’t talk too long. I know people really want to hear the music and not me,” Festinger said.

Students in the SF State music department will be able to sit down and learn from some of the greatest chamber musicians of the day, according to Festinger. The Juilliard String Quartet, one of classical music’s most prestigious ensembles, has been around since 1946 and is probably the most well-known playing the series.

The ensembles will teach master classes the day of each concert, working to help improve student ensembles. Concerts that take place Sunday will have Monday classes. But none of the classes will be limited to just SF State students. The series will also invite students from local high schools and arts colleges from around the city to join.

“People who haven’t heard much, or any classical music, you always have to start somewhere — this series is a great way to start,” Festinger said.

Sandra Halladey, relations officer of the College of Liberal and Creative Arts, runs the box office for the series. She said the chamber music series got so popular that it had to turn people away at the door for some concerts last year — but this event isn’t just for the diehards.

“It’s like going to see Lady Gaga, man,” Festinger said, jokingly.

The series defies traditional perspectives and offers some surprises.

“A lot of students have discovered that a lot of chamber music now is not stuffy old white man music, as we tend to think of it sometimes. A lot of groups we have for this series are young,” Melinda Zarrett, assistant to the associate dean of the College of Liberal and Creative Arts, said.

There is a side of classical music that is like a museum, according to Festinger, but the ensembles he chose for this event aren’t like that. Some will even be playing pieces written as recently as five years ago, and when they do play the old, they play it like it is new.

“We’re excited for the first event featuring the Jasper String Quartet, which is actually the quartet in residence at Oberlin Conservatory of Music,” Halladey said.

The Jasper String Quartet, winners of the 2012 Cleveland Quartet Award, kicked off the series Oct. 14 at McKenna Theatre.

“These are people at the top of the chamber music world, so an opportunity to hear them for free is big,” Zarrett said.

The Morrison Artist series began Oct. 14 and will run through April 19, 2013. For the full schedule with times and venues, check the College of Liberal and Creative Arts event calendar.

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