Just don't call these two 'cute'
By Andrew L. Pincus
Special to The Eagle


These kids aren't "cute," violist Christof Huebner insists. They're real musicians.

Two Berkshire Music School students will join professional musicians from the Boston-area Walden Chamber Players in a Boccherini string quintet tonight at the school. But Huebner, Walden's director, promises that the performance will have "good ensemble and real musical weight."

The student performers are violinist Kathryn Andersen, 17, of Pittsfield and cellist Cicely Parnas, 9, of Stephentown, N.Y. They were co-winners of the school's Merit Scholarship Competition last spring.

Huebner was one of the three judges. He went in with the idea of teaming the winner -- co-winners, as it turned out -- with his pros in the concert tonight.
Kathryn Andersen, 17, foreground with her violin; Christof Huebner, artistic director of the Walden Chamber Ensemble with his viola; and Cicely Parnas, 9, from Stephentown, N.Y. with her cello. The girl will be performing with the Walden Chamber Ensemble tonight at the Berkshire Music School. Photo: Julie A. Brown / Berkshire Eagle Staff


At first, says Huebner, he thought of a performance of a single movement, such as the Walden group has done with students elsewhere. Then he decided that "these two are so good and so deserving that I really wanted to give them the chance to do a whole piece."

It's a first for the 5-year-old chamber ensemble. It's probably also a first for the Berkshires. Professionals from concert series have played alongside students before, but rarely if ever have students performed a whole piece in concert with a professional ensemble.

The often-performed Boccherini work will be heard in the composer's own arrangement of one of his quintets for guitar and strings. Known by the title of its last movement, "Night Music of Madrid," it is one of three works on the 7 p.m. program. The others are Krzysztof Penderecki's String Trio and Brahms' Piano Quartet in C minor, Opus 60.

The adult performers are violinist Calvin Wiersma, cellist Susannah Chapman, pianist Jonathan Bass and Huebner. The program, preceded by violin, cello and piano classes given by the Walden players, launches a collaboration between the ensemble and the school.

The annual competition awards scholarship money raised by students in a musical marathon. Huebner was "amazed" by the quality of the entrants.

"I think that a lot of music schools in major urban centers could be quite pleased to have such a pool of wonderful players," he says.

Kathryn Andersen is a seven-time winner in the competition. A student of Alla Zernitskaya, she has amassed a long list of honors, including service this year as concertmaster of the Empire State Youth Orchestra in Albany, N.Y. She has toured with the orchestra to Seiji Ozawa Hall, Carnegie Hall, Germany and the Czech Republic.

For two summers, she attended the Boston University Tanglewood Institute. Last summer, she appeared on the National Public Radio program "From the Top," broadcast from Tanglewood.

Cicely Parnas, who studies with Erica Pickhardt, has a famous cellist in her family. Her grandfather is Leslie Parnas, a well-known soloist and founder of New York's Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society. As the youngest winner of the school's competition, she nosed out her sister Madalyn. Madalyn won on the violin at 10.

By coincidence, Leslie Parnas was Pickhardt's teacher.

The name also rang a bell for Huebner. When he came to the United States 17 years ago to study viola at the St. Louis Conservatory, Leslie Parnas was a visiting faculty member. Huebner knew him as "a very, very distinguished cellist."

"He had apparently heard that there was this violist from Vienna who was maybe a little bit too full of himself, and slightly arrogant," Huebner recalls. "So the first coaching we had, I expected him to be, of course, duly impressed. And he proceeded to absolutely decimate me, telling me that what I was doing in a Dvorak piano quartet was not even -- as he put it -- 'in the ballpark.' "

Huebner absorbed the advice.

"Once he'd established that he was the boss and that I wasn't as good as I thought I was, in the course of the coachings that we had during the year, he actually became a very, very kind and supportive."

Huebner considers it "ironic and nice that I'm able to return the favor of the wonderful coachings."

Kathryn has no personal connection for Huebner, but he says, "All I could think about when I saw her play was [the great English cellist] Jacqueline DuPre. She has that wonderful hair, and she plays with amazing assurance."

Matching student with adult players in concert is a tactic the Walden group uses in a schools program in both eastern Massachusetts and the Berkshires. Many Walden concerts, like the one here, are held in conjunction with school residencies. In a 1999 residency, for example, a student flutist in New Lebanon, N.Y., played a movement from a Mozart quartet with Walden members.

After choosing the dual winners here, Huebner thought it would be a natural to pair them in the Boccherini quintet. With its picture of a military night watch entering and receding in a Madrid parade, it seemed well suited for young players, he says.

The program also marks a further step in the ensemble's expansion into the Berkshires. Other concerts during the current season are taking place in Richmond, New Lebanon and Williamstown as well as Troy, N.Y. The Williamstown program is scheduled for March 2 in the Clark Art Institute, continuing a collaboration there.

The group also is expanding its educational activities in the area. Walden players returned to the Richmond Consolidated School last fall for a residency on composing and creativity, and will hold spring residencies at Drury and Hoosac Valley high schools and the Adams Middle School.

In Adams, the group will present its program on "Music and the Social Conscience," drawing connections between music and the society it comes out of. The Pittsfield visit is supported by Berkshire Bank and the Pittsfield Cultural Council. Grants from the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation support the north county programs.

Huebner hopes to continue and expand the collaboration with the music school, perhaps to four days, as elsewhere in Massachusetts. He says the students here are "awesome," the teachers rise to a similar level, and Walden's assistance could "make a real difference."