View RSS Feed

Pierre's Tuesday Blog

Amateur Night at Harvard

Rate this Entry
This week, Once Upon the Internet returns after taking a break last month to listen to “professionals” playing at Boston’s Gardner Museum. We will stay in Boston, and indeed will take in another concert, but this one is of a different kind.

According to the University’s website, Harvard’s vast and varied music scene offers multiple opportunities for students in both the curricular and extracurricular realms. The Office for the Arts oversees and supports several professionally-led instrumental and choral ensembles and Jazz Bands. Students also lead a range of music groups and appreciation societies, from Early Music to a cappella, plus rock/R&B, hip-hop and electronica, as well as ensembles performing the music of ethnic cultures worldwide.

So we find ourselves today at Harvard University, and the venue for the recital is Vanderbilt Hall, the residence for Harvard Medical and Dental Schools, the Division of Medical Sciences and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. An odd choice for a concert you might say, especially since there are many fine recital halls on campus. But we have here an extracurricular recital, one organized noit by the Faculty of Music but by students from the Division of Medical Sciences.

What do we mean by extracurricular and why is that so important you may ask… Dare I say, it makes absolute sense that elite scholars partake in music, as there is such a synergy between music and academic achievement. Neuroscience suggests that brains may be primed to distinguish meaningful sensory information from noise. This ability seems to enhance other cognitive abilities such as learning, language, memory and neuroplasticity of various brain areas.

Our performers are an ecclectic assemblage of musicians and scientists - pianist Irene Chen holds degrees in biochemistry and music, and has pursued a Master’s Degree in piano performance as well as studies in German! Violist Miriam Osterfield has a Ph. D. in Biological Sciences and is on faculty at the University of Texas Southwestern. and violinist Allegra Petti is a research fellow at the McDonnell Genome Institute. Cellist Jonathan Min (who I believe graduated in dentistry) wrote the liner notes for a CD that recorded the 2004 recital for posterity.

Two works on the program are by Ravel and Dvořák. Although Ravel’s piano trio of 1914 tends to be overshadowed by his other major piece of chamber music (his string quartet in F major), it nonetheless has found its place in the piano trio repertoire, and represents Ravel’s mastery of technique and texture, as well as his skill at creating a truly French sound. Along with the Piano Quintet in A major, and the Dumky Piano Trio, Op. 90, Dvořák’s E-flat major piano quartet is considered to be one of his finest works of chamber music. Dvořák was a master at creating tension between the dramatic and the playful, at combining grandiose thematic material with a highly intimate sense of nostalgia. We can hear all of these relationships at their best in this second piano quartet.

You may find better performances; these are not elite musicians, but what they may lack in refined technique they more than make up for with enthusiasm and dedication. I think this is worth taking in…

Happy listening

Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Trio, en la mineur, pour piano, violon et violoncelle [MR 67]

Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841 - 1904)
Piano Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 87 [B 162]

Allegra Petti, violin
Jonathan Min, cello
Irene Chen, piano
Miriam Osterfield, viola (Dvořák)
Recorded in concert, Vanderbilt Hall, Harvard University
June 20, 2004

Internet Archive URL -