Multimedia journalism by Kelsey Higgins
Perhaps one of the best ways to describe pianist Omri Shimron, associate professor of music, is as a well maintained machine of technical mastery. His musical expression; however, is more suitably compared to that of a poet: subtle, yet deep and palpable.
Shimron brought his expertise to the stage on Thursday, Oct. 24 in Whitley Auditorium at Elon University.
Kirsten Swanson, adjunct viola professor at UNC Charlotte and Elon University joined him in their program “Strings, Jacks and Hammers.” She is a player of intense concentration accompanied by a relaxed stage presence, and her raw expression is without compare.
The two have known each other since studying at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y.
“I love playing chamber music with other musicians of similar tastes,” Shimron said.
As audience members filtered into their seats, the sounds of the harpsichord being tuned bouncing and clashing off the auditorium walls greeted them.
The keyboard had been tuned to the wrong key to accompany the viola, as said by Shimron, but the potential disaster was laughed off and the show began with a piece by J.S. Bach, which they performed on Baroque period instruments.
“Kirsten will play a Baroque viola and bow and I will be playing on the harpsichord, the instrument for which most of Bach’s works for keyboard were written,” Shimron said prior to the concert.
They moved together like well-seasoned dance partners; Shimron supporting her as she built a phrase, Swanson following his beat. They balanced with one another in just about every way.
“It seems as though we underestimated the amount of programs we needed,” Shimron said before playing the second piece.
While this was indicative of the good turnout for Swanson and Shimron, this posed a problem for some audience members who were left in the dark wondering what piece was coming up next. Thankfully, Shimron continued to introduce each piece throughout the evening.
When he stepped on stage solo, Shimron was proper, yet very relaxed. He was reserved, but the few moments where emotion did manifest itself on his face were honest and captivating.
His dynamic contrast and beautiful use of silence felt natural and projected the emotions from the music to the listener in a highly effective manner.
His seemingly flawless technique was quite evident even to the layman, but perhaps that’s because Shimron had to learn his way around the piano twice.
After receiving an injury caused by overuse in his right arm while an undergraduate student, Shimron, “began working with a new instructor who had caused [him] to completely rebuild [his] technique and [his] approach to the instrument from the ground up,” Shimron said.
“It has made me a better performer and a better teacher. In my piano teaching I stress the interactions between musical goals and physical means on a regular basis,” he said.
One of the standout pieces of the night, according to sophomore Curtis Hoffman, was Arvo Pärt’s “Spiegel im Spiegel.”
“It is hauntingly beautiful and simple yet elegant. It’s simple for what seems like ten minutes but kept my attention. It even repeats the same sections, but it’s still so endearing,” he said.
At face value, the simplicity of the piece’s broken chords on the piano and long held notes on the viola don’t seem to strike one as a piece to be remembered above all others; however, Swanson not only made every note important, but she also made every beat matter.
She was so fully engaged in making music that she moved slowly back and forth with the beat even when she wasn’t playing. Eventually, even with the expectation of another whole note, the anticipation for her next bow was unbearable. She was bewitching.
Jon Metzger, professor of music and artist-in-residence, said he enjoyed hearing the viola in the not-so-common role of soloist. He also commented on the pair saying, “they felt the music so well together. That was what struck me.”
Metzger noted that his favorite piece was the selections from Prokofiev’s ballet “Romeo and Juliet.”
“Notably, we’re ending the recital with Juliet’s Death scene. We consciously decided not to end with ‘Fireworks,’ as is customary, but to give the audience the true ending of this story, which is not a happy one,” Shimron said.
Although Shimron and Swanson ended with a sad tale, their performance left smiles on all those who exited Whitley on Thursday evening.