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  • Writer's pictureNewburgh Chamber Music

MASTERCLASS: Through Newburgh Chamber Music, Monroe-Woodbury student musicians get a lesson from a world class quartet

by Mary Anne McEnery

Photos by Brian Wolfe


The Monroe-Woodbury High School Chamber Orchestra has performed in some auspicious competitions, but their appearance at St. George’s Church in Newburgh last month was unique.

  The 28 honors musicians ­– violinists, violists and cellists -- took a master class with the Munich Philharmonic String Quartet, then performed the opening selection, from Benjamin Britten’s “Simple Symphony.” It served as a prelude to the quartet’s program, which featured composers spanning some 800 years, from the medieval St. Hildegarde von Bingen to Beethoven and Borodin.

     The audience, which filled the historic church on Newburgh’s east end, included many parents of the student musicians, as well as regular patrons of Newburgh Chamber Music, the concert’s sponsor, showed their approval with thunderous applause.

   In its 23 years of existence, NCM has brought the rich tradition of classical chamber music to Newburgh and the Hudson Valley. Many of its members are musicians and teachers, and support of music education is also part of its mission. Among its efforts is an instrument bank, which repairs donated instruments and returns them to music students in local schools.

   The February 9 master class and concert were spearheaded by Jeanne Fox, a member of NCM’s board of directors, who has also assumed a new role of educational liaison. It signifies a new level of outreach for the nonprofit.

    For the class, the young musicians were led through a rigorous rehearsal of their concert selection under the tutelage of the four masters from Munich: violinists Bernhard Metz and Clement Courtin, violist Konstantin Sellheim, and cellist Manuel Von der Nahmer. The sounds of so many strings filled every corner of the landmark church, from the kitchen to reception rooms.

   Jerry Haber, a Monroe-Woodbury cellist, was impressed with the class, and with the quartet.  “The Munich Philharmonic String Quartet blew me away with the beauty of their sound,” he said. “I especially enjoyed learning from Manuel Van der Nahmer with my fellow cellists."

  His mother, Debbie Haber, was equally enthusiastic. "I love that high school students were given the opportunity to learn and get feedback from world-renowned musicians.”

  Lauren Byrne, the orchestra’s director, said the masters immediately established a rapport with the student musicians.

   “The quartet helped the students finesse their piece for the performance, all the while [providing] a lot of invaluable information on technique and musicality,” she said.

   “The concert touched and inspired so many students,” she added. For some, it was their first classical concert.

   Fox, a cellist and Juilliard graduate who teaches and performs, said young people “understand that this music is part of our daily lives, our culture, and ours hared history on this planet. Breaking music down its basic elements of harmony and rhythm, suddenly the most complex music becomes an accessible puzzle that can be unlocked and appreciated by anyone.”

    The class and concert capped a whirlwind visit to New York for the quartet. They performed with the entire Munich Philharmonic at two concerts at Carnegie Hall, then headed for the Hudson Valley and a master class at The Mount Academy in Ulster County before arriving in Newburgh and St. George’s, where the ensemble has performed several times for NCM.

    Indeed, music education is a big part of the quartet’s work, said Van der Nahmer, the cellist. They have taught children in kindergarten and elementary schools, and tutored the Odeon Youth Orchestra, the partner orchestra of the Munich Philharmonic. Moreover, he said, the concert in Newburgh proved that “music has no borders.”

    For Fox, the concert showed that classical music does have an audience among younger generations.

    “One hears a lot about the ‘graying’ of the typical classical music audience, the lack of young people attending, the shrinking audience…,” she said. “With just this one event, I think we have proven that is not necessarily the case.”

  Carole Cowan, the president and co-founder of NCM, pronounced the concert a success. Many students may not have opportunities to hear professional string quartet concerts, while audience members may not be aware of the outstanding music programs in Hudson Valley schools.

    “I thought the concert was a wonderful experience for young and old alike,” she said. “The audience was very impressed with the student ensemble, and the quartet coaches loved working…with such talented students.”

   NCM, she added, “will be trying to find additional ways to connect or work with regional music ensembles.”

   Cowan, who is first violinist with the Hudson Valley Philharmonic, recalled the impact of early music education as she was growing up in Wichita, KS. Every school had an orchestra, and Wichita had two youth orchestras. It was a concert that her orchestra was invited to in Atlantic City that particularly inspired her.

   “I remember what a thrill it was to play pieces like the Brandenburg Concerti of Bach and the Russian Easter Overture of Rimsky-Korsakov…I saw how important and rewarding it was to be able to work together to produce a great performance that would please and excite an audience.”

   She added: “I think I was playing the Brahms Second Symphony when I suddenly was so moved by how gorgeous it was and realized how privileged I would be if I could become a professional musician!”  

The Monroe-Woodbury High School Chamber Orchestra


Tickets are available now for our next concert featuring

The American String Quartet

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