East-West Fusion

Music breaks down cultural barriers.                    
By Sara Friedman ’13

When Laura Kaminsky was researching musicians for the annual Wall to Wall festival in New York City, she came across a Russian orchestra led by an American with an interest in new music. The theme of the 12-hour festival was Wall to Wall Behind the Wall, looking at music from the rise of the Soviet Union to its fall. The orchestra she found was the St. Petersburg Chamber Philharmonic, under the artistic direction of Jeffery Meyer, assistant professor of music education and performance studies, and director of orchestras at Ithaca College.

Trained as a classical pianist, Meyer made the transition to conducting eight years ago. When a concert Meyer was supposed to conduct in Russia fell through, he decided to create a new opportunity for himself. In 2002, he cofounded the St. Petersburg Chamber Philharmonic, along with Yale graduate fellow and conductor Darrel Ang.

The style of the music in St. Petersburg had captured Meyer’s attention. Over the past 50 years, he says, much of the music of Western Europe and the United States has opened up stylistically, but not for St. Petersburg.

“[St. Petersburg] is a bit of an island culturally,” he says. “It’s somewhat isolated from the rest of the world, and there’s a real tradition of music that’s blossomed in a very particular way there. It gave us the idea of starting a chamber orchestra that would be dedicated not only to Mozart, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky, but also to young composers and the music of our time.”

Last May, Kaminsky invited the orchestra to travel to the United States to perform in the Wall to Wall Behind the Wall music festival at Symphony Space, a performing arts center on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. They played three concerts throughout the day. Composer Sergei Slominsky made the trip to hear his work.

 “It was the first time that Sergei had been in the United States,” Meyer says. “He was so happy with the performance that we’re going to bring [renowned American pianist] Gilbert Kalish to Russia in March of next year to play the same piece.”

For most of the members of the orchestra, it was also their first time in the United States. Meyer was pleased to see the cultural understanding that grew from the orchestra’s visit.

“We had about six days in New York,” he says. “We had rehearsals to do, of course, but that was only about four hours a day. The rest of the time they explored the city, and it was almost more gratifying than the concert for me to see these people eat up New York.”

Music performance student T.J. Borden ’11 has had the opportunity to work with Meyer all three years of his time at IC. Borden was selected in his sophomore year to perform with six faculty members and eight students of the St. Petersburg Chamber Philharmonic at the 20th International New Music Festival in St. Petersburg.

“One of the biggest things I learned is how to be a professional musician and a professional human being and to represent yourself well,” Borden says. “[Meyer] is prepared and on top of things, and he’s very musical without losing a certain structure to his technique. He helps all musicians realize that we need to strive for clarity in the music and learn how to convey the music when working with other musicians.”