By Emily Williams, For The Miami Student
The concert began in silence. Performing without a conductor, the eight musicians onstage took their places, situated their instruments, shared a slight nod and began in unison. By the end of the performance, the select octet grew to include musicians of many ages and abilities — Miami faculty, graduate students, undergrads and future Miamians.
These musicians are all a part of the Morpheus Chamber Ensemble, a collaborative group of Miami’s string faculty and students. They performed their fall program this Saturday at Hall Auditorium, the group’s first performance at the venue.
The introductory piece, featuring four faculty members and four hand-picked students, was a risky but worthwhile venture. It was the Allegro from the Quartet in D minor “Death and the Maiden” by Franz Schubert. Harvey Thurmer, associate professor of violin at Miami and a founding member of the Morpheus Ensemble, felt it went very well.
“It’s difficult to get even four people playing it together,” he said. “We got eight.”
Selecting a piece of that level of difficulty relates to one of Morpheus’s central goals — exposing students to great string quartet literature which they may not encounter in any other context.
According to Thurmer, by pushing the students to try such challenging material, the faculty members have the opportunity to really mentor their students in a more intensive way.
“They see us work; they see us solve problems that come up in a chamber ensemble, and we’re able to show them how we come to solutions and get them to think about the same ways of working,” he said.
For the second piece, the entire chamber ensemble of current students joined the group onstage. Amanda Simensky, a graduate music performance student who plays violin for Morpheus, was very satisfied with their performance, especially for having only four weeks to rehearse.
“It is always enjoyable to work with the string faculty here at Miami,” she noted.
Before the third and final selection, Thurmer addressed the audience for the first time, thanking them for their attendance, and invited their guests to the stage.
When the string faculty formed Morpheus about seven years ago, they intended for it to not only be a way for students and faculty to interact in a performance environment, but also a way to recruit prospective Miami students.
The high school students, recruited both locally and from out-of-state, ranged in age from freshmen to seniors and, in the past, have come from as far away as Costa Rica.
Having received the music ahead of time to prepare, the students arrived at Miami at 10 a.m. on Saturday, rehearsed their piece with the students and faculty, ate lunch together and took the stage in that very afternoon.
The piece they prepared was a series of five dances, a selection that differed greatly from either of the previous selections.
The string faculty likes to mix things up for Morpheus’s performances, providing diversity in both style and genre.
“We like to make it accessible and not too difficult but yet to really stretch the students,” Thurmer said.
During the fifth dance, two men could be seen simultaneously nodding along to its lively tempo.
At the end, all of the faculty members made a point to shake hands with and thank each of their guests for sharing the stage with them.
Matt Miller, a cellist in the ensemble, recalled his own experience with Morpheus as a high school student.
“I participated in it as a senior in high school, and it had a positive influence on my decision to come here,” he said.
Miller also noted the part Morpheus has played in his experience as a student at Miami, thanks to the extra time and effort put forth by the faculty members in order to make these performances possible.
“I think it is, by far, the best learning experience for string players here at Miami,” Miller said.