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THE CRITICAL EAR.

Byline: CRAIG SMITH

Boston bird brings new feathers for New Mexico's cap

Pianist Debra Ayers and I first met at the Blossom Music school, associated with the Cleveland Orchestra's summer festival, at Kent State University in the early '80s. I was a tenor in the vocal chamber ensemble that summer; she was one of several young accompanists working with participants in the opera and vocal recital programs. It was a taxing and sometimes wild period, for we bounced from rehearsals to performances to repertoire sessions with visiting luminaries, and back again.

I remember a coaching session we had on Liszt songs with the superb pianist Martin Katz. At the end of the fairy-tale saga "Die Lorelei," I took the ending that called for a long, soft, high G rather than the safer G an octave lower. As I spun the note out, Deb played the final slow chords with delicate deliberation and great feeling. We released the note at the same moment. We waited expectantly. And Marty spoke up in his inimitable way. He said to Deb, "Hey, what are you doing?" -- or words to that effect. "Don't leave him flapping up there all by himself for so long. Do you want to kill him?" And we both cracked up.

Ayers' path and mine have continued to cross in the years since. She has worked as a pianist and chamber musician around the country -- I heard her play Ravel's Sonatine in 2001, quite well, for Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. She has held administrative positions with organizations ranging from the Aspen Music Festival and School and the Crested Butte Music Festival in Colorado, to the American Youth Symphony in Los Angeles. In addition, she was director and artist in residence for the Colorado Mountain College system's Center for Excellence in the Arts for four years, before moving to Boston around 2003.

It was a pleasure to learn that Ayers performs on Serenata of

Santa Fe's "Autumn's Prelude" concert, the opening event of the group's 2008-2009 season. It's set for 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 14,

in Serenata's performing home, the Santuario de Guadalupe,

100 S. Guadalupe St.

The repertoire is Joan Tower's 1989 Island Prelude, in the version for oboe and string quartet; Carl Nielsen's 1881 Fantasy Piece for clarinet and piano; Nielsen's 1914 Serenata in Vano for clarinet, bassoon, French horn, cello, and double bass; and John Harbison's 1981 Piano Quintet. Besides Ayers, Serenata founder and oboist Pamela Epple is bringing together clarinetist Keith Lemmons, bassoonist Stefanie Przybylska, hornist Peter Ulffers, violinists Ikuko Kanda and Elena Sopoci, violist Cherokee Randolph, cellist Dana Winograd, and double bassist Aaro Heinonen.

"I love John Harbison's music," Ayers said by phone during a rehearsal break. "He's not only from Boston, he's also from Wisconsin, as I am. The music festival John runs is only 20 miles from where my family lives. We've always had that connection, so it's nice to be able to play this piece here."

Commissioned by the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and first premiered here, the Quintet is a demanding yet lyric work. Ayers spoke of one of her favorite points, in the last movement, during which a passage like a bird call appears in the piano part. "In the score, he makes a reference as to how this is a very personal thing.

He says it has to do with the circumstances of his own life -- how

his father would call the family to dinner with it when he was a kid.

I thought, Is it some sort of homage beyond that?"

As it turns out, it is. Ayers recently heard from Harbison's assistant, who explained that the Quintet was written while the composer's sister was dying of cancer. So the bird-whistle theme is both a homage and a memorial tribute.

Ayers and her husband are preparing to move here full time, and she's thrilled. She's especially glad to be coming into a community with a strong music-performance tradition, and she hopes it will help ease withdrawal symptoms from Boston's busy, bustling scene.

"I spent a good part of the summer here and went to hear a lot of concerts. It was fantastic," she said. "A lot of friends who have been playing music here, like the violist Marlow Fisher, said 'you must contact Pamela Epple; you must get in touch with [harpsichordist] Kathy McIntosh.' I love working with Serenata."

Ayers performs with Taos Chamber Music Group in November, in between school concerts and tours in Colorado and performances

in Boston, and she looks forward to taking part in New Mexico musical life. Certainly there's always room and need here for an artist of such quality.

"My husband is a photographer and painter getting ready to retire from the investment-management business," she said. "We love it here, and the cultural community is wonderful here. I will go back and forth a great deal still, because of my ensemble in Boston -- the Montage Music Society. It's a very important group to me, and we have a recording coming out next year. And I travel a lot, as all of us musicians do."

Concert tickets at the door are $20, $15 for seniors 65 and over, and $5 for students with I.D. Tickets for children under 12 accompanied by an adult are $1. Call 989-7988 for information.

When Jupiter aligns with Mars

It's that time of fall again, when presenting groups around the area start putting on the Ritz. The Jupiter String Quartet opens the Los Alamos Concert Association's 2008-2009 season at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 14, in Duane Smith Auditorium, 1300 Diamond Drive in Los Alamos.

Founded in 2001, the Jupiter -- violinists Nelson Lee and Meg Freivogel, violist Liz Freivogel, and cellist Daniel McDonough -- is something of a family affair. Liz is Meg's older sister, and McDonough is Meg's husband. According to the quartet's Web site, the members chose the name Jupiter because "Jupiter was the most prominent planet in the night sky at the time of its formation, and the astrological symbol for Jupiter resembles the number four." Considering how odd some ensemble names are, that's as reasonable a way as any to choose.

The quartet enjoys a flourishing touring career and has won many prizes, including a $25,000 Avery Fisher Career Grant this year, a 2007 Cleveland Quartet Award from Chamber Music America, and grand prize in the 2004 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition. During the 2007-2008 season, the musicians began a three-year residency with Lincoln Center's Chamber Music Society Two.

In Los Alamos, the Jupiter plays Haydn's F Major quartet, op. 77, no. 2; Shostakovich's Quartet No. 7 in F-sharp minor, op. 108; Sofia Gubaidulina's Quartet No. 2; and Beethoven's F Major quartet, op. 135.

Tickets are $35 for adults and $30 for seniors; children 5 to 18 may attend at no charge but need a ticket. Tickets are available at the door or at Nicholas Potter Bookseller, 211 E. Palace Ave. in Santa Fe. For information, call 662-9000 or visit losalamosconcert.org. <

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Title Annotation:Pasatiempo
Publication:The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, NM)
Date:Sep 12, 2008
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