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Artists-in-residence strike right chord at SSU

Friday, October 4th, 2013 | Posted by
Saeunn Thorsteinsdottir, left,  and Elizabeth Roe, applaud a students tuba performance at Weill Hall. They are artists in residence at SSU. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

Saeunn Thorsteinsdottir, left, and Elizabeth Roe, applaud a students tuba performance at Weill Hall. They are artists-in-residence at SSU. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

By NICK WALDEN / Rohnert Park Correspondent

When members of Trio Ariadne perform at Green Music Center on Friday, they’ll be sharing their talents with the public. But most of their time at Sonoma State University is spent on the other side of the stage.

As the school’s inaugural Weill Hall Artists-in-Residence, Elizabeth Joy Roe, Carol McGonnell and Saeunn Thorsteindottir are breaking trail, developing a program that teams working artists with undergraduate students.

Over the course of the school year, they will serve as mentors, coaches, teachers and role models, while also maintaining their own careers as working musicians. Their first public performance begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Weill Hall.

“We were drawn to the program because we wanted to play together, and it sounded like an exciting opportunity,” said McGonnell, a Dublin-born clarinetist who attended the University of Belfast. She is a founding member of the Argento Chamber Ensemble and now is a doctoral candidate and teaching assistant at Stony Brook University.

Roe is a pianist from Chicago whose solo debut was at the Lincoln Center. She now performs with fellow pianist Greg Anderson in the Anderson & Roe Piano Duo.

Roe and McGonnell met six years ago in a two-year fellowship at The Academy, a program of Carnegie Hall, The Juilliard School and the Weill Music Institute. They have performed together ever since.

Cellist Saeunn Thorsteindottir, a native of Iceland and the youngest of the group, also had a fellowship at The Academy and joined the trio in 2010. She is pursuing her doctorate at Stony Brook University while juggling two jobs — the SSU residency and chamber music coach at Mannes College, The New School university’s music conservatory on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

At SSU, the women are the first to benefit from a program made possible by Sandy Weill, a donor to both the Green Music Center andCarnegie Hall.

Elizabeth Roe conducts a student performance.

Elizabeth Roe conducts a student performance.

“It is so inspiring to have that level of accomplishment in our midst,” said Brian S. Wilson, chair of SSU’s Department of Music. “It’s infectious for our students and makes people want to get better.”

Funding for this year’s program comes from the Green Music Center’s donor funds, said Thaine Stearns, Dean of Arts and Humanities. Each artist receives a $50,000 salary with benefits, housing and $10,000 to use for travel or other needs.

During their year at SSU they are expected to work with students in a variety of ways. They offer free private lessons in piano, clarinet and cello, for instance, and in the classroom work much like teaching assistants. In the composition studies class, for example, they are helping students write music for Trio Ariadne to perform.

As mentors, they live in the freshman dorms, share insights about life as working artists and even hosted a barbecue for first year music students.

“We have ideas about things we want to accomplish, but there is also some flexibility because it is a pilot program,” said Roe. “It is a very nontraditional program.

“Because it is the first year, it is a privilege to help shape the program. It is like an adventure to see what works and what is worth exploring.”

SSU Artists in Residence Sæunn Thorsteinsdottir, Elizabeth Joy Roe, Carol McGonnell.(Photo courtesy of SSU)

SSU Artists-in-Residence Sæunn Thorsteinsdottir, Elizabeth Joy Roe, Carol McGonnell.(Photo courtesy of SSU)

The artists also are working musicians with hectic performance schedules and the freedom to pursue their own projects. Earlier in the semester Thorsteindottir spent time in New York playing with the Manhattan Piano Trio, and other members have upcoming engagements.

While based in Rohnert Park, Trio Ariadne also will visit Oakland School of the Arts and other area high schools, perform during the Holocaust Lecture Series and coordinate workshops with the Silk Road Ensemble.

For Friday’s concert, they will draw attention to music composed for for clarinet, cello and piano. They’ve chosen classics by Beethoven and Brahms along with the neo-romantic “Fantasy Trio” by Robert Muczynski.

The women also will perform individually rather than as a trio on Oct. 24 in Weill Hall with Sonoma Music Viva, Wilson’s collective.

“It will be a very busy year, but very exciting to be involved in so many projects and working outside traditional methods of instruction,” said Roe.

McGonnell said she enjoys the freedom to “explore the types of projects we are interested in, along with working with students and the staff at this wonderful new facility.

“It is such a beautiful place to play and work. Weill Hall is so unique, with the way you can open up the back to the lawn area.”

Each woman has had to adjust to California and dorm living.

“It is a different environment,” said Roe, who has spent most of her life on the East Coast, “but we (musicians) are sort of like gypsies and explorers.”

Dorm living also required an adjustment, with Roe deciding to brush up on her cooking skills after setting off the smoke alarm earlier in the week. One of her favorite aspects of the program is the beauty of the region.

“I was driving to Sonoma, and it was so enjoyable because of how gorgeous the countryside is,” she said.

McGonnell has an 11-month-old daughter and spends more time with her husband’s family in Sebastopol than in her dorm room. “I was very lucky to have them so close by,” she said, “which helped make this entire situation a possibility.”

Trio Ariadne, the Weill Artists-in-Residence at Sonoma State University will perform a special free concert at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Weill Hall, 1801 E. Cotati Ave. Elizabeth Joy Roe, Carol McGonnell and Saeeunn Thorsteindottir will perform works by Beethoven, Brahms and Muczynski.

Writer Spotlight

Nick Walden is our Rohnert Park + Cotati correspondent.
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