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Violinist Harumi Rhodes’ First Visit to Norfolk

July 25, 2017

By Janet Reynolds

Harumi Rhodes on Performing at Norfolk Chamber Music Festival

This summer may mark violinist Harumi Rhodes’ first visit to Norfolk, but in another way it’s a return to her past. She and Norfolk Chamber Music Festival Director Melvin Chen are close friends, who have played together in chamber music ensembles before.

The music Rhodes will be performing is a return to the familiar as well. In her first performance, the August 4th concert devoted to Dvořák in America, Rhodes will be playing in Dvořák’s Viola Quintet, a piece she calls “one of the most fun pieces to play.” The String Quartet in E-flat Major, sometimes called the “American” String Quintet, was written while Dvořák was living in Iowa and reflects the native influences Dvořák was hearing at the time. “It’s a piece of all kinds of flavors,” Rhodes says. “There are Native American and African American spiritual folk songs embedded, a combination of voices.” The extra viola, meanwhile, “adds a beautiful richness to the texture.”

Also on that program is Ives’ Trio for Vioin, Cello and Piano. “That’s one of my all-time favorite works,” Rhodes says. Interestingly, Ives studied at the Yale School of Music under Horatio Parker, who also served on the faculty at the National Conservatory when Dvořák was the Director. “It’s ferociously difficult,” she says, noting that the title of the second movement is TSIAJ, which stands for “this scherzo is a joke.” Rhodes says Ives is poking fun at the word scherzo itself as well as how it was used in trios in general. “The movement is wacky,” she says. “It’s one of the more forward-looking compositions I’ve ever played, and that includes the pieces I’m commissioning these days. It has a whole explosion of American folk tunes, all piled on one after the other in a chaotic way. It all happens as if you’re being bombarded with this music from all different angles. It’s pretty chaotic but very effective.”

Rhodes will also be among the players at the gala performance on August 5, acting as lead violinist in Dvořák’s  large ensemble work, Serenade in E Major for Strings. “It’s a beautiful piece,” she says, “written when everything was going well. He wasn’t in debt yet. His music reflects that pleasurable love for life.” Rhodes is looking forward to playing with a larger group for that piece, which will include other Faculty and the Fellows of the Festival. “It’s a great way to play intimately and softly together and also can sound like large symphony orchestra,” she says. “It’s a good piece to explore that range.”

Fellows and Faculty playing side-by-side is a feature not found at many other music festivals, and it’s another reason Rhodes, who performs at many summer festivals, wanted to come to Norfolk. “When I was a student at the Marlboro Music Festival, it was all a mix of Faculty and students in performance,” she says. “I learned the most the times I was able to play along side my mentors.”

Today Rhodes divides her time between teaching — she just finished her second year at the University of Colorado at Boulder — and performing. “My teaching is more informed because of my performance,” she says. “My performance is better because I am constantly analyzing and bettering myself.”

Among her many performances, Rhodes is a violinist with the Boston Chamber Music Society and Music from Copland House, the latter an organization devoted to performing new music. The foundation awards residencies to young composers whose works are then performed by the musicians. Championing new music, by promoting young composers and young musicians, Rhodes says, “is a big part of my identity.”

Janet Reynolds is a writer, editor and content strategist living in Connecticut. She’s a lifelong cellist and viola da gamba player, and has played in the Farmington Valley Symphony Orchestra for 36 years.