Fête musicale showcases talents of music department faculty

Three faculty members sit on a stage performing a musical piece with various wind instruments.
On Sep. 18, Pomona faculty in the music department performed in Little Bridges at annual Fête musicale. (Emma Jensen • The Student Life)

Pomona College’s Fête Musicale, a chamber recital starring the Pomona Music Department faculty, featured five instrumental numbers and was quite a sound to be heard.

 The concert took place Sept. 18 in the Little Bridges Hall of Music, and the musicians played a variety of solo and group pieces. 

Harpist Alison Bjorkedal, who performed the piece “Quartet” alongside three of her colleagues, decided to participate in the concert because of her positive experience last year.

“I was approached by a colleague about a piece that we’re playing, and I participated in a similar recital last year here at Pomona and really enjoyed myself, so it seemed like a wonderful opportunity to have a great piece of music and get to interact here at Pomona again,” Bjorkedal said. 

Like Bjorkedal, cellist Maggie Parkins, who is featured in the same group piece, has played in previous recitals at Pomona. She said that performing in these concerts is a “wonderful opportunity.” 

“Little Bridges is considered one of the most beautiful halls in Los Angeles, actually, and it’s right here on our doorstep,” she said, “and it’s a nice opportunity to get to play, so I [try] to participate in [them].” 

The recital, which was free to the public, showcased the work of lesser-known musicians Edgar Varése, Florent Schmitt, Olivier Messiaen and Henry Cowell. The concert also served to debut Castillo’s original piece called “Emergence — The Art of Joan Elardo,” which takes inspiration from the visual artistic pieces of Joan Elardo, a retired oboist. 

Parkins chose the group piece, which also featured flutist Rachel Rudich and oboe player Francisco Castillo, because of its “unusual” nature. 

“It’s a really cool piece,” Parkins said. “I think we’re all enjoying it. It’s always nice to find an unknown gem to include in a concert, and it’s also this composer, Henry Cowell, for the piece that we’re playing. He was self-taught, and his pieces are usually very atonal and involve a kind of a lot of weird techniques or under-represented techniques, like tone clusters and various ways of handling the piano in a different way.” 

Parkins’ choice of song was further influenced by her desire to work alongside faculty who she had not previously collaborated with in the past. 

“I put the group together because Allison just joined the faculty recently, and I really enjoy her …  and I was looking for a piece that involved cello and harp, so I was doing some research and happened upon this piece,” Parkins said. “I also hadn’t played very much with Rachel and Francisco, so I just thought it would be a nice opportunity for us to all join forces.”

Pianist Gayle Blankenburg also chose one of her pieces, “Le Merle Noir,” based on her desire to perform with her partner Rudich.

“We’ve got a lot of musical projects together before, so when the department started organizing this, we instantly contacted each other and said, ‘We should do a 20th-century French group,’” she said. 

As a pianist, Blankenburg had to spend time figuring out her hand placements when practicing for both her solo piece “Mauresque” and her group piece. 

“We don’t have to worry about intonation issues, for example, that flute players have to worry about, but a large part of pianists practicing is actually just being able to execute what’s printed on the page,” Blankenburg said. “Then once you can do that, you have to dig a little deeper into the artistic side of things and figure out what you can bring to the piece in an emotional way — that takes a lot of thought and a lot of trying things.” 

Parkins’ preparation process looked a little different because of how much it focused on working with her fellow musicians. 

“There’s our individual preparation, so we had to get the music, we had to prepare the music and, then, we each have to deal with getting our own parts ready, so that takes some time, and then we got together once to read through it because none of us knew the piece,” she said. 

“We’re all really excited about the music that’s on in this program. I think, probably, most audience members will not have ever heard most of this music before, and so it’s fun to present something to the audience that they haven’t heard, that they don’t know about.”

Gayle Blankenburg

According to Parkins, the purpose of the Fête Musicale was to “showcase all of the amazing talent we have on campus.” Blankenburg agrees and thinks the concert’s intent was to “share the art with the audience,” as well as to introduce them to pieces they were unfamiliar with. 

While the music department has been putting on similar recitals for ten years at Pomona, this was the second year where it was called a Fête Musicale, or a festival of music. The name signified the return to music after the pandemic, which had previously halted such performances. 

“We’re all really excited about the music that’s on in this program,” Blankenburg said. “I think, probably, most audience members will not have ever heard most of this music before, and so it’s fun to present something to the audience that they haven’t heard, that they don’t know about.” 

To Bjorkedal, though, the most important part of the concert is that it allowed for faculty to collaborate and for students to see their teachers on stage. 

“We don’t have a chance [or] many opportunities to collaborate or bump into each other in the halls, so it’s a nice opportunity for us to work together when some people … have different teaching days [and] I don’t see them for the whole year,” Bjorkedal said. “It’s an opportunity for the students that are studying with me to actually get to see me live, the other half of my life, which is performing instead of teaching.” 

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