The Fête musicale showcases the talents of the faculty of music

On September 18, Pomona faculty in the music department performed at Little Bridges at the annual Fête musicale. (Emma Jensen • Student Life)

Pomona College’s Fête Musicale, a chamber recital featuring Pomona College’s music faculty, featured five instrumental numbers and was quite a pleasant sound to listen to.

The concert took place on September 18 in the Small Bridges Music Hall, and the musicians performed various solo and group pieces.

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

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

Like Bjorkedal, cellist Maggie Parkins, who is in the same group, has played in previous Pomona recitals. She said participating in these concerts was a “wonderful opportunity.”

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

The recital, which was free to the public, featured the work of lesser-known musicians Edgar Varèse, Florent Schmidt, Olivier Messiaen and Henry Cowell. The concert also served as the debut of Castillo’s original piece, Emergence — The Art of Joan Elardo, which draws inspiration from the visual artwork of retired oboist Joan Elardo.

Parkins chose the group piece, which also featured flautist 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 ourselves. 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 we’re playing. He was self-taught and his works are usually very atonal and involve quite strange techniques or underrepresented techniques, such as tone groups and different ways of handling the piano differently.’

Parkins’ song selection was further influenced by her desire to work alongside faculty with whom she had not collaborated in the past.

“I got the band together because Alison just joined the faculty recently and I really like her … and I was looking for a piece that included cello and harp, so I was doing some research and came across this piece,” Parkins said. “Also, I hadn’t played much with Rachel and Francisco, so I just thought it would be a good opportunity for all of us to join forces.”

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

“We’ve done a lot of musical projects together before, so when the department started organizing this, we immediately reached out to each other and said, ‘We have to do a 20th-century French band,'” she said.

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

“We don’t have to worry about intonation issues, for example, that flute players have to worry about, but a lot of practicing pianists can actually just do what’s printed on the page,” Blankenburg said. “Once you can do that, you have to dig a little bit 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 out.”

Parkins’ preparation process seemed a little different because of how much she 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 everyone has to deal with preparing their own parts, so that takes a while, and then we got together once to read through it , because none of us knew the piece,” she said.

“We are all very excited about the music that is in this program. I think probably most audience members have never heard most of this music before, and so it’s fun to introduce something to the audience that they haven’t heard, that they don’t know about.”

Gail Blankenburg

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

While the music department has given similar recitals for ten years at Pomona, this was the second year it was called the Fête Musicale, or 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 going into this program,” Blankenburg said. “I think probably most audience members have never heard most of this music before, and so it’s fun to introduce something to the audience that they haven’t heard, that they don’t know about.”

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

“We do not 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 a whole year,” said Bjorkedal. “It’s an opportunity for the students who study with me to actually see me live, the other half of my life, which is performing instead of teaching.”

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