The crowd will be cheering from afar when the performance of Chopin’s Four Ballades by Rebecca and Niamh Schmid goes live today on YouTube.
The pianists, who are both SUNY Schenectady Community College alumnae and are sisters-in-law, have been working for months to refine the ballades. A recorded version of their performance will premiere at 7:30 p.m. tonight as part of the college’s virtual Summer Music Series.
SUNY Schenectady’s School of Music was left scrambling to find ways to present live music during the pandemic.
“We had a lot of events planned for the spring. It was our 50th anniversary, so we had to put a lot of things off,” said Mark Evans, a professor and organizer of the series.
At the School of Music, performance-based classes shifted online, ushering in new challenges halfway through the spring semester. Yet with those new challenges came opportunities for audio students and even alumni to get involved, and what had started as a performance class turned into a weekly series as more students got on board.
“I was able to invite alumni and also some voice students. It was a great way to stay in touch,” Evans said.
Except for the scheduling, the virtual series is mainly student-driven. There are performers such as the Schmids, but there’s also Henry Zelenak, the audio engineer and SUNY Schenectady sophomore; and Areli Mendoza-Pannone, the videographer and a 2019 graduate.
“I think it’s a great experience for them. … Concerts are going to be a little bit cautious this year. So if they are going to perform, they need to figure out ways to reach an audience. So not even just the practicing, [it’s] the recording of it, which is very difficult,” Evans said
The virtual concert format is one Niamh Schmid had to adjust to earlier this spring. The pianist and 2020 SUNY Schenectady graduate recently performed her senior recital via YouTube, recording it in the empty Taylor Auditorium.
“For me, the recording was nice because it wasn’t as stressful. It did stink not to have any live audience there, but on the plus side when we aired it, it was nice to be able to sit back and enjoy it.”
However, during the recording process for the Summer Concert Series, there was a temptation to over-record. Chopin’s Four Ballades are particularly difficult works to perform: They’re long and technically challenging. Both Rebecca and Niamh had to learn one for their auditions for SUNY Purchase, where they’ll be studying music in the fall, so they decided they might as well learn the others.
“We have done concerts and events before, but this is, I think, the first project where we’ve got to sit down and tackle things together in that sense,” said Rebecca, who is a music theory tutor at the college.
“The fourth ballade, in particular, has been the most challenging piece I’ve ever taken on. First of all, it’s 11 minutes long and it’s kind of a kitchen-sink variety of techniques. It just has everything in there.”
She performed the third and fourth ballades, and Niamh performed the first two.
“The first one is more difficult all around. It’s longer, but the second one is very unique in its structure and that’s what made it tricky,” Niamh said. “The beginning is very soft and melodious, and it goes on like that for a minute or two, and then the change is extremely abrupt. It’s stormy, tumultuous and then all of a sudden it’ll change back.”
They’ve both been working on the pieces for several months and had planned to perform them in front of a live audience. However, for Niamh, recording comes with benefits.
“I feel it’s really important to adapt and I think it’s a good experience for every musician to have to be able to record like this as well because it’s a totally different experience. I, in some ways, prefer recording over live performances just because I get a little anxious before performances, but I think my sister-in-law is the exact opposite.”
“I struggle with it a little bit. There’s something about having a live audience that turns it from me just playing to me now conversing,” Rebecca said.
“There’s a sort of immersiveness to playing for an audience. Recording is really nice in that people who can’t make it out to the concert can share [it]. You get a much wider reception in that sense.”
“They are missing the live audience, yet, I think as a musician, the thing that keeps us going is looking ahead to the next performance. That’s what we practice for and so it’s not the best thing, but it’s the next-best thing. I think they’re going to really enjoy seeing themselves with their peers,” Evans said.
7:30 p.m. Thu. July 23
Pianists Rebecca Schmid and Niamh Schmid will perform Chopin’s Four Ballades. At 7:15 p.m. there will also be a brief Q&A session with Mark Evans and the musicians.
7:30 p.m. Thu. Aug. 7
Vocalist Robert Frazier, a 2019 SUNY Schenectady graduate and member of the Out of Time barbershop quartet, will perform songs by Schubert, Brahms, Vaughn-Williams and Debussy.
7:30 p.m. Thu. Aug. 14
Singer-songwriter Areli Mendoza-Pannone, a 2019 SUNY Schenectady graduate, will perform songs by Barber, Quilter, Chausson and Massenet.
7:30 p.m. Thu. Aug. 20
Current students at SUNY Schenectady School of Music will perform works by Chopin, Debussy and Gershwin.