One of Schenectady Symphony Orchestra music director Charles Schneider’s favorite things is to spotlight local talent. For Sunday’s SSO concert, he invited the Parnas sisters — violinist Madalyn and cellist Cicely — to return as the featured soloists.
“It’s important to foster the careers of these super talents,” Schneider said. “And now they are such mature players. It’s hard to get them to be available on the same weekend because they’re so busy. They’re all over the place.”
The sisters first performed with the SSO when they were barely into their teens, and last during the 2010 season. They are now in their early 20s. Madalyn is working on her doctorate at Indiana University and making solo appearances, and Cicely, who won the 2012 Young Concert Artists International Auditions, is busy concertizing.
While Cicely was traveling these past two years to Mexico and around the United States with her cello, it has been a balancing act for Madalyn.
“I was hardly in Bloomington [Indiana] this fall because of concertizing,” she said.
“Most of the travel has been as a duo [with Cicely] to China, San Francisco, New York City. I had to take time to catch up on courses. Then I’ll be giving a recital at the Kennedy Center in February and in April I’ll be in London with the London Philharmonic and I’ve set up some solo recitals there. It’s been a flow over the years, but this fall was beastly because I was used to an out-of-school lifestyle because I’d taken a year off from school. I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights studying.”
Schenectady Symphony Orchestra
With: Madalyn and Cicely Parnas
WHEN: 3 p.m., Sunday
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
HOW MUCH: $20, $12; free for children 18 and under
MORE INFO: 346-6204; www.proctors.org
Although she has a booking agent, Parnas also prefers to take on the additional task of doing all her own promotion: writing letters, marketing and dealing with the media.
“It’s massive, it’s crazy,” she said laughing. “I’m very protective of what goes out. I like that level of control. But it’s very hard. It requires a ruthless approach to scheduling.”
Which brings her back to how grateful she’ll be when her studies are over.
“I feel like I’ve been a student forever,” she said. “But I’ve loved all the community, the professors and the opportunities to play. I’ve really enjoyed school.”
Because both the sisters attended Indiana University around the same time and received their artist diplomas, they were able to continue to develop their musical partnership, which is known as Duo Parnas.
That’s something Schneider also will feature. Madalyn will perform the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto; Cicely will perform Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1. As the Duo Parnas, they will play Miklos Rosza’s Sinfonia Concertante, Op. 29.
The concert will be a debut of sorts. For both sisters, it will be the first time they’ve performed their concertos in a professional situation, and the first time ever performing the Rosza.
“I played the Mendelssohn when I was 15, and we grew up listening to the Heifetz/Piatigorsky recording of the Rosza,” Madalyn said. “It’s been in our ears for a very long time and it’s one of the last remaining duos we haven’t done.”
Cicely played the Shostakovich, which is considered one of the most difficult concertos both technically and emotionally in the repertoire, on a recital with piano.
I must build stamina,” she said. “On my recital, I lost control of my bow at the end of the piece. I broke down and cried after. It was such a huge effort physically and emotionally. It’s obstacle after obstacle. You need a huge amount of strength.”
To get prepared, Cicely said, she started a new etude regimen to repeat passages multiple times until she gets it right to ingrain the music in her memory.
“It’s an insanity,” she said, adding that memorizing her part will make performing it easier.
While Cicely is working through an “incredibly difficult, gnarly, very chromatic part with double stops and skips,” Schneider will be dealing with an orchestra that has never played the piece.
“It’s a wonderful piece with great themes and a wonderful orchestration,” he said. “But the Mendelssohn will be trickier. It’s very fragile and open. Everything must be clean. And the string parts are hard. It will all depend on how fast Madalyn will play it.”
The Rosza will almost be a walk in the park by comparison.
“It’s folksy with a Czech feel,” Madalyn said. “It’s romantic with some dissonance and interesting parts.”
Also on the program is Smetana’s “Three Dances From the Bartered Bride,” which Schneider said the orchestra has often done but not in a long time, and will pull the program together nicely.
He also reported that in addition to being music director of the SSO and the Catskill Symphony in Oneonta, he is now director of a new orchestra in Clinton, New York, which had its first concert on Dec. 14. Many of the musicians come from the SSO.
“There’s a real audience here who support classical music,” Schneider said. “There’s a fabulous auditorium and a wonderful Steinway. And the Catskill Symphony got a National Endowment for the Arts grant to do five concerts.”
As for the SSO, Schneider said he is hopeful that it will continue to hold its own with its variety of fundraising efforts.