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Music workshop tied to strings Professionals share experience, expertise with talented students

While rock 'n' roll and all its offshoots may dominate the contemporary music scene, the chamber music of masters such as Mozart, Vivaldi, Mendelssohn and Borodin is far from dead.

About 40 talented college and area high school musicians proved that this week as they started making their strings sing better than ever at Niagara University, which has teamed up for the third straight year with several members of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra to run a weeklong BRAVO International Chamber Music Workshop.

The students expect to bump up their skills a step because they will be immersed in the study of chamber music. They are being coached by some of the best professionals the region has to offer, said Mary Handley, who helps BPO principal cellist Roman Mekinulov run the program.

The workshop began Monday with a lecture-recital featuring Mekinulov, and some of his colleagues: violist Valerie Heywood and violinists Ansgarius Aylward and Jacquie Galluzzo. It will end at 2 p.m. Sunday when the students put on a recital in the university's Dunleavy Hall amphitheater, which the public is invited to attend for a suggested $10 donation.

Participants are working in groups and being introduced to a broad spectrum of ideas, techniques and musical interpretations, Handley said.

"It really moves them all up to another level because they learn to interpret music for themselves," she said. "They each have to play an individual part, but sound as a group while performing. They have to learn how to get along with each other in practice sessions, share their ideas and thoughts."

One performance technique master class has included time with BPO Conductor JoAnn Falletta; another with the St. Petersburg Quartet from Russia. BPO and Toronto Symphony members have been involved in others.

The students are top string players in Western New York and beyond, Handley said.

"We have students here from Syracuse University, Boston University and other colleges," she said

The group includes cellist Samantha N. Slabyk, 17, who just graduated from Royalton-Hartland High School and will attend Roosevelt University's Chicago College of Performing Arts; and violinist Emelie Gidley, a 14-year-old Lockport resident who attends The Park School in Snyder.

Slabyk is in her third year attending Niagara's BRAVO programs. She said she opted to return because Mekinulov "has been my teacher for the past two years and persuaded me to come." She's been playing cello for nine years.

"I love chamber music because it lets you be a soloist without being a soloist," she said. "You are playing your part, but you're playing it with other people. It lets you have your point of view by including your individual ideas in the music, but you also work with other people and incorporate their ideas to come up with something good."

She said she hopes to earn a living by both teaching and performing when she's done with school.

Gidley attended the BRAVO workshops at Canisius College during the winter and opted to come back for more at Niagara "because I definitely got a lot out of it."

"It's a great experience to improve my playing by interacting with other musicians, and use their different points of view to come up with amazing results," she said. "It's amazing because there are so many great musicians to work with that are older and have more experience. They help me to improve just by example."


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