Chamber group finds ‘Middle Ground’

Concerts highlighting virtues of ‘middle register’ music features violist John Graham


Violist John Graham is a featured musician for the “Middle Ground” concerts planned by the Taos Chamber Music Group (TCMG) this weekend.

Graham has traveled throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan as a soloist, chamber music ensemble member and teacher. In addition to Graham, performers for the concerts are Jacqueline Zander-Wall (mezzo-soprano), Nancy Laupheimer (flute) and Debra Ayers (piano). “Middle Ground” explores music written for the middle register.

“Middle Ground” will be performed Saturday and Sunday (March 4-5), 5:30 p.m., in the Arthur Bell Auditorium at the Harwood Museum of Art, 238 Ledoux St.

TCMG Executive Director Nancy Laupheimer said the program began as a way to spotlight Graham, “who has had such an illustrious career as a violist.” She said its title is in reference to a technical aspect of the music. “Both mezzo-soprano and alto flute use middle registers as well as the viola,” she said. “All tend toward a bit darker sound than the brighter, higher-register instruments and voice.”

She said she “also liked the reference of middle ground to describe musicians meeting to explore and share a variety of different musical styles through chamber music, in which connections between people/artists (some of them new to each other) are made quickly, deeply and often without words.”

The program features Johannes Brahms’ “Two Songs, Op. 91, Gestillte Sehnsucht and Geistliches Wiegenlied” for mezzo-soprano, viola and piano; Leonard Bernstein’s songs from “Candide,” arranged for viola and piano; Charles Loeffler’s “Quatre Poems” for mezzo-soprano, viola and piano; Belinda Reynold’s “Share” for alto flute and piano; Missy Mazzoli’s “Tooth & Nail” for amplified viola and prerecorded electronics; and Maurice Durufle’s “Prélude, récitatif et variations” for flute, viola and piano.

“This varied program contains soaring lyricism, soul-searching poetry, historical drama, Uzbekistan folk music, electronics and a sacred lullaby – so many aspects of expression brought together by musicians finding common ground through music,” Laupheimer said.

Graham first played in Taos this summer for TCMG’s “Contributor’s Thank You Concert.” He will be performing in all but one of the pieces for “Middle Ground,” his debut on TCMG’s regular series.

As stated in Graham’s biography (, he was a principal violist of the American Symphony under Leopold Stokowski and in chamber orchestra with Pablo Casals when he was based in New York from 1962-89. For 19 years, he taught at the Eastman School of Music, where he is now professor emeritus of viola. Graham was a longtime member of the artist faculty of the Aspen Music Festival and School.

He was also concerto soloist with the Radio Orchestra of Berlin and the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra in Germany; the Hilversun Radio Orchestra in Holland; the Orchestre Colonne in Paris, France; and the Central Philharmonic Orchestra –Beijing in China. As a guest artist, Graham has appeared with the American, Guarneri, Juilliard, Mendelssohn, Tokyo and Ying quartets. His recordings include a solo four-CD series titled “Music for the Viola,” as well as contemporary and conventional ensemble repertoire. For the past five years, Graham has lived in Abiquiú.

Graham said after he visited the Harwood’s Arthur Bell Auditorium, he “thought it would be an ideal place in which to perform.” He also heard about TCMG from colleagues and good friends in the American String Quartet.

“They had spoken highly of Nancy [Laupheimer] as a musician and of her adventuresome programming for the series,” Graham said, adding that he is “honored to have this opportunity to join into the legacy of the TCMG.”

Graham described that what he loves about the viola’s range in the middle register is its unique tonal qualities. “There are overlaps in the pitch range of the violin, viola and cello, but the construction of the three instruments gives to their similar sets of pitches a different tonal quality, ‘texture’ or ‘color.’ This was what first attracted me to the instrument and what will forever continue to intrigue me: exploring the very particular and beautiful ‘voice’ of the viola.”

According to a TCMG press release, Graham translated the words of the four poems used in Loeffler’s “Quatre Poems” for the performance. He said of Loeffler’s work, “His choice for this work of three poems by Verlaine and one by Baudelaire set for him a high bar and he surmounts it with ease. When set to music, poetry is given another translation in terms of imagination, and I feel that Loeffler got right to the center of each of these great pieces of poetry.”

Mezzo-soprano Zander-Wall will also be making her debut appearance with TCMG. “I am so looking forward to coming to Taos to sing ... Loeffler and Brahms with Debra Ayers and John Graham. It is such a delight to work with them both, such sensitive and appreciative artists,” she said.

Zander-Wall said she met Ayers through the Vocal Artistry Art Song Festival, which she founded for New Mexico singers in 2008. Zander-Wall has previously sung the Brahms piece she will perform for “Middle Ground” both at the Aspen Music Festival and at New York’s Skaneateles Music Festival. “Brahms is very dear to me,” Zander-Wall said. “I went to Hamburg to study Brahms through a Rotary scholarship and stayed as a singer for seven years.”

Tickets to “Middle Ground” are $25, $12 for students. They are available at or at the Harwood Museum, where discounts for museum members are available. Ticket holders can also receive dinner discounts after the performances from area restaurants; check the website for venues. More information is available at or by calling (575) 758-9826.


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