Rising star

TCMG spotlights young violinist Phoenix Avalon in 'Play it Forward' concerts

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Each year, as part of its seasonal programming, the Taos Chamber Music Group highlights a young musician or musicians.

This year, "Play it Forward" features 17-year-old Santa Fe violinist Phoenix Avalon.

For the past three years, Avalon has lived in Cleveland, Ohio to attend the Cleveland Institute of Music Young Artist Program with Jaime Laredo. Avalon is and has always been home-schooled.

He graduates this spring and plans to attend the prestigious Juilliard School of Music starting this fall for which he has a full four-year scholarship to study with Itzhak Perlman and Li Lin.

Phoenix Avalon performs in the TCMG's "Play it Forward" concerts Saturday and Sunday (April 14-15), 5:30 p.m. both days, at the Harwood Museum of Art, 238 Ledoux Street.

For the program, Avalon will play the solo violin "Sarabande" from J.S. Bach's D minor "Partita," and be joined by TCMG members Debra Ayers (piano), Sally Guenther (cello) and Nancy Laupheimer (flute) in works by Johannes Brahms (Violin Sonata No. 1), Astor Piazzolla ("Four Seasons of Buenos Aires" for piano trio) and the young Russian composer, Alexey Kurbatov ("Quartet" for flute, violin, cello and piano).

Born in 1983, Russian composer Alexey Kurbatov wrote his first piece at 5 years old, followed by a ballet at age 6, according to TCMG Director and flutist Nancy Laupheimer. He gave his first concert as a composer in the Organ Hall of the Glinka Musical Culture Museum when he was 11. Also an accomplished pianist, Kurbatov graduated from the Moscow Conservatory and has performed around the world.

He has written six symphonies, an opera, a dozen symphonic poems, many chamber and vocal pieces and music scores for film and theater. His passionate "Quartet" for flute, violin, cello and piano was written in 2013, and since its Moscow premiere, it has been performed in Australia, Germany, Holland, Canada, Latvia, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, the United States, Turkey, France, Switzerland, South Africa, South Korea and Japan.

"To be able to encourage young artists to be part of this music making that we so cherish is not only a great treat for us and our audiences, but it provides professional opportunities for young players and composers," Laupheimer said. "We are especially grateful to the sponsorship of Nina's Fund, which was established in memory of Nina Nilssen, a very talented young Taos composer and musician."

Nina's Fund's mission is to empower individuals through charitable giving in the areas of the arts, humanitarian and social justice efforts, as well as projects that address violence against women, according to its website at ninasfund.org/about.

Although young, Avalon has had many notable musical achievements. He made his debut with the Cleveland Pops Orchestra in January 2017 as winner of the Jean L. Petitt Memorial Scholarship Competition. In February 2017, he performed with the Arapahoe Philharmonic, and in March 2017 he placed third at the Triennial Johansen International Competition.

Last September, Avalon was featured in a "TedxAbq" talk. Next month, Avalon's Cleveland Institute of Music string quartet will perform in the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition. Avalon will also play the Brahms "Violin Concerto" with the Boulder Symphony this May.

"Every year since I was 11 I have performed a full concerto with the Boulder Symphony," said Avalon in an email interview with Tempo. "Performing a concerto with orchestra is an exhilarating experience and going through all the preparation necessary and then being able to perform it as it was intended to be played is incredibly rewarding."

Avalon has recently returned to New Mexico from Tel Aviv following his participation in the Perlman Music Program, which he has also attended in the summer in New York.

"Last summer I was accepted and attended the Perlman Music Program on Shelter Island. PMP is a seven-week summer music program consisting of about 30 violin, viola, cello, and bass students. It offers private lessons, chamber music and orchestra, all directed by Itzhak and Toby Perlman, as well as many other Juilliard faculty.

"In addition to the summer program, PMP has a winter residency in Sarasota, Florida and a spring residency in Tel Aviv, Israel, both of which I attended this year. PMP offers lifetime mentorship and community, and I'm thrilled to be going back to Shelter Island again this summer!"

Avalon has performed on national radio shows "Performance Today" and "From the Top." As a soloist, he has played with the New Mexico Philharmonic, the Boulder Symphony, Performance Santa Fe and at Meadowmount School of Music public concerts in upstate New York. In ensemble, he has performed with Serenata of Santa Fe.

Among his many awards, Avalon is a five-time recipient of the Performance Santa Fe Davis Award, a five-year recipient of Starling Foundation grants for study at the Meadowmount School of Music and the recipient of a Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship.

"I first wanted to play the violin when I was one and a half years old," Avalon said.

"My parents took me to a Haydn-in-the-Park concert where they provided fractional [size] instruments for children in the audience to try out. After the performance, I immediately went over to the table with the violins and told my parents 'I love the liolin' (I couldn't pronounce V's yet) and asked if I could learn it. Since the earliest you can start learning the violin is three, my parents promised that if I still wanted to play when I was three they would get me lessons. Of course, I don't really remember this because I was only one and a half, but ever since then, the violin has been my life, and I have never thought about spending my life doing anything other than playing the violin."

Avalon's love of Bach will be on display in the "Sarabande" from the "D minor Partita for solo violin," which will open the second half of the concerts, Laupheimer states in a press release. In sharp stylistic contrast will be the fiery finale, Argentine tango composer Astor Piazzolla's "Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas."

The title, which translates "Four Seasons of Buenos Aires," calls to mind Vivaldi's iconic concertos, the "Four Seasons." Nevertheless, the movements of Piazzolla's piece were not initially conceived of as a suite.

"Spring" was composed in 1965; "Autumn" in 1969; and "Summer" and "Winter" in 1970. They were originally scored for Piazzolla's group of violin (viola), piano, electric guitar, double bass and bandoneon (a type of accordion that was the principal instrument of the tango). The piano trio version is by José Bragato, a cellist who often performed with Piazzolla.

Tickets are $25 for adults, $12 for students, available in advance at taoschambermusicgroup.org, at the Harwood Museum or (575) 758-9826. There is a discount for museum members, and to concert goers after the performances at Doc Martin's, Martyrs, the Gorge Bar & Grill and Lambert's restaurants.

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