The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Q&A: Cellist daughter Ariana Karp returns to Madison and talks about playing with cellist father Parry Karp in this Monday’s FREE Labor Day concert the UW

September 2, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

This Monday night at 7:30 in Mills Hall, three generations of the Karp family will be performing in the FREE 35th annual Karp Family Labor Day Concert.

As often happens, guest performers will join family members for the concert that is generally the single best attended evenings of the UW Faculty Concert Series – and for good reason. In 35 years, the Karps and their guests have never repeated a piece. That is a huge repertoire for them to have played and for the audience to have heard.

This year’s participants include violinist Suzanne Beia; violist Katrin Talbot; cellists father Parry Karp and daughter Ariana Karp; clarinetist Linda Bartley; hornist Daniel Grabois, who will be making his debut public appearance as assistant professor of horn; and pianists Howard and Frances Karp.

The appealing and unusual but very accessible program consists of the following works: Cello duos by Sol Cohen (1891-1988); “Andante and Variations” for two pianos, two cellos and French horn by Robert Schumann; the Sonata No. 3 for violin and piano in D minor, Op. 108, by Johannes Brahms, as transcribed for cello and piano by Parry Karp; and the rarely heard Quintet in D major for piano, violin, viola, cello and clarinet, Op. 42 by Czech composer Zdenek Fibich (below, 1850-1900).

Ariana Karp is the youngest of the Karps to perform Monday night, and she recently returned to Madison after completing her undergraduate degree at Reed College in Oregon. She recently granted The Ear an e-mail interview:

Can you introduce yourself to readers and tell us briefly about growing up in Madison, beginning music lessons, your academic education, other interests and your future career plans?

I started playing the cello at the age of five (below, in a photo taken by her mother Katrin Talbot). It seemed to be the natural thing to do growing up in the house that I did. Subconsciously, music was for me the absolute center of growing up in the Karp-Talbot household. Though I think I have found my own alternative way to the stage, so to speak, in my interest in the theatre, I will never forget the well-worn family path that brought me here.

I took lessons in Madison for many years from Nancy Lesh, Carina Voly, and then Karl Lavine, and I played in the Youth Orchestra of WYSO and in school orchestras. I continued private studies at Reed College with John Hubbard.

This past spring I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Literature-Theatre at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. As to future career plans I would very much like to live a life in the theater, especially as an actor, but also as a director and dramaturge. (At Reed, below in the front row at right)

You come from an extremely accomplished musical family, with your grandfather and grandmother, your father and mother, an aunt and an uncle all being either professional or serious amateur musicians. What has been and will be the role of music in your life?

Music has always been a central part of my life. I think that one of my biggest realizations about music in my life came when I left home for college. Being removed from that constant atmosphere of music made me appreciate the uniqueness of that environment all the more and I found myself playing more than I had in years as my college years went on. I immediately started playing in the Reed College Orchestra and soon after started taking lessons again.

I then diverted from classical music a bit and played in a folk band that was formed by some college friends who really introduced me to the concept of improvisation in music (within certain parameters). The lead singer and guitarist in the band would give me the names of the chord progressions and then tell me to come up with something and add a what we called “cello diva moment” (instrumental solo) in specific parts of the song. We played shows all around Portland and recorded an album.

My last two years at Reed I felt inspired to begin playing difficult classical pieces in a smaller ensemble than orchestra and formed a piano trio/quartet with whom I played the Fauré first piano quartet, the Brahms piano trio, Astor Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons in Buenos Aires” piano trio, and the Shostakovich piano quintet.

Also, the past three years I have found ways of incorporating live music into theater productions. In Jean Anouilh’s “Antigone” (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) and in my thesis show, an original work by Jesse Van Buren, there were cello pieces written for me specifically for those productions, most of which I played live, but some of which I was recorded.

This most recent melding of live music in theatre is something that I would like to pursue. There is a similar energy exchange that happens in the theatre and in a musical concert between the performer and the audience and it is that indefinable element that attracts me to live performance.

Is this your debut with the family? What is it like to play with other family members and especially to perform with your father?

I have been privileged to have many family members as accompanists since I was very young, and I was able to play in the East Oregon Symphony when my father was playing a concert with the orchestra there in 2008.  I did perform as a narrator in two Richard Strauss pieces with my grandfather Howard Karp: “The Castle by the Sea” and his great musical epic “Enoch Arden” with my sister Natasha. I also performed with my uncle Christopher Karp a couple of years back, on a piece for piano and narrator “Stone Soup” by Joel Hoffmann for violin and narrator.

But this will be the first time that I will be playing the cello with my family in a public concert, and it is truly an honor to play with them. I have spent so much of my life on the other side of the stage, watching them perform that it is very nerve wracking to make that mental jump of being a chamber musician with them, but truly it is a real pleasure.

The really fascinating thing about playing with my father (below) is that he never gave me lessons when I was younger, and retrospectively that was probably the healthiest thing possible for our father-daughter relationship.

But playing with him now is really fantastic; he has always motivated me to always keep working harder without really ever saying anything, but by observing his own musical work ethic. Playing the Cohen piece it feels like we are kids in on some indefinable secret.

What would you like the public to know about the Cohen cello duets and the Schumann piece you will play with your cellist father, Parry Karp?

The delightful Cohen duets were written for my father and a friend of his in 1966 when he was a very young cellist.

The Schumann has such fascinating instrumentation. As my father says “it’s the three most romantic instruments: cello, piano and French horn.” There are such beautiful dialogues that happen between instruments in this piece, intense conversations without any need for words.

What was it like growing up in such a musical family? Did you feel pressure to become a musician? Were you pressured into lessons and how did you pick the cello to study?

There was never pressure to become a musician. It was more a case of being immersed in an environment where music was everywhere. As a child, I thought that everyone became musicians, because so many members of my family were musicians. Many of our family friends were colleagues of my dad.

My mother says that at three years old I was singing Schubert’s “Arpeggione” Sonata because it was just another tune I heard, like “Baa Baa Black Sheep! When I was five I declared to my parents that I wanted to start playing an instrument. And my father said, OK, anything but the cello. My mom and I went over to Ralph Rabin’s and two hours later came back with a cello. I could not be deterred from the dulcet tones of a cello.

Was there an Aha! Moment – maybe a performer or piece, a recording or a live concert – when you knew you wanted to play the cello and even perform classical music? What other kinds of music do you like?

I was so young when I decided I wanted to play cello (age five) that I don’t remember a specific moment, but I remember a strong yearning to play the cello.

As to other kinds of music, I like many different genres, folk, jazz, alternative rock, from he Beatles to Maasai hip hop. I’m also a huge fan of incorporating classical instruments into non-classical forms; Andrew Bird is one of my favorite examples of that.

Is there something else you would like to say?

This year has been a beautiful musical year for me.  It started off with the Faure piano quartet, followed by the cello trios written for me in my thesis show, and I was privileged to record an album of original songs with a friend of mine this summer. And now, the Labor Day concert!  Crazy, but exciting!

Posted in Classical music

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