Arts and Entertainment

Musical friends of Ensemble M reunite to perform in Freeland

Violist Judith Geist plays with old friends in Ensemble M on Friday, June 4 at the Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland. -  Karen Mauch photo
Violist Judith Geist plays with old friends in Ensemble M on Friday, June 4 at the Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland.
— image credit: Karen Mauch photo

Chamber music is sometimes described as the “music of friends” because of the intimate setting in which it’s played.

Ensemble M is a chamber music group that embodies both the style and the camaraderie of the chamber quartet.

Returning to perform on Whidbey Island for its second year, Ensemble M is the brainchild of Whidbey resident and professional violist Judith Geist, and is sponsored by the Whidbey Island Arts Council.

This year, Geist joins her music-school colleagues Lucy Chapman (violin), Carol Cole (violin) and Judith Serkin (cello) for their 40th reunion at a concert at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 4 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland.

“I am so excited and looking forward to performing again as a professional with these alumni who bonded together as friends 40 years ago,” Geist said.

Ensemble M will perform three celebrated string quartets by renowned masters, including “Op. 33 No. 3 ‘The Bird’ in C Major” by Haydn, the “‘Dissonance’ Quartet K. 465 in C Major” by Mozart and Mendelssohn’s “Quartet Op.44 No. 2 in E minor.”

The artists met in the early 1970s when they were students at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Pa. Now seasoned professionals, they are happy to share their reunion with islanders in the intimate setting of the church’s sanctuary, a perfect setting for their chamber-music style.

All four of these artists have led accomplished musical lives since they were students together.

Geist is a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra, having joined under the direction of conductor Riccardo Muti in 1983. Geist became the first woman violist in the orchestra’s history.

She frequently performs in the Philadelphia Orchestra Chamber Music Series, among other venues.

Geist performed with the Audubon Quartet, as principal violist with the National Ballet of Canada, the Soviet Émigré Orchestra, the Philharmonia Virtuosi, and performed frequently with Orpheus and the New York Philharmonic. She has played in several music festivals including Mostly Mozart, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Madeira Bach Festival in Portugal and the Newport Jazz Festival following a world tour with Chick Corea.

In 2001, she taught at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle as a guest resident in collaboration with faculty composer Janice Giteck.

Introduced to the Whidbey Island stages by the late Michael Nutt and Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, Ensemble M took shape after Geist presented several chamber-music salons and public concerts on the island.

In April 2009, Ensemble M debuted in a weekend of concerts titled “Boccherini and Beyond” at the Clyde Theatre. Geist looks forward to the continued growth of the ensemble and its future welcoming of a variety of world-class musicians to the island.

Chapman is a widely sought-after chamber musician with an eclectic career of playing both solo and chamber-music concerts throughout the United States, Europe, Korea and Japan, as well as having held positions as acting associate concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony and first violin of the Muir String Quartet.

Her recordings of Bartok, Stravinsky and Ives with clarinetist Richard Stoltzman and pianist Richard Goode won a Grammy nomination, and she has also recorded with Keith Jarrett, whose solo sonata she premiered at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall.

Chapman currently teaches violin and chamber music at the New England Conservatory, where she also serves as chairwoman of the string and chamber music departments.

Cole studied at the Curtis Institute with Arnold Steinhardt and members of the Guarneri, Budapest and Curtis String quartets, and has won the San Francisco Symphony, Yale Chamber Music and the Stresa International Violin competitions.

As a soloist, chamber musician and orchestra leader, Cole has appeared at major music centers in 20 countries and more than 25 venues in the United States, and has performed with distinguished artists such as Yehudi Menuhin, Isaac Stern, Leonard Bernstein and Martha Argerich.

Cole is presently on the faculty at the Conservatory of Music at Lynn University in Florida, and is also on the faculty of the Indiana University Summer String Academy.

Serkin, who plays a cello made by Joseph Hill in 1760, began her studies in Puerto Rico with Marta Casals Istomin, and continued with David Soyer of the Guarneri Quartet at the Curtis Institute of Music.

Serkin was a member of the Iceland Symphony and of both the Guilford and the Hebrew Arts String Quartets. The musician has performed across the United States and Canada, and has toured extensively throughout France and Japan.

A founding member of the Soldier Creek Music Festival in Nevada, she has been a participant at both the Yellow Barn and Marlboro Music School and festivals in Vermont.

Serkin presently serves on the faculty of the Brattleboro Music School.

In short, these musicians are the crème de la crème of the international music stage.

“I am honored that these three other musicians are joining me to perform, and that they are coming all this way to Whidbey Island,” Geist said.

“They are all seasoned chamber musicians, and we will be performing a beautiful program of works by classical masters, full of passion, excitement and emotional charm,” she added.

Geist said it’s personally exciting for her, because the repertoire is some of what they read together when they were just starting out at the Curtis Institute of Music. She remembers vividly the director of the school, Rudolph Serkin, who made an impression on all of them.

“Serkin had a long career and passed on the torch of musical performance to countless pianists, musicians and family members, including his son Peter Serkin and daughter Judith, who will be performing with us at Trinity Lutheran Church,” Geist said.

To reunite with such seasoned and acclaimed artists, Geist said, will infuse the performance with the fullness that comes from a long friendship, combined with the splendor of compositions that have been beloved by audiences for more than 200 years.

“The torch was passed to us then, and the flame is still ignited,” Geist said.

Admission to the concert is by donation.

Ensemble M T-shirts featuring drawings of master composers by Geist will be sold at the show, with proceeds going to support the ensemble.

Learn more about Ensemble M and their next concert at WICA on Aug. 27 at

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