Alison Shearer

By Michael Johns

USCB Chamber Music has an unparalleled 44-year history of bringing great chamber music performances and internationally acclaimed artists to Lowcountry audiences but it has never presented a schedule-packed weekend of USCB-Chamber-Music sponsored events like the one that will unfold from April 4-8. The season-ending concert is Sunday, April 7, 5:00 pm. Alto saxophonist, flutist, and composer Alison Shearer makes her Beaufort debut and will be joined by violinists Abigél Králik and Karl Stobbe, violist Joan DerHovsepian, cellist Ani Aznavoorian, and bassist Marguerite Cox. Artistic Director, pianist, and host Andrew Armstrong has gone over the top in providing a concert filled with brand-new and traditional, jazz and classical, relaxed and kinetic music for saxophone, flute, strings and piano.

The concert begins with a trio of late nineteenth/early twentieth century works from the US and Europe representative of late-romantic expressivity, virtuosity, brilliance, and scene painting. Boston composer Arthur Foote’s gentle, rhapsodic fantasy, A Night Piece, for flute and strings, is a study on the tender, non-threatening aspects of nighttime. Ernst von Dohnányi, a dominant force in Hungarian music, is represented by Serenade for String Trio, Opus 10, a short, multi-movement suite of driving counterpoint and tuneful, Magyar-inflected melodies. Cécile Chaminade, a talented and wide-ranging French composer and pianist, specialized in writing evocative, carefree vignettes for the parlor and salon. Capriccio, Opus 18, for violin and piano, is a lighthearted idyll that seems to float on air. The first half closes with the world premiere of Alison Shearer’s Apollosis, for alto saxophone, strings, and piano. The University and the community are grateful to Walda Wildman and Katherine Wells for commissioning Apollosis. It is a fool’s errand to put in print how a new work from a creative artist will sound. Appollo was the classical Greek and Roman god of music, dance, and poetry for starters, but he also was the god of archery, sun, light, truth, prophecy, healing, and disease. There are many possible avenues to explore. Two things are certain: there will be jazz influences, and it will be exciting to be in attendance for the birthing of a new artistic creation.

Rachmaninov’s haunting Vocalise, Opus 34, No. 14, arranged for alto saxophone and piano, follows intermission. Originally for wordless-voice, its unhurried suspension, aching lyricism, and lack of text have made it an appealing utterance for a vast assortment of instruments. Concluding the concert is a major, youthful work by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Piano Quintet  in C minor. Scored for piano and a quartet of violin, viola, cello, and bass, its three bold movements explore the textual possibilities of this combination. Written and rewritten over three years, it provides a glimpse into the composer’s maturation-path towards forming his distinctly English style revolving around folksong and broad, sweeping vistas of sound.

The artists bring enormous talent and wide ranging expertise to Beaufort. Alison Shearer will provide introductory remarks about, and perform in, her world-premiere composition, and be a featured soloist on woodwind cousins: flute and alto saxophone. Ms. Shearer has toured extensively around the US, Canada, and South Asia, performing at jazz fetivals, arts centers and clubs large and small. She formed her own quintet in 2015, and its debut album, View From Above, received immediate critical acclaim. Violinist Abigél Králik earned multiple performance degrees from the Juilliard School under the tutelage of Itzhak Perlman and is now Artist in Residence at the Queen Eliizabeth Music Chapel. She is well on the way to a major solo, chamber music, and recording career. Karl Stobbe, one of Canada’s most accomplished violinists, has been cited by London’s Sunday Times as “an artist with soulful musicianship” and Gramophone Magazine has praised his playing as “full of spirit and energy….exciting, fearless….” Violist Joan DerHovsepian has an extensive chamber music, festival, and teaching resume, and is newly appointed to the Principal Viola position of the Houston Symphony. This performance marks a return to the Lowcountry: Ms. DerHovsepian served as principal viola of the Charleston Symphony for two seasons. Cellist Ani Aznavoorian returns with her warm sound, spotless technique, impassioned interpretations and many new honors garnered since her last appearance on the series. Bassist Marguerite Cox also returns to the Lowcountry where she served as acting principal bass of the Charleston Symphony and participated in the Spoleto Festival. As a Rice University undergraduate she received degrees in Double Bass Performance and Poverty, Justice, and Human Capabilities, then received a double-bass Master’s degree (the first!) from the Curtis Institute of Music. Complimenting this accomplished group is Andrew Armstrong, Artistic Director, pianist extraordinare, host, and series musical-majordomo, who does everything from presenting and acting on ideas to casually yakking it up onstage, then sitting down, flipping the switch, and instantly performing with complete concentration, commitment, and incandescent artistry.

Andy has again provided a masterful mashup of musical marvels. Experience in-the-moment creativity with musicians who are crafting major careers and arrive in Beaufort with performance-earned reputations that they will deliver an intriguing, soothing, probing, joyous, and memorable concert. The last two concerts were near or complete sell-outs, a plateau that is the goal and envy of every presenting organization. Don’t take a chance at missing this exciting event; reserve your seat today for the Lowcountry’s premiere chamber music series. There are three ways to enjoy the concert: in person and virtually by Live-Stream and On-Demand. All virtual concerts are professionally produced, creating great viewing opportunities. On-Demand is accessible four days after the concert and available to view at your leisure for three weeks. For concert, artist, event, and ticket information, go to or call 843-208-8246, Monday through Friday. The concert is Sunday, April 7, 5:00 pm at the USCB Center for the Arts, 801 Carteret Street, Beaufort in the downtown historic district.