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Inside a Perlman master class

JO ANN KIRKLAND PHOTO |Perlman Music Program’s Chamber Music Workshop members who performed on Monday. From left: Jimmy Thompson, Jenni Seo, Yi Qun Xu and Max Tan.
JO ANN KIRKLAND PHOTO | Perlman Music Program’s Chamber Music Workshop members who performed on Monday. From left: Jimmy Thompson, Jenni Seo, Yi Qun Xu and Max Tan.

Performing chamber music is no easy feat.

In an intimate setting with no conductor to guide the musicians, communication between players is vital to give a stellar performance.

That’s the goal of the intense two-week Chamber Music Workshop led by Merry Peckham of the Perlman Music Program.

Comprised of rehearsals, master classes and late-night sight-reading sessions, this program culminates in a celebratory performance this weekend, which Production Coordinator Emma Leinhaas described as “a chamber music marathon.”

The musicians — 44 violin, viola, cello and piano students — immersed themselves in the pieces they were assigned, starting with daily rehearsals last week with an artist-faculty member. They also worked with an artist-faculty member in rehearsals and performed the Classical Collaborations concert last weekend in Southampton and East Hampton.

Monday night kicked off the second week of the program, where renowned faculty members teach master classes each night before the Saturday and Sunday performances this weekend.

This year, the PMP celebrates its 20th anniversary. Just a few years after the program had been established on Shelter Island, founder Toby Perlman had another vision. She wanted to add a program dedicated solely to chamber music.  And so 11 years ago, the summer Chamber Music Workshop was founded.

Ms. Peckham said she’s continually pleased to see alumni of the Summer Music School return to Shelter Island.  “It was always sad when our students turned 18 and could no longer attend camp,” she said. By the time the chamber music program was in the works “we already had an established alumni base and wanted to keep the connection with them,” she added.

The workshop is open to musicians over 18. Many participants have attended summer music school in the past and are now working towards prestigious careers in music.

Cellist Talya Buckbinder of New Jersey has attended camp every year since 2007. She’s currently in her second year master’s program at Juilliard and looks forward to returning to the Shelter Island campus for the chamber workshop.

“I love the people here, and there’s a great musical atmosphere. It’s why I come back,” Ms. Buckbinder said, beaming after Monday night’s master class where she, along with violinists Niv Ashkenazi and Lauren Cauley and violist Bethany Hargreaves, performed Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in E Minor.

Monday night at the Clark Arts Center on campus, Peter Salaff, a founding violinist of the Cleveland Quartet, coached movements of string quartets to a packed house performed by two of the 11 ensembles in this year’s workshop.

“The goal is to make performance part of the process,” Ms. Peckham noted at the start of the evening’s class.

As the first ensemble launched into their performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet in F Major, Mr. Salaff leaned back in his chair, listening intently, at times scribbling notes into the score. Though the students are clearly skilled, it was apparent they’ve only been rehearsing together for a week. Yet the passion they put into this piece came through with every movement of their bows.  After the final stroke, Mr. Salaff began his feedback by simply asking, “How did it feel?”

After a pause, violinist Jimmy Thompson responded, “Energetic.” This first question emphasized the difference between “just another rehearsal” and the nature of the master class. Without a conductor, the musicians have more creative freedom, allowing them to decide how to interpret and phrase the piece, merging their musical interpretations together.

The word “joy” came up frequently — no surprise since the piece is in a major key, but the young artists, along with Mr. Salaff, also discussed scenes that came to mind. At one particular passage, at the onset of a crescendo, Mr. Salaff imagined a city at 4 a.m., waking up slowly — a light going on in one house, then another, until the city is bustling. Mr. Thompson described a similar passage later on in the piece as “calm with a sense of anticipation, like before a big party.”

What makes this chamber workshop unique are the varying perspectives that come to light throughout the two weeks. “The students are all so open to ideas. Everybody strives,” Mr. Salaff said, concluding after he drilled one measure dozens of times.

The best part of the program, in Ms. Peckham’s opinion, is the eventual performances. “Everybody gets excited over hearing each other play,” she said. “After a performance, it’s almost like your favorite sports team just won, except we’re celebrating everybody’s artistic triumphs.”

Hear the young artist ensembles perform their pieces at four Celebration Concerts on Saturday, June 14 and Sunday, June 15 at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. on both days.

The concerts are free, but call 212-877-5045 or email [email protected]. Reservations are required with limited seating available.