CSB/SJU Orchestra Concert Features Rare Violin, Renowned Pianist

By Diane Hageman
CSB director of media relations

On Feb. 12, for the first time in decades, the rare sound of an extraordinary violin will fill the Benedicta Arts Center auditorium at the College of Saint Benedict. J. David Arnott, associate professor of music and director of the CSB/SJU Orchestra, will play a violin once owned and played by S. Firmin Escher, OSB, in a performance of the Beethoven Triple Concerto with an internationally acclaimed pianist, a fellow faculty member and students from the CSB/SJU Orchestra.

The auditorium in the BAC will be formally renamed that night as the Escher Auditorium, in honor of the late S. Firmin, whose connections with CSB date back to 1940. She taught violin and other music courses, conducted the orchestra, founded the Campus Singers and produced operas. She also had several administrative roles including music department chairperson, dean of fine arts and academic dean. She died June 8, 2009. Hear Arnott playing S. Firmin's violin.

The sisters of Saint Benedict's Monastery own the violin, and they have gladly allowed David to "borrow" it since last summer. He regularly practices on it, performs on it and uses it in his studio to teach CSB and SJU students.

"My students know all about the history of the violin and understand how special it is," David said. Though the violin bears a label of Roman violin maker Michael Platner dating back to 1736, its exact maker and place of origin are unknown. It found its way to CSB and S. Firmin in 1963, when Ida Morneau, a member of the Minneapolis Symphony, decided to donate it to the order.

Because of its historical significance and connection to S. Firmin, David gets a little nervous each time he takes it out of the case.

"This violin is the automotive equivalent of a 'Ferrari,' one of the nicest violins I have ever played," he said. "It's really magnificent, and I believe that S. Firmin would be thrilled to know that it's being played."

S. Firmin also would likely applaud the concert, as the student orchestra joins world renowned Russian pianist Sofya Gulyak for the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4, led by guest conductor Amir Kats, artistic director and symphony conductor of the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies. Following intermission, David, on violin, and fellow CSB/SJU faculty member Lucia Magney, on cello, will join Gulyak and the orchestra in a performance of the Beethoven Triple Concerto.

Gulyak won the prestigious William Kapell International Piano Competition in 2007, and has performed worldwide, including appearances in France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Morocco, South Korea and at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. She was the first woman to win the Leeds International Piano Competition this past fall.

Hear from a CSB student about this significant event.

"This is such fabulous opportunity for our students to collaborate with an international artist," David said of Gulyak. "She is certainly a rising star in the piano world and I believe that the students will remember the performance for the rest of their lives."

The performance starts at 7:30 p.m. Ticket information is available online or through the CSB/SJU fine arts ticket office at 363-3577.

(Posted Feb. 3, 2010)