Penn State program touts professional-quality classical musicians

I went to a classical music recital at Penn State’s School of Music a couple of months ago. The program was French cello music, and because the cello is one of my favorite instruments, it was a must-see.

The recital featured Kim Cook, professor of music at the university, on cello, backed by School of Music students. The program included a piece called “Pavane,” by Gabriel Fauré, which is a favorite of mine; I’d never seen it performed live, so it was a particular thrill.

What stood out for me, not about the performance but, rather, about the audience was that so many of the seats were empty. Here we had Cook, who has performed all over the world, and some of the best Penn State musicians, some of whom will go on to have their own careers in music.

I suppose that I assumed the room would be packed. I asked myself why it wasn’t. Was it a lack of publicity? Maybe. But maybe there was something else, too.

Maybe it was perception — a perception that because these are university musicians, the quality of the performances couldn’t possibly be high. Well, if that’s the case, I’m here to tell you that you couldn’t be more wrong.

The students in Penn State’s School of Music have to be accomplished enough before they even get to the university to pass an audition as entry to the music program, and while they’re here, they get training from professors who are, of course, accomplished musicians themselves. Some faculty come to Penn State from performance careers, with orchestras as well as other types of ensembles.

Many faculty members have performed all over the world, in orchestras and as featured artists, as well as at Carnegie Hall and on Broadway. Some earned their degrees from highly distinguished music schools, such as Oberlin Conservatory, Julliard and Eastman School of Music.

Both faculty and students are accomplished musicians who offer all of us the opportunity to be exposed to some of the most beautiful music ever written — and much of it is free. Concerts and recitals are held in Esber Recital Hall in Music Building 1, and dress is always (at least when I’ve gone) casual. Occasionally, there is a charge, but it’s always listed on the concert calendar. Parking, I know, can be a challenge on campus, but there are parking lots that allow free visitor parking depending on the time of day and the day of the week, and when you’re paying nothing or almost nothing for admission to a recital, spending a couple of dollars to park in one the garages shouldn’t be a deal breaker.

The university also offers guest artist events; a recent viola recital featured Hillary Herndon, who teaches at the University of Tennessee and has collaborated with some of the world’s most well-known musicians, such as Itzhak Perlman.

If classical music is something you’ve been thinking about trying, there’s no better opportunity than the one offered at Penn State. I highly recommend attending at least a couple of recitals to get a good idea of what the experience of hearing live classical music can add to your life.