Absolute Music Series grows love of classical music in Old Town
Ken Glickman, For the Lansing State Journal, November 28, 2016
Yes, it’s possible.
A classical music concert series can exist in the Lansing area without being under the umbrellas of Wharton Center, the Michigan State University College of Music or the Lansing Symphony.
The Absolute Music Chamber Series, founded in 2009 by Richard Sherman, is thriving in Old Town. Its new venue is the Urban Beat Events Center on Turner Street.
Cellist Suren Bagratuni, who is playing on the series with pianist Ralph Votapek Thursday, says, “I remember the first year of the series – there were six or seven people at the concert. Over the years I’ve been witnessing how the audience has been growing. I play there most every year.”
His concert is nearly sold out.
“I’ve gotten to know the audience, and it feels good to play there. It’s great to play in a non-school setting.”
Bagratuni is professor of cello at MSU College of Music and is an international soloist.
Appearing with him is another classical star, and Lansing favorite, Ralph Votapek. Although Votapek is known for playing concertos with orchestras the world over, he also loves to perform chamber music.
“I’ve been playing with Suren for about 16 years, since he first came to MSU. Playing with him is wonderful, he never tells me that I’m playing too loud. He just sits in the curve of the grand piano, and we make music together. He has a big, huge cello sound that works well with the piano.”
Bagratuni said, “I love playing with Ralph. He’s an amazing musician. You can’t call Ralph an accompanist. He’s much more than that. A collaborative pianist is a better name. With Ralph, it’s always a pleasure to play music.”
Although Votapek has played with the likes of the Chicago Symphony, the Boston Symphony, and many others, he almost never says no to local musicians. “I will only turn them down if I don’t have enough time to prepare the music – if it’s last minute.”
“I love playing chamber music. Not only do I get to have music in front of me to read (a concerto soloist never relies on sheet music), but it teaches me to listen to the other musicians – much more so than when I play a piano concerto. When I haven’t played chamber music in a while, I miss it. It helps me as a musician.”
Votapek retired from MSU 12 years ago, but at age 77, he doesn’t see a time that he will give up playing. “I’ll know when it’s time – and it’s not time yet.” Votapek just came back from his 50th tour of South America.
Sherman asked Votapek and Bagratuni to play this concert with two demanding pieces of music: the cello sonatas of Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich.
Votapek joking says, “Yes, the Rachmaninoff is like a piano solo with just a little bit of cello thrown in.”
Bagratuni agrees. “I felt bad asking Ralph to perform the Rachmaninoff. It’s so difficult that it’s like a piano concerto. It takes a lot of preparation ....”
The cellist scoffs that this is a perfect concert for him to play because he is Russian as is the music. Although the Bagratuni was educated in Russia, he is quick to say that he is Armenian, not Russian.
Also, he says that the nationality of the musician has very little to do with his/her ability to play the music well.
“It you understand the style and are a good musician, you can play any kind of music. For example, Gershwin is played well from musicians all over the world.”
One reason both of these formidable musicians are playing in this local music series is their respect for the series founder, Richard Sherman. Votapek says, “I really like Rick Sherman. He’s a delight. And he always puts together a good selection of music.
“I’ve played most every year of the series, and now the concerts are almost always full.”
Bagratuni says, “The Absolute Music Series is a great thing. It’s a wonderful invention of Rick Sherman. Music does not need to be centralized around MSU. It can be and should be out in the community as well.”
Photo by Dick Witter