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Tucson Weekly Rural Renaissance

The Road To Chamber Music Stardom Isn't Paved With Gold...Or In Some Cases Paved At All.

By James Reel

JULY 26, 1999:  TODAY SAFFORD, TOMORROW Carnegie Hall? For two Tucson, Ariz., musicians, the Gila Valley could, indeed, be a springboard to international renown.

This summer, violinist Luca Ciarla and pianist Sean Schulze were named artists-in-residence in Chamber Music America's Rural Residence Program. That's a highly competitive scheme to get classical music into the nation's smaller communities. Big deal, you say? Well, in 1992 the Rural Residence Program sent four siblings fresh out of the Eastman School of Music to live and work in the tiny farm town of Jesup, Iowa, for two years. That was the Ying Quartet, now one of the most sought-after young ensembles on the chamber music circuit.

Because the program was then new, the Yings got plenty of press for playing Bartók for Amish farm kids, day in and day out. Ciarla and Schulze can't anticipate that kind of publicity anymore. But they can expect to make valuable contacts in the music world and become better players, teachers and talkers as a result of their weekly work in Safford and Thatcher.

The pair, who play under the name Duo Medici, seem honestly honored by this assignment. They do not come off as haughty priests of high culture trying to convert the hicks in the sticks.

"I like to play everywhere," says Ciarla, a doctoral candidate at the University of Arizona. "Sometimes these people in small towns can enjoy the music more; they're not so snobbish as in bigger cities."

"I think we both feel an incredible sense of gratitude that we can now make a living doing what we love," says Schulze, who just obtained his doctorate from the UA. "Getting paid to perform is such a rarity for recent graduates that we can't think about this in any but the most positive terms."

According to Chamber Music America, each artist receives a monthly stipend of $1,250 during the nine-month residency. The host community is also supposed to provide housing for the duo, but because Ciarla and Schulze will be commuting from Tucson that just means a place to crash one or two nights each week.

In return, Duo Medici is expected to devote about half its time to "performing, teaching and developing programs that increase the community's involvement with chamber music." The rest of the time goes to career development: learning new music, being coached by veteran players, and so forth. Chamber Music America will even ante up a few more bucks to send the musicians off to competitions.

Ciarla, 29, was born on Italy's Adriatic coast. Schulze, 28, hails from Pretoria, South Africa. They met last August at the UA, and immediately clicked personally and artistically.

"Living in the U.S. is a challenge we both face, so that's one thing we have in common," says Schulze. "We can actually talk about soccer together, which we can't with most Americans. We also share a rare or special love of the music we play. It's much more than, 'Isn't that nice, aren't we having a good time?' It's something we can't live without."

"Sean is the first person I've worked with that I didn't have any problem relating to," says Ciarla. "It's hard to find a chamber-music partner. Most of the time you argue. We probably will, too, someday. But really, we get along very well."

Duo Medici will give a series of recitals in the Safford/Thatcher area, including programs devoted to French, German or dance-inspired music. They're also sorting through repertory for a possible concert of American pieces.

Besides that, Ciarla and Schulze are organizing a recital series featuring UA music professors and young musician friends from around the world. Some of the programs may include dance and jazz. Ciarla occasionally puts down his violin to play jazz piano standards and originals; in fact, he's worked up a program with solo classical violin on the first half, and solo jazz piano on the second.

The duo will also coach students enrolled at Eastern Arizona College, and perform lecture-demonstrations in public schools. "We'll play for the class, talk a little about the music, the instruments and the traditions we are upholding," says Schulze. "But our aim is to show kids that classical music is not just deep and uplifting, but something that's fun, which you can appreciate without knowing a lot about it."

The Gila Valley Arts Council is the local sponsor of the residency. The council's artistic director, Jack Kukuk, reports he was delighted with a similar residency by the Savanna Trio last year.

"It was great to see the growth in them as an ensemble," he comments. "They were able to integrate themselves into the community and add a great deal to the cultural life of the community. We expect the residency with Luca and Sean to be equally beneficial both to them and to the arts community in the Gila Valley. Naturally, they are different from the Savanna Trio. There is an equal feel of energy and excitement but with a different twist."

Unfortunately, the Savanna Trio disbanded, and Schulze and Ciarla realize that they, too, may go their separate ways in a few years. But for now, they're keeping their bags packed, ready to hit the road -- not just to Safford, but on little tours to Mexico, Italy and South Africa. After that, they hope the rural residency (which Ciarla says is renewable for two years) will qualify them for similar but shorter-term assignments at colleges.

They may be qualified for that, and more. Phillip Ying, the violist of the quartet that bears his name, has written that a rural residency trains musicians to play always at their best, and not slack off in the provinces. Giving concerts in such an unmusical environment as a school cafetorium keeps a group on its toes, he maintains: "A high artistic standard is essential to preserving the personal integrity necessary for successful residency work and to sustain the kind of quality to which an audience will respond."

In other words, if you can make it in Safford, you can make it anywhere.


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