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Duo Sapphire celebrates summer

Cellist and viola de gamba player Michal Palzewicz and pianist Chiharu Sai attended the Manhattan School of Music at the same time, yet never ran into each other on the campus.

"It's such a large school," Palzewicz says. "We actually met when we joined the music faculty at Southern Oregon University."

Joining musical forces to create Duo Sapphire, Palzewicz and Sai will present "Summer Radiance," a program of repertoire written for cello and piano by composers Marin Marais, Ludwig van Beethoven, Manuel de Falla and Zoltan Kodaly, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 10, at the Unitarian Fellowship, 87 Fourth St., Ashland. Tickets are $20 in advance and can be purchased online at brownpapertickets.com or Music Coop, 268 E. Main St. Tickets will be $25 at the door.

The concert is intended to herald the lengthening days and glory of summer and to evoke the strength and vibrancy of the summer sun.

"We're creating an interesting contrast," Palzewicz says. "I chose music that would give the program a lot of mood."

The concert will open with de Falla's "Suite Populaire Espanol," a collection of Spanish folk songs originally written for voice and later transcribed into compositions for cello by Maurice Marechal.

"Some of the pieces from the de Falla suite are fiery, while some are dark and beautiful," Palzewicz says. "There's a lot of contrast. There are elements of guitar in them as well, so I will be doing a little bit of guitar strumming during, 'Gota,' the last song."

Then Palzewicz will move to Kodaly's Sonata for Solo Cello, Opus 8.

"This one is wild, big, orchestral, fast and full of surprising textures," Palzewicz says. "It's also a bit darker in its moods. It has elements of Hungarian folk along with symphonic composition for cello. There are multiple textures played by one instrument, and the effect is an orchestral sound from a single cello."

A shorter piece, Marais' "Les Voix Humaines," will follow. It is a movement written for viola de gamba from Marais' second book of cello pieces, Palzewicz says.

"I play seven-string bass viola de gamba on this one," he says. "The de gamba gets narrower at the neck compared to the cello. It's closer to double bass in shape. Tuned in fourths, as a lute or guitar, with gut strings for a soft, deep haunting tone, it's more chordal than cello. So the music is ornamental, with lots of trills and chords. This particular piece also has a beautiful, slow and dark mood to it."

Sai and Palzewicz will finish with Beethoven's Sonata for Piano and Cello, Opus 5, No. 1.

"The piano is so prominent in this piece, you could almost call it a concerto ... with a cello part," Palzewicz says. "It's bright and upbeat, and more like a virtuosic piano concerto style with lots of broken scales and arpeggios."

Palzewicz studied music in Poland, and Sai studied in Japan before going to New York City to study at the Manhattan School of Music.

Palzewicz and his high-school friends founded the Elsner String Quartet, which went on to become the quartet-in-residence at the Britten-Pears School, Suffolk, England. The quartet performed in notable venues around the globe, gracing stages at Carnegie Hall in New York City and Wigmore Hall in London. 

"The two big influences for the Elsner Quartet were the Guarneri Quartet in New York with cellist David Sawyer and the Amadeus Quartet," Palzewicz says. "The Elsner Quartet studied with the Amadeus Quartet every summer in London. It was during my high school and college years."

At SOU, Palzewicz performs classical cello and piano repertoire with pianist Sai, along with professor of piano and artist-in-residence Alexander Tutunov and Rogue Valley Symphony conductor and harpsichordist Martin Majkut. He is principal cellist of the Rogue Valley Symphony Orchestra, and he performed in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's production of "The White Snake," which toured the U.S. and China.

Sai performs regularly around the U.S. and her home country of Japan, appearing at Opera City Hall in Tokyo. Since moving to Mount Shasta, Calif., in 2013, she's taught at SOU and College of the Siskiyous. During summers, she serves on the faculty at the Pacific Crest Chamber Music Festival in Dunsmuir, Calif., and tours with the Pacific Crest Chamber Players during the year.

Michal Palzewicz and Chiharu Sai are Duo Sapphire.