Arts and Entertainment

A Vashon orchestra reaches for the high notes

Violinists Gaye Detzer and Russ Nelson concentrate on the task at hand. - Tom Hughes photo
Violinists Gaye Detzer and Russ Nelson concentrate on the task at hand.
— image credit: Tom Hughes photo

On a recent spring evening, Islanders who were walking their dogs near the Vashon High School tennis courts could be forgiven if they suddenly pricked up their ears and felt an icy chill of apprehension.

After all, the instantly recognizable, slashing strains of the score from “Psycho” were emanating from the high school band room.

But inside the cluttered practice room, it turns out, there was little drama — only 15 dedicated Island musicians calmly concentrating on the difficult and dissonant piece of music, written by Bernard Hermann for the 1960 horror film.

And after a quick run-through of the bone-chilling score, the musicians turned their attention to much sweeter and more melodic fare.

It was all part of one of the final rehearsals for Vashon-Maury Island Chamber Orchestra’s new spring concert.

The concert has been dubbed a night of “Music for Dance, Film and Desert Islands,” and it will feature not only the unforgettable “Psycho” suite, but also Percy Grainger’s “Mock Morris,” a light-hearted dance for string orchestra, and Mozart’s famous Sinfonia Concertante, a tour de force for violin, viola and orchestra.

The program was selected by violinist Karin Choo, who is leading the conductor-less ensemble this season.

Choo was asked to fill the role after the group’s former conductor, Jonathan Graber, took a leave of absence last year to accept a Fulbright Fellowship to teach violin at the National Autonomous University of Hondurus.

And while some of the Island might recognize Choo as the busy mother of three young children, including 3-year-old twins, Vashon’s musical cognoscenti are increasingly grateful for her growing contributions to Vashon’s classical musical scene.

Mary Walker, who has played violin in the orchestra for 15 years, is excited about Choo’s approach.

“I really like working with her,” said Walker. “She is so good at conducting with her body. Not everyone can sit in a chair and communicate to the whole group.”

Choo, who grew up in Pullman, holds bachelor of music and bachelor of arts degrees from the New England Conservatory, where she studied violin performance with James Buswell, and Tufts University, where she studied economics.

She has a background in arts administration, having served as the executive director of The American String Project from 2004 to 2008. She also worked as operations manager and assistant artistic administrator at the Seattle Symphony.

For next week’s program, Choo has invited two acclaimed soloists — Thane Lewis and Danielle McCutcheon — to appear.

They will perform the Mozart piece, and also close the concert with Johan Halvorsen’s “Passacaglia,” a duo for violin and viola.

Lewis and McCutcheon both have impressive resumés.

McCutcheon, who recently moved to the Island, has played under the baton of Leonard Bernstein at the Tanglewood Summer Festival, learned orchestral repertoire with the Seattle Youth Symphony under the direction of Vilem Sokol and spent a month studying with Denes Zsigmondy at the Mozarteum University in Salzburg, Austria.

She currently plays with Dawn Corl in Clave-de-Sol, a harpsichord/violin duo, as well as with various orchestras in the Northwest.

Lewis is principal violist of the Tacoma Symphony and assistant principal violist of the Northwest Sinfonietta. He is a player in demand throughout the Northwest’s classical music scene, having performed and soloed with numerous other symphonies, orchestras and chamber groups throughout the region.

Lewis also is the author of a biography of violinist Steven Staryk, “Fiddling with Life,” which was published in 2000 by Mosaic Press.

Choo said she hopes she’ll be able to entice the soloists to play with the group again, but in the meantime, she’s excited to hear them play Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante on Saturday night with the orchestra.

“It’s a gorgeous piece — my favorite Mozart concerto,” she said. “It’s just the piece for Danielle and Thane.”

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