Duxbury concert puts back-row instruments in the spotlight

Percussionist Philip Trembley and harpist Chaerin Kim will be among the South Shore Conservatory faculty performing in “Front & Center.”
Photos by South Shore Conservatory
Percussionist Philip Trembley and harpist Chaerin Kim will be among the South Shore Conservatory faculty performing in “Front & Center.”

The viola, the French horn, the oboe, the upright bass, the harp — they are part of every symphony orchestra, but you generally find them in the back or off to the side.

This weekend’s “Front & Center” concert by faculty members of the South Shore Conservatory will spotlight the qualities of less well-known instruments and the abilities of the musicians who play them.

“We’re trying to bring them to the front so people see how beautiful they are,” said Beth MacLeod Largent, the music school’s director of performance.


Instruments such as the viola, oboe, and harp are typically “the instruments you change to” from more popular instruments such as violin, clarinet, or piano, Largent said.

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Young string instrument students, for example, generally want to play the violin, the star in the classical music galaxy. The result is the music school has dozens of violin students but only a handful of viola students, Largent said.

But viola players are in demand. If “you have bigger hands” or show an affinity for a string with a lower register such as viola or string bass, a teacher may point you to those instruments, said Largent, a singer who began musical studies with the clarinet before settling on voice in her high school years.

The classical repertoire is filled with solos for the oboe, but oboists generally begin as clarinet students, she said. Young people may be aware of the trumpet, prominent in genres such as jazz, but ignore its cousins in the brass section, the trombone and French horn. Harp players often begin as piano players.

South Shore Conservatory
"Front & Center" concert member Chaerin Kim.

“We want to let students know how wonderful these instruments are and encourage them to take lessons,” Largent said. “Part of our mission is to provide access to quality education, and performance is education.”


Her plan for the “Front & Center” program was to ask the players of seven of these back-of-the-stage instruments — harpist Chaerin Kim, trombonist Grant Randall, French horn player Megan Riccio, upright bass player Chris Rathbun, oboist Elizabeth England, violist Philip Rush, and mallets player Philip Trembley — to choose what they wanted to play to show off their instrument.

“They were asked to choose pieces they loved,” Largent said.

Violist Rush chose the Romance for Viola and Piano by Ralph Vaughn Williams, a one-movement piece by the early-20th-century English composer famous for bringing the tonality of English folk music into his work. Mark Goodman will accompany Rush on the piano.

“It’s beautiful and lyrical and has a lot of the quality of pathos and yearning,” Rush said last week. “It also shows the instrument [viola] in a flattering light. It uses a lot of the lower registers of the instrument in a way that is quite distinctive.”

It was those low registers that attracted Rush as a child to the viola. When his elementary school music program asked students what instrument they wanted to study and most chose the violin, the viola answered “to the renegade in me,” Rush said. As for the larger strings, he said, “I didn’t want to have to carry the cello to school.”

South Shore Conservatory
"Front & Center" concert member Phil Rush.

Since violists are relatively rare, “If you show aptitude you get a lot of encouragement,” he said.

Other works on the program include pieces by both famous names and composers likely to be unfamiliar. “People will be exposed to composers and pieces they don’t normally hear, but it’s all worthy of attention,” Largent said.

Oboist England and French horn player Riccio will combine on Four Duets for Oboe and French Horn by Alec Wilder, a 20th-century American composer who also wrote popular songs for Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra.  

Harpist Kim will perform the Concerto for Flute and Harp by Mozart, with flutist Donald Zook.  

Trombonist Randall will play a piece by 20th-century Polish composer Kazimierz Serocki, known for writing works for the lower brass.

South Shore Conservatory
"Front & Center" concert member Elizabeth England.

Percussionist Philip Trembley will end the concert by playing “The Flight of the Bumble Bee” by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. A very short piece with very many notes played at break-neck speed, “The Flight” is “an amazing thing on any instrument,” Largent said. “On the mallet, it’s just insane.”

The high-energy piece will conclude the program, she said, so “people can just be, like, ‘Holy mackerel!’

They will also be able to find time to do something else Sunday evening, since the entire concert takes less than an hour, though the audience is invited to stay to meet the performers afterward.

It’s free, too, because Boston Private Bank & Trust Co. is sponsoring all the programs in this year’s Conservatory Concert Series. A donation is requested.

Robert Knox can be reached at