In 30 years of teaching at Oberlin, Philip Highfill has grown rather fond of winter term, that annual buffer between fall and spring semesters when students take on wide-ranging projects limited only by their imagination.
This year, winter term for Highfill was devoted to the lieder of 19th century Austrian poet Johann Mayrhofer and composer Franz Schubert. The five conservatory singers who studied with him will bring those works to the stage in a pair of performances at 8 p.m. Saturday, February 11, and Sunday, February 12, in Oberlin’s Warner Concert Hall.
Called “Mostly Mayrhofer,” Parts I and II, the concerts are a collaboration between Oberlin and the International Piano Academy Lake Como, the esteemed training ground for exceptional young pianists based in Como, Italy. Two years ago, Lake Como forged a relationship with Oberlin—the Oberlin-Como Piano Academy—that brings students to the Ohio campus each year for intensive study with conservatory faculty and guests. (Additionally, Como Vice President Stanislav Ioudenitch was named to the Oberlin Conservatory faculty earlier this year.)
“One of the nice things about winter term is that it’s possible to focus narrowly but intensively on one aspect of the repertoire,” says Highfill, a professor of accompanying and coaching who has led some 15 winter term projects in his long career at Oberlin.
“It is a great invention—and without it, projects of this type would simply not be possible.”
The events are dubbed Mostly Mayrhofer because settings of Friedrich Rückert, Schmidt von Lübeck, and Christian Schubart will also be performed. Instrumental works by Schubert balance out each program, including his Fantasy for Violin and Piano, D. 934 (Saturday) as well as the Adagio from his "Wanderer" Fantasy for Piano, D. 760 and the fourth and fifth movements of his Quintet for Piano and Strings, D. 667, commonly known as “The Trout” (both on Sunday).
During a previous sabbatical, Highfill dedicated himself to exploring the vast canon of Schubert songs—some 600 in all—with the goal of familiarizing himself with the many lesser known works. Mayrhofer, at one time a close friend and collaborator of Schubert’s, inspired 47 of Schubert’s songs and two of his operas—more than anyone except Goethe.
Roughly two dozen of those songs were chosen for winter term and studied by sopranos Amber Monroe and Amy Weintraub, mezzo-soprano Olivia Cosio, tenor Nicholas Music, and bass Cory McGee. About half of the works being performed were composed in 1817, making this the bicentennial anniversary of their creation.
“Some of these songs are well known, but most of them are not,” Highfill says. “So many wonderful songs by Schubert are rarely performed, and so I figured here was an opportunity to explore that relatively less trodden ground."
Accompanying the conservatory singers will be Oberlin-Como Academy pianist Alessandro Deljavan and Lucas Porter, a student of Como co-founder William Grant Naboré. (A public master class with Naboré takes place on Tuesday, February 7.)
Deljavan and conservatory violinist Jerry Xiong will perform the Fantasy for Violin and Piano on Saturday; Porter will perform the "Wanderer" Fantasy and will be joined by conservatory violinist Adam Jeffreys, violist Nicholas Gallitano, cellist Hannah Kim, and bassist Alan Wang for the Quintet for Piano and Strings on Sunday.