Spotlight on Strings

  Members of the 15-piece Berklee World Strings ensemble played Latin-, Gypsy-, and Celtic-flavored selections.
  Photos by Phil Farnsworth
  From the left: Berklee's String Department Chair Melissa Howe, student Jacob Trasak, and Julia McKenzie of Johnson String conducted the raffle for a Yamaha electric violin.

In November, Berklee's first-ever String Showcase took place at the Berklee Performance Center. The event was produced by Jakub Trasak, a seventh-semester violin performance major, and featured some 50 students in a series of performances by small and large ensembles playing classical string instruments as well as mandolins, banjos, and harps. Classically trained in the Czech Republic, Trasak is a highly accomplished bluegrass fiddler who devised the idea for the showcase to highlight Berklee string players' multifaceted talents.

The program included bluegrass and Americana selections as well as Celtic reels, jazz, r&b, and Latin music, as well as pieces by Claude Debussy, George Gershwin, and contemporary songwriters. Among the memorable moments were performances of selections penned by faculty cellist Eugene Friesen ("Maracaibo") and Pablo de Sarasate ("Zigeunrweisen") by the Berklee World Strings ensemble and "Gravity" by songwriter Sara Bareilles, played by five harpists with vocals by Olga Matuszewska. There were also fiery selections from mandolinist and singer Sierra Hull and fiddlers Eli Bishop and Ben Powell, among others. The array of stylistic offerings gave a glimpse of the eclectic interests of Berklee's String Department students.

"Berklee's rapidly growing String Department offers a wide variety of musical styles with no hierarchies and no walls," says String Department Chair Melissa Howe. In 2009, the department created the American Roots Music Program to serve students who play a range of traditional North American instruments.

After the concert, Trasak noted the event's distinctive Berklee character. "The level of playing, stylistic range, and passion for music seen on the stage tonight couldn't be found in any other educational institution in the world."

Event sponsors included the Johnson String Instrument company of Newton, MA, and Yamaha Corporation of America. The raffle for a Yamaha electric violin, which was donated by Johnson String, added to the evening's excitement.