In the early days of the COVID-19 crisis, a concert scheduled as part of the Arts at First Presbyterian concert series, decided the show must go on. Violinist Sophie Till and pianist Ron Stabinsky performed selections from Brahms, Tartini, Paganini and others on Sunday, March 15 at First Presbyterian Church of Clarks Summit.
“We struggled with what to do in light of the crisis,” Rev Bill Carter said. “The concert has a regional draw, and we had no way to know who was coming. If they traveled an hour or two only to find the church is locked with a sign on the door, we had no way to alert them in advance. The crisis at that time was imminent but not present.”
Concert organizers decided to hold the event on March 15 as planned, but also offered it online to those who stayed home. Till and Stabinsky wanted to perform and gave permission for the church to stream the concert on Facebook. They began with “Deep River,” an arrangement by Maude Powell, who Till describes as a pioneer violinist of her time. The program included music from all periods.
“We included our first performance of a new sonata for violin and piano by British composer Francis Pott. That was fun. This concert was its first outing for us,” Till said. “We also played a fun piece by Tartini called ‘Devil’s Trill,’ The story goes that Tartini had a dream that the devil appeared at the end of his bed and told him to write this piece. It’s a trilling extravaganza for the violin.”
Originally from the United Kingdom, Till moved to the United States in 1999. She lives in Watkins Glenn, New York with her husband and two children. An associate professor of violin/viola at Marywood University, Till is also director of the Marywood Young String Players Alliance for children, and chair of the National String Project Consortium. The Consortium not only provides affordable string education but trains student-teachers. Till also serves on faculty at the Goldansky Institute and works with professional orchestra players who have playing-related injuries.
Till met Stabinsky in 1996 when she came to teach at Encore Music Camp at Wilkes University. The camp was run by Nancy Sanderson, who is now the director of the Northeast Pennsylvania Philharmonic.
“The second sonata that Sophie and I played is really special,” Stabinsky said. “It’s actually one of the first pieces of chamber music that I ever listened to. I had a recording of this piece by Itzhak Perlman and Vladimir Ashkenazy that a friend and I used to listen to when we were teenage piano students in Scranton.”
Stabinsky grew up in Schuylkill County. He was introduced to music by his grandfather who taught him his first notes on the keyboard.
“My grandfather always wanted to play music as a kid and wasn’t allowed to,” Stabinsky said. “His father wanted him working on the farm and forbade him from taking lessons. He started taking lessons at age 52. I was only 5 years old, but was already very interested in music. As an infant, my teeth marks were engrained in the Zenith console my parents had.”
Playing for a telethon in a music store, Stabinsky was noticed by a woman who had been a student of renowned musician and teacher, Anne Liva in Scranton. She recommended Stabinsky be enrolled in classical lessons and arranged for them to meet Anne Liva. For six years, Stabinsky’s grandfather drove him up to Scranton every week for lessons with Liva.
“Music is the only thing I’ve known or ever wanted to do,” Stabinsky said.
Stabinsky is on the faculty of the Goldandsky Institute of New York. He still lives in Schuylkill County but travels extensively, performing with bands and ensembles across the country and around the world. He has been part of the Peter Evans ensemble since 2012. “It’s the first group I played in that I was a huge fan of myself,” he said. “I remember years before, I would drive hours and hours to see him play.”
Stabinsky met Till in 1996, the first night of Encore Music Camp. The following night, they performed together Sergei Prokofiev’s sonata in D major. They’ve been performing together since.
Although upcoming concerts have been cancelled or postponed, Till says she and Stabinsky will continue to work on their music. “The challenge is how can we use this time creatively, when we are in a space that we’re not familiar with?” she said. “Though in a sense, this is a dark time, it can also be a time out of which very creative things are born.”
The concert performed by Till and Stabinsky is available to view online at bit.ly/2xYBKZK.
Arts at First Presbyterian concert series offers concerts to the public, free of charge. The program receives support from the Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts, a Lackawanna County Arts and Cultural Grant and numerous individual donors.