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Spotlight on Matt Albert (Director of Chamber Music)

The new artist-in-residence in the Division of Music wants his students to learn two things: how to listen to others and how to teach themselves.

by Victoria Winkelman

“I tell them the way to be a consummate performer ‘in the room’ is to take in other performers’ ideas and reflect on them through their own playing in the moment,” says Matt Albert, who began his two-year appointment at Meadows School of the Arts in September. “Any musician who can do that, and then go into the practice studio and solve problems that come up, will be able to make it as a professional.”

The Grammy-winning violinist and violist knows what it takes to be- come a professional musician. Fifteen years ago, Albert and five other music students at Oberlin College and Conservatory founded the new music sextet eighth blackbird. The group presented concerts around the globe and received numerous awards, including first prizes at the Naumburg, Concert Artists Guild, Coleman and Fischoff competitions. He recorded with the ensemble for Cedille Records, and their disc strange imaginary animals received the 2008 Grammy for Best Chamber Music Performance.

Albert was introduced to Meadows last year, when eighth blackbird spent four weeks at SMU as recipients of the inaugural Meadows Prize, an international arts residency launched by the Meadows School in fall 2009. During their visits to campus, eighth blackbird members worked with Meadows music students in workshops, master classes, rehearsals and public performances. Albert already was making plans to leave eighth blackbird by May 2011, so when SMU offered him a position, he jumped at the chance. “The timing was perfect,” he says. “Playing with eighth blackbird meant the world to me; we formed in college, so we grew up together, and I will always be proud of how much we accomplished. But, after 15 years, I felt I was ready to move on and explore more of what the musical world has to offer. I loved working with the students at SMU last year, and the chance to teach here on a regular basis while also continuing to per- form with orchestras around the country was a fantastic opportunity.”

At SMU, Albert serves as director of the chamber music program and of SYZYGY (pronounced SIZZ-uh-jee), the Meadows new music ensemble. In addition to a weekly chamber music master class and SYZYGY rehearsals, he coordinates repertoire, rehearsals, coaching with other faculty and performances. Albert says that Meadows students are talented and extremely diligent. “I expect a high level of self-discipline and self-determination from my chamber music groups,” he says. “In SYZYGY, I want to create an energized, malleable, dynamic performance experience of new music that engages students and audiences, showing them different ways to perform and listen that are still relevant to their greater musical journeys.” Albert’s first concert with SYZYGY in November paired Steve Reich’s rarely-played masterpiece Music for 18 Musicians with Albert’s own arrangement of J.S. Bach’s Chaconne. The sold-out concert featured several guest artists, including Jon Lee, director of the Meadows Percussion Ensemble.

“Matt has the ability to make difficult contemporary classic music exciting, entertaining and approachable,” says Sam Holland, director of the Division of Music at Meadows. “In his work with our students last year during his Meadows Prize residency, Matt showed them innovative ways of presenting music and making a living in the modern musical world. He is a wonderful role model for our students and an outstanding teacher.”

A native of Winchester, Va., Albert holds degrees from Oberlin College and Conservatory (B.M. violin and B.A. English), the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (A.D. chamber music), and North- western University School of Music (M.M. violin). He has performed with Meredith Monk, Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and as an onstage violinist for Evanston Light Opera Works. He also performed on alternative rock band Wilco’s new CD, The Whole Love, released in September 2011. In addition, he is a member of the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra in Santa Cruz, Calif., where he currently holds the principal second violin chair under Marin Alsop, and he teaches violin and viola at the Festival Internacional de Música Erudita de Piracicaba, São Paulo, Brazil. 

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