Something Old, Something New

Ciompi Quartet plays master works, student composition for alumni audiences abroad

Grad student Garner composed work performed by Ciompi Quartet during fall trip to Europe.

International man of music: Grad student Garner composed work performed by Ciompi Quartet during fall trip to Europe.
Megan Morr

When the Ciompi Quartet played three European concerts in October, the group treated audiences to its trademark repertoire of well-known masterpieces paired with contemporary compositions. But the events represented more than mere entertainment. The concerts were a convergence of Duke’s arts and international efforts, student- faculty collaborations, and the Duke Alumni Association’s (DAA) global networks.

Two of the concerts took place in Vienna and marked the first time that the quartet, founded at Duke in 1965, had played in the birthplace of Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, and Johann Strauss. The Vienna performances were coordinated through the U.S. Embassy there and its ambassador, William Carlton Eacho III ’76. The third concert, in Munich, was sponsored by the DAA and the Duke Club of Germany.

One of the highlights of each concert was the performance of a composition by David Kirkland Garner, a Duke graduate student in music. “As our international alumni presence continues to grow, we are always looking for opportunities to connect alumni back to campus,” says George Dorfman ’85, A.M. ’01, assistant vice president for alumni affairs, who helped coordinate the Munich concert. “The Ciompi Quartet’s European concerts featuring a current student’s work was a great way to do that.”

As part of a composition course offered in the spring of 2010, Garner and his classmates got to share their new work with the Ciompi Quartet, whose members are all on the faculty of Duke’s music department. Quartet members—cellist Fred Raimi and violinists Hsiaomei Ku, Eric Pritchard, and Jonathan Bagg—played the students’ work in class and provided feedback and suggestions for improving it.

The quartet particularly liked Garner’s work, a combination of classical and bluegrass pieces, and they encouraged him to write additional music and expand his class assignment into a longer composition. The finished piece, I Ain’t Broke (But I’m Badly Bent), is a series of fourteen short movements that include folk traditions, as well as classical and bluegrass.

Garner is in the third year of a five-year Ph.D. program, and plans to focus his dissertation on a full-length composition that will build on his interests in combining traditional and contemporary musical styles and instrumentation, including banjo, mandolin, harp, harpsichord, and electric guitar.

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