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Experience a musical anomaly Sunday with Yellowstone Chamber Players

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When people experience things that are new or different, an area deep inside the brain called the ventral striatum lights up, a recent scientific study proved.

Megan Karls, violin; Amy Letson, viola; Ryan Hennessy, contrabass; Sheri Rolf, clarinet; and Sue Logan, oboe
Megan Karls, violin; Amy Letson, viola; Ryan Hennessy, contrabass; Sheri Rolf, clarinet; and Sue Logan, oboe

When the ventral striatum is activated, nerve cells in that part of the brain release dopamine, which stimulates feelings of enjoyment and pleasure.

This signals that humans are hard-wired to enjoy that which is unlike anything we’ve experienced before.

ventralstriatumOn Sunday at Heritage Hall in Great Falls, you will have the chance to spend an afternoon stimulating your ventral striatums as a musical anomaly plays out in front of you. It starts at 3 p.m. and is free to attend.

The show features four of the Yellowstone Chamber Players joining the talented Megan Karls, violinist with the Cascade Quartet, to perform a set of pieces that may never be heard like this again by these performers.

Joining Karls will be Amy Letson on viola, Ryan Hennessy on contrabass, Sheri Rolf on clarinet and Sue Logan on oboe.

The performers will play Sergei Prokofiev’s challenging Quintet in G Major, Op. 39, along with a work for violin and viola by Mozart, Randall Thompson’s Suite for oboe, clarinet and viola and selections from Morton Gould’s “Benny’s Gig” for clarinet and bass.

Prokofiev’s piece will have your ventral striatums going into overdrive as not only is it scored unusually, it breaks free from typical harmonic and melodic patterns, also.

Karls said that it’s a difficult piece to play, but one that she’s excited to take on with the Yellowstone players.

“(the Quintet) is Prokofiev’s most dissonant piece of writing and also is notorious for not being performed that often,” Karls said. “It’s incredibly difficult, and I think those two things are related.”

Karls added that the piece sees Prokofiev, “going for an outrageous tone, almost to the point of grotesque, with some of the harmonies. They’re very far from what we are accustomed to hearing.”

The piece is not without comparison, however, as Karls said if people were to compare it to anything it would likely be to Igor Stravinsky’s  “Histoire du soldat” or translated as “The Soldier’s Tale.”

“Both Stravinsky and Prokofiev lived in similar places in similar times of history which is Russia proper in the first half of the 20th century,” Karls said. “The Quintet came at a time that I think was at the height of his being influenced by Stravinsky’s writing. The two pieces are different in a lot of ways, but they’re also difficult to play for a lot of the same reasons.”

The other pieces, Karls explained, are more typical of what one might hear at a chamber show, noting that “It’s just one gorgeous sound followed by more gorgeous sounds,” she said. “No one is going to be offended by the Mozart or Thompson pieces. There’s no way you could listen to them and think ‘Well that’s ugly music.’ I really think it’s impossible, whereas the Prokofiev is a bit more adventurous.”

Karls also said the music is but one reason to check out the show on Sunday.

She said having a chance to hear the Yellowstone Players in an intimate setting in Great Falls is not something that is too common, either.

“(The Yellowstone Players) have wanted to play this Prokofiev Quintet for a long time and it’s a big bite to chew off,” she said. “I’m incredibly honored to be asked to play with these people I’ve met in various orchestras.”

When they’re not performing for the Yellowstone players, Rolf plays second clarinet with the Great Falls Symphony, Letson is the principal viola player in the Billings Symphony, Hennessy is a public school teacher in Billings and plays for the Billings Symphony and Logan is the principal oboist at the Billings Symphony and teaches music at Rocky Mountain College.

Karls said she feels experiences such as this one enriches everyone’s musical abilities when they return to their home bases.

She said for her she feels it enhances her abilities by helping her become more flexible in the different styles each of the players bring to table.

“I feel incredibly lucky right now that I’m in a place where I’ve been able to make a decision, which is very much my own personal manifesto, to play music I love with other musicians whom I love. Plus, everyone is unique as a musician and every person you meet has his or her own path.”

As an example, Karls points to how she considers both Madison Johnson, the viola player for the Cascade Quartet, and Letson to be incredible musicians who each have their own takes on how they play certain pieces of music.

“They’re not going to play a Mozart duo the same way, for instance,” she said. “So, the challenge of being a chamber musician is learning to be flexible and be constantly open to new ideas or new interpretations and do that in an active way whether we’re sitting in an orchestra or in a chamber setting.”

Because the show is on Sunday, be sure to set your clocks ahead an hour as it’s the start of Daylight Saving Time.

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