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Review: Fort Lewis College presents a hidden Maymester gem

Pianist Holly Quist and tenor Wesley Dunnagan take a bow at the end of their performance of Robert Schumann’s 16-part song cycle: “Dichterliebe,” Op. 48. In Roshong Recital Hall for the FLC Maymester program. (Courtesy of Judith Reynolds)

Fort Lewis College’s newest experiment in student-centered learning is called Maymester. It has come and gone with barely a whisper. One final event takes place Friday (May 26), and it is well worth a trip to campus.

A free recital titled “Exploring the Music of Edward Elgar: Maymester Chamber Music Intensive Final Concert” begins at 7 p.m. May 26 in Roshong Recital Hall. Organized by two FLC music faculty members, Wesley Dunnagan and Richard Silvers, the monthlong course has focused on the music of the famous British composer and wraps up with a small jewel of a recital Friday.

Maymester is a new idea at the college introduced by outgoing Provost Cheryl Nixon as a way to add value to FLC student experience. Faculty members and departments have been invited to brainstorm short, intensive courses to be offered at the end of the academic year for one month only – hence Maymester.

If you go

WHAT: “Exploring the Music of Edward Elgar: Maymester Chamber Music Intensive Final Concert.”

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday (May 26).

WHERE: Roshong Recital Hall, Fort Lewis College, 1000 Rim Drive.


Silvers and Dunnagan came up with the idea of an intensive look at one composer’s music. Because Silvers concentrated on the music of Elgar for his doctoral dissertation, he and Dunnagan cooked up this unusual experience for FLC music students. It has several moving parts, including student instrumentalists and singers learning, rehearsing, and performing Elgar chamber works in a short, intense schedule. Then they all went on the road to area schools, performing for and sitting in with music groups. Professors and students then planned to cap their immersive month with two free recitals on campus.

Tuesday witnessed a singular event featuring Silvers playing Elgar’s “Romance,” Op. 1, 1879, on the violin with Dunnagan accompanying on piano. The duo followed with Elgar’s “La Capriciense,” which contrasted the intense romanticism of the first piece with playful, virtuosic showmanship.

The second half of the program featured Dunnagan as a singer performing Schumann’s “Dichterliebe,” Op 48, 1840, with pianist Holly Quist. The 16-part song cycle is an extraordinary expression of German Romanticism. Dunnagan performed the work from memory with musical precision and emotional intensity. Quist’s sensitive reading of the piano partnership served the cycle well.

The songs have the quality of reverie and range from lyrical evocations of nature in spring to the solid and declarative praise for an architectural masterpiece, Cologne Cathedral.

Rarely performed in its entirety these days, the Schumann song cycle turned out to be a singular experience for music lovers, a memorable musical event for those who were lucky enough to know about the recital.

Friday’s free Maymester recital may well offer a similar experience.If only the FLC Maymester events had been better publicized as a group so the community might enjoy this extraordinary new offering.

Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.