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The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

Marlbrook Chamber Players present “Obsessions”

Members of the chamber trio reflect on 20 years of connection through musical performance
The Marlbrook Chamber Players explored connection in their latest performance. Photo courtesy of The Columns
The Marlbrook Chamber Players explored connection in their latest performance. Photo courtesy of The Columns

The Marlbrook Chamber Players began to play on a darkly lit stage Nov. 5 in the Lenfest Center for the Arts.

Cellist Julia Goudimova, violinist Jaime Letourneau McArdle and pianist Anna Billias, all music lecturers at W&L, showed their connection with music and each other as they performed “Obsessions: Ghosts of the Past.”

“Obsessions” commemorated the end of the Halloween season by exploring themes of tragedy and the macabre of the autumn season.

The show included a diverse selection of classical music: Beethoven’s “Ghost Trio,” Dmitri Shostakovich’s Trio No. 2 and one of Eugène Ysaÿe’s Six Sonatas for solo violin, Op. 27.

Goudimova said each piece reflected “the connection [to the] spirit world.” Connection, in general, is a theme central to the group’s performances.

“I love expressing and sharing my emotions and feelings through music,” the cellist said. “Love is the highest and purest human feeling. With every note I play, every word I say, every thought I have, I want to bring more love to the world.”

The group began performing together in 2004. Their first performance was for a concert series supporting the Rockbridge YMCA with a fundraiser hosted by David and Mary Winston, members of a longtime band called The Hellbenders.

But the origins of the group’s passion can be linked before that.

Moscow-born Goudimova moved to Virginia in 2003 after years of performing across Europe and Asia. She knew she wanted to keep playing the cello and performing for audiences. She searched for any ensembles in Rockbridge County that needed a cello, but was unsuccessful. Even though she was the only cellist around, there were no groups asking for one, she said.

She eventually met Mark Taylor, a violinist, who helped create the Marlbrook Quartet, the initial name of the Marlbrook Chamber Players. Former members violist Cynthia Penne and violinist Janice Vincent completed the group at the time.

Penne suggested the name “Marlbrook” for the quartet, Goudimova said. Penne lived around the Marlbrook community in Rockbridge County and considered “marl,” a rock used in cement and agriculture, to be the mineral that best represented the county.

Next year, in 2024, the group will celebrate 20 years of music since its inception as a quartet.

During those two decades, the roster of the Marlbrook Chamber Players has been through multiple changes.

Goudimova and Penne regularly performed with the quartet for several years before another member, violinist Jaime McArdle, made her appearance in 2010.

“I joined the Marlbrook Chamber Players when I became the adjunct professor of violin and chamber music at W&L,” McArdle told the Phi via email.

She said that the group was still functioning as a string quartet when she joined and included Paula Zimmerman, a community member who was also hired to play alongside the University Orchestra.

When asked about the selection process to join the Marlbrook Chamber Players, Goudimova said the criteria wasn’t restrictive. Though the latest concert featured three women, rehearsal time availability matters most. Members meet often to prepare for performances months in advance, which demands a time commitment, she said.

The players each agreed that meeting and working together as an ensemble defined the experience. The different backgrounds of the members pushed them to adapt how they expressed themselves through their instruments. Finding unity despite those differences to perform dynamic pieces together brought the current players a sense of fulfillment.

The group also has a tradition of centering performances around themes, and picking a variety of musical pieces to fit the chosen theme, Goudimova said.

“I absolutely love playing chamber music,” McArdle said. “Not only do I love the independence of only having one instrument per part, but the lack of a conductor means we must come to [an] agreement on how to play together.”

In 2014, Penne passed away. She had been with Washington and Lee’s music department for 23 years and performed with the quartet for 10 years. The group was renamed the Marlbrook Ensemble afterward.

Tim Gaylard, former head of the university’s music department, joined the group soon after. He was the group’s pianist until he retired in 2020 after 36 years with the university. His exit left a gap in the ensemble’s sound and dynamic.

That’s when the current newest member, pianist Anna Billias, joined the group.

Billias said that she was busy as a lecturer at Washington and Lee and Sweet Briar College when Goudimova first approached her about joining the Marlbrook Chamber Players. As busy as she was, she said, joining the group was worth it for her and her musical journey.

“Whenever you collaborate, you discover things that just are totally new and you find new friends,” Billias said. “Discoveries of this kind are something that make me understand that I am where I belong.”

The ensemble can pay attention to and understand each other without a conductor. During performances, they often glance at each other and communicate with subtle signals.

“We are always listening [to] each other, but visual cues are helpful just as much,” Goudimova said. “When we are searching for unity in playing music, we are starting with determining emotions, characters, stories of the whole piece, a movement, a section, a theme.”

The players manage to connect to their audience through the spirit of collaboration, contributing “to understanding and love of this [classical] genre,” Goudimova said.

Now, the Marlbrook Chamber Players are preparing for their next concert, “Kaleidoscope of Oriental Harmonies.” Goudimova said it features Eastern European compositions and possibly composers from different regions such as Asia or the Middle East.

“I enjoy so many things about the performances,” she said. “On stage, I want to project love of music, of my instrument, of sound, of people, of life.”


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