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Volume 24, Number 5 — May 2017

Far Flung Artists: Craig Combs

From left to right: George Figueora, Mark Pedus and Craig Combs with twenty21.
From left to right: George Figueora, Mark Pedus and Craig Combs with twenty21.
Additional photos below »

Combs enjoys exposing diverse groups to chamber music

By Leslie Grace / A! Magazine for the Arts | October 31, 2012

Combs performs with two chamber groups: The Paramount Chamber Players which is based in Bristol and twenty21 based in London. He also performs as part of the Combs/Hostetter Piano Duo; his partner Elizabeth Hostetter is based in Alabama. He also has two new endeavors. In London he is working with Patricia Calcedo, a soprano living in Barcelona, who specializes in art song by composers in Iberia and Latin America. They will be performing in Latin America, Australia and Japan during the next two to three years. He and George Figueroa from Boone, N.C., have formed a violin/piano duo and are preparing to seek performance opportunities in the U.S. and abroad.

He says it isn't uncommon for chamber musicians to be part of groups that are geographically separated. "It is normal practice for individual musicians to prepare parts and come together for a series of rehearsals and then present the music. For me it really isn't so different to come from London than it is to come from New York."

The Paramount Chamber Players and twenty21 both play similar music, although twenty21 plays more pieces from the 20th and 21st centuries. "The process and music making is the same," he says. "Non-musically, there are a few differences. Twenty21 is a truly international group with musicians from Belgium, France, Bulgaria, Hungary, England and the United States. Additionally, the average age of the group in London is considerably younger and as such has a different energy in the performance. As one might expect from younger players, the tempi can be faster and phrases more exaggerated. In the Tri-Cities, our musicians are more mature, which creates an atmosphere of musical communication and deep commitment. Both are exhilarating to experience from the performance point of view."

His piano duo with Hostetter switches base between London and Alabama depending on the activity. He says the difference between the duo and the other groups is one of instrumentation and compositional style.

"A piano duo is two people, four hands on one instrument, which creates a certain sameness of texture and color of sound, whereas the ensemble with strings and winds combined with piano produces a wider variety of sounds and texture. Composers also create different music for the two ensemble types. Piano duo music is often smaller of scale and more intense with a compositional compactness all derived from the smaller palette of sound. Both have their pleasures."

Combs says there is one major difference between the American and European approach to musical training. "In the States, there is a preoccupation with the development of a beautiful sound often primary over the concerns of musical expression. In Europe, it's the opposite. Their primary concern is for a historically correct reading of the score with beauty of sound a secondary concern. However, the best artists on both continents have command over both sound and musical interpretation. But the intellectual discussions concerning these issues are stimulating and enlightening."

In addition to simulating discussions, Craig says that living in Europe is an extraordinary experience. "Just within the Western European countries, there are amazing similarities in culture and astonishing differences that constantly amaze and delight. But within a three-hour flight from London, you can also experience first-hand the societies of Eastern Europe, as well as the Middle Eastern cultures in Turkey and Northern Africa. Easy access to these cultures, art and music has enhanced my life enormously, making me aware that the human experience is much broader than I ever imagined."

Combs enhances the human experience by not only performing; but also his two chamber ensembles are dedicated to exposing diverse groups to the delight of chamber music. The Paramount Chamber Players is a non-profit organization with the goals of developing a strong network of advocates for chamber music in the Tri-Cities and helping the performance of chamber music become a frequent and natural part of the landscape. He is planning a gala year of performances to celebrate its 10th anniversary. This year the group is beginning its first educational program, "Classical Kaleidoscopes," which takes chamber music into local public schools, offering free tickets to students who wish to attend a concert.

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- Lisa Wade: Arts locally fueled her passion.


This fall in London, twenty21 will receive its charitable status (similar to a non-profit designation). Combs hopes to recreate the success of The Paramount Chamber Players with this group.

As for what he misses most about home his family. "Having been in Bristol and surrounding areas for generations, the Combs family and Bristol are inextricable. My youth is filled with family memories centered about Bristol: Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Central Christian Church, Boy Scouts, school, the Stone Castle, South Holston Lake and dam, the Appalachian Trail, Steele Creek Park, Bristol Caverns and many more. I take from these experiences and concomitant values a uniquely American culture that I have been able to share with my friends around the world."

Artist's Bio: Craig Combs
Born in Bristol, Tenn.
Educational Background
D.M.A. Piano Performance and Literature,
Eastman School 1988
Teacher: Rebecca Penneys, M.M. Piano Performance, Eastman School
Teacher: Barbara Lister-Sink, B.M. Piano Performance, Shenandoah Conservatory
Teacher: Elizabeth Temple
Recordings:
Musihanten sings Music of Russell Woollen
Forbidden Voices: Songs by Jewish Composers Banned by the Nazis,
Festival of the Vegetables
Stanford University, Forbidden Voices
Merkin Hall, Cassatt String Quartet
United Nations Day of the Older Person
Benefit Recital for St. Jude Children's Hospital
Kennedy Center, Shenandoah Faculty Concert
Yale University, Premiere of Ballad for Piano and Wind Ensemble

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>> Lisa Wade





The Paramount Chamber Players featuring Craig Combs (piano), Eugene Jones (clarinet) and Cherylonda Fitzgerald (cello).