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Volume 26, Number 5 — May 2019

Paramount Chamber Players premiere ballet

Deirdre Cole creates a magical journey
Deirdre Cole creates a magical journey

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | February 27, 2019

When Craig Combs of the Paramount Chamber Players (a Tri-Cities based chamber group) and Twenty-21 (a London-based chamber group) asked for new music from regional composers, he wasn’t expecting it to transform later into a ballet.

One of the scores Combs received was from Evelyn Pursley-Kopitzke. He originally asked for music with an Appalachian flavor, but Pursley-Kopitzke asked if she could compose something with an African flavor.

“In 2006, when Evelyn first composed the ‘African Vignettes,’ I was impressed with the dance elements evident in the music and said to her off hand, ‘You should consider making this into a ballet.’ Years later in 2014, she came to me and asked if I would consider premiering her ballet if she converted it. I agreed and here we are,” Combs says.

Once Combs agreed to perform her ballet, he asked her to find a ballet company to produce it. Pursley-Kopitzke chose Deirdre Cole and the Highlands Ballet.

A ballet is new to The Paramount Chamber Players, but it meshes with their collaborative philosophy.

TPCP have partnered with many community organizations to present music including Mountain Empire Children’s Choral Academy, The Birthplace of Country Music Museum, East Tennessee State University and King University.

The Paramount Chamber Players have been instrumental in promoting Pursley-Kopitzke’s music. They premiered three of her larger works “African Vignettes,” “Victoria Vignettes” and “Second Sight,” poetry by the late Samuel E. Miller, M.D.

“When the opportunity came to partner with the Highlands Ballet, it seemed like the perfect fit: two community nonprofit arts organizations collaborating to present a local composer’s ballet,” Combs says.

The ballet’s music is performed by Craig Combs, piano; George Figueroa, violin; Cherylonda Fitzgerald, cello; Lisa Perry, clarinet; Rebecca Paluzzi, flute; and Alan Fey, percussion.

The dancers are rehearsing to computer recordings of the music.

“The musicians will perform at the same tempi, and the dancers will, over two to three rehearsals, get used to the more human quality of the sound. Essentially, as long as the speed is similar and there are the same number of measures, the music and dance should go together easily,” Combs says.

The Paramount Chamber Players will have two rehearsals as a group and then two more with the dancers.

“We are all excited to be a part of this community collaboration to bring a world premiere of a local composer to our audiences,” Combs says.

For 15 years, The Paramount Chamber Players have been the Tri-Cities premier chamber music ensemble. Their mission is in part to make chamber music a vital part of the community.

“We feel that partnering with other performance arts organizations to bring unique experiences like ‘Magic Butterfly’ is a creative way to fulfill our mission,” he says.

In March, the Paramount Chamber Players also perform “Musical Gems: The Beauty of Simplicity.”

Mark Owen Davis performs Beethoven’s first song cycle “An die ferne Geliebte.” Oboist, Larry Mueller plays two oboe sonatas by Saint-Saëns and Poulenc, and bassoonist Zachary Millwood performs a set of English folk tunes set by Vaughn-Williams. Pianist Craig W. Combs accompanies all performers.

Performances are Thursday, March 14 at 7:30 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church in Kingsport, Tennessee, and Sunday, March 17, at 3 p.m. as part of the Spencer-Miller Memorial Concert Series at Sinking Spring Presbyterian Church in Abingdon, Virginia.

Tickets for “Magic Butterfly” may be purchased online at for the Paramount Center performance or for the McGlothlin Center performance.

Tickets for “Musical Gems” are available at the door for all performances for $15/general admission, $12/seniors. Tickets for the Spencer-Miller Memorial Concert Series performance Sunday afternoon are available at the door for $10 for general admission. Students are admitted to “Musical Gems” for free.

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