January 25, 2010

First Person: William Ransom

A toast to an anniversary of note

William Ransom

William Ransom is Emerson Professor of Piano, director of piano studies, and artistic director of the Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta.

Anniversaries! My mother taught me to take any and all opportunities to celebrate — preferably with champagne — anniversaries, birthdays, or just a random Thursday in February. This season I am celebrating my 25th year on the Emory faculty and by happy coincidence, 2010 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of both Frederic Chopin and Robert Schumann, a pianist’s dream! To celebrate, the Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta (ECMSA) will be presenting a year-long Frederic Chopin/Robert Schumann Bicentennial Concert Series, which will include performance of all the major solo piano and instrumental chamber music of both composers.

It has been incredibly gratifying to have been a part of the tremendous growth of music at Emory in the last 25 years — from humble beginnings in the basement of the then-Humanities Building (now the Callaway Center) which would flood every six months or so (sometimes directly into our grand pianos), to the renovated Emory Baptist Church (now the Burlington Road Building and the Performing Arts Studio), to the glory of the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts. We have had an extraordinary faculty, staff, and student body all along the way, but I give thanks every day that we now also have the facilities to match that excellence.

If you have not heard the University choruses, the Emory University Symphony Orchestra or the Emory Wind Ensemble recently, check them out. They are all ensembles that represent the very best of what Emory can do, and they involve a large percentage of the student body. And the smaller peripheral ensembles that have grown up around these groups are adding a wonderful dimension to our core offerings.

Though I love to play the solo repertoire — recitals and concerti with orchestras — I also have from a very early age equally embraced collaboration and chamber music. This is no doubt due to the fact that as soon as I could read the notes, I was pressed into service as accompanist for my sister Kate, a violinist, whose own love of chamber music inspired mine as well. We continue to play together to this day, programs we call “Ransom Notes.”

One of my proudest achievements in my 25 years at Emory has been the founding and development of the ECMSA, now in its 17th season, which has become one of the largest and most active organizations of its kind in the nation. With noontime, family, and more formal “Emerson” series concerts, we now present more than 25 concerts a year, commission new works from composers, record, and tour the world.

In addition to the finest Atlanta musicians, guest artists have included cellist Yo-Yo Ma, guitarist Eliot Fisk, clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, pianists Christopher O’Riley and Robert Spano, violinist Alan Gilbert, and members of the Tokyo, Cleveland, Lark, Fine Arts, Ciompi and Blair String quartets, among others. Most recently, the addition of the residency of the Vega String Quartet to the faculty has completed my dream of finding creative ways to spread the greatest art of music, which I love so much, to all corners of the University and greater community.

I’d like to invite everyone to come help me celebrate at any of the many concerts in the ECMSA series scheduled throughout the season. We will feature some of Emory’s own finest musicians, as well as numerous guest artists from around the world. Here’s to my next 25 years at Emory, and to the next 200 years of the music of Chopin and Schumann. Don’t forget the champagne!

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