Nov. 09--How do chamber musicians from Germany, Belgium and Seattle wind up being based in Mammoth Lakes?
"Of course, it's beautiful and natural," said Rebecca Hang, who plays violin in the Felici Piano Trio. "It's just a gorgeous natural environment where you can have peace of mind, of heart and of soul."
It's also an artsy Mono County community that sought out a resident chamber group through a national grant program. Hang has been "very optimistic" about the trio's 15-year residency: the town of 7,000 has 130 music students.
The Felici Piano Trio -- Hang, 46, husband and cellist Brian Schuldt, 44, and pianist Steven Vanhauwaert, 32 -- visit Manteca, a city of 71,067, to perform Sunday as part of its 28-year-old Kindred Arts series.
Their two-hour performance -- "Very distinct. Very different. Three different aesthetics," Schuldt said -- includes Josef Haydn's Piano Trio in A Major, Dmitri Shostakovich's Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor and Piano Trio in B-flat Major by Ludwig van Beethoven.
As is increasingly common among chamber music groups, education and edification -- especially of children and young people -- are equal to informing and entertaining.
Two of the town's students are Hang and Schuldt's children -- Sophia, 14, who plays piano and violin, and Ari, 12, a pianist/cellist. They often perform with their parents.
"It's the best ever," Hang said. "You find great closeness. ... They're also very good soccer players."
Schuldt's iffy culinary skills helped bring the couple -- and the trio -- together as students at Indiana University.
Schuldt, from Seattle, and Hang, from Bingen am Rhine, near Mainz, Germany, stayed in Bloomington, Ind., for Thanksgiving in 1994. His resourcefulness was impressive.
"While the turkey was cooking, we were playing," Hang said. "He really didn't know how to cook it. So, he called his mom and asked, 'How do you cook a turkey?' "
"The essence of chamber music is communication," Schuldt said. "It's like another family. I felt from the very beginning it's one way of communicating and being direct without offending each other. It's not personal. It's professional."
After they won a quartet scholarship at Indiana, they "put names in a hat," Hang said, and drew out "felici," which means "the happy ones."
Their musical recipe led to 15 concerts in Germany during the summer of 1995. They "made several recordings," Schuldt said, and applied for a World Residency Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Then, Chamber Music America's Rural Residency Program "matched" them with Mammoth Lakes, "which was looking for a trio," Schuldt said. The Felicis fit the description and, in 1998, received a three-year grant to teach and perform there. In 2003, that was buttressed by a five-year stipend from the California Arts Council's "touring roster ensemble."
The trio has performed 300 concerts on three continents and released four recordings.
When their original piano player experienced a heart problem, Vanhauwaert, a Redondo Beach resident and University of Southern California graduate from Antwerp, Belgium, became a "quick replacement," Hang said. "It was very intense. Except for the communication side. He speaks Flemish. The musical aspect was very easy. Very smooth."
Hang, who grew up in Germany's Rhine Valley, discovered her musical acumen in a preschool class during "little clapping and singing tests." She began playing the recorder, then mandolin and guitar.
At 10, she "discovered her true love": The violin and its "ability to sustain sound. You only could pluck the guitar."
Her mom, Hedi, was a secretary who sang in church. Ernhard, her dad, was a state government worker who played recorder.
Hang performed with Jerusalem's Israel Philharmonic for four years and attended Rice University in Houston, before transferring to Indiana.
A Seattle native, Schuldt eagerly watched his older sister learn to play violin. At 5, he decided to try cello "because I could sit down and I loved the deep sound. I wasn't a prodigy. I practiced five or six days a week."
His parents, Sharon and Gary, a computer programmer, were "amateur musicians." Brian "loved the big romantic works" played by Seattle's Roosevelt High School orchestra and discovered chamber music during University of Washington summer camps.
"It was the best of both worlds," said Schuldt. "There's a great repertoire, and you had your own voice. One person per part. The interaction is always complete."
That includes audiences, helping make chamber music sustainable in an age of 24/7 distractions.
"There's never going to be anything quite like it," Hang said. "Just by talking to audience members, chamber music is a very different kind of entertainment experience. It's heartfelt. After concerts, they share with you thoughts and impressions.
"It's a much more inward experience than a theater, play or movie. It's a very strong experience. People need the cultural context in live concerts. They find personal meaning."
Contact Tony Sauro at (209) 546-8267 or email@example.com.
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