April 2024
Innovative, Classical Collaboration
QC Interfaith Choir Joins Mary Lou Prince and Sarah Walder Amata in concert April 27

These two are up to something, and I plan to be there when it hatches.

Mary Lou Prince and Sarah Walder Amata recently found each other and recognized an immediate resonance. Both musicians have lived for many years in overseas. Their colorful biographies have greatly informed the way they create music. Perceptive, playful and inquisitive are adjectives that come to mind. They are presenting a concert on April 27 at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Prescott that should be well worth attending.

A few months ago I wrote about local composer and musician Mary Lou Prince, who has composed significant and beautiful music. Recently the Quad City Interfaith Choir performed her song cycle Women of Courage, and it was so well received that the choir repeated the performance three times to packed audiences.

Mary Lou Prince

Following formal study of composition in the US and a year in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, she lived in Japan for over two decades, working with Japanese instruments and traditional theatre forms. Her works for koto and shakuhachi won national composition awards, and were performed in festivals and on noh stages in Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe and Kanazawa. In 2018 she composed a string quartet with koto called Topaz, inspired by the devastating incarceration of American citizens of Japanese descent in a desolate internment camp in Utah during World War II.

Mine Okubo, one of those interned at Topaz, was an artist who lived in California before the war. She won a scholarship to study in Paris, but had to cut her time short when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939. Shortly after returning to California she was rounded up with thousands of other citizens and sent to Topaz, where she spent two years, later writing a book about the experience, Citizen 13660.

Sarah Walder Amata studied at Oberlin Conservatory and then at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, where she lived and worked for 30 years before returning to Flagstaff. She is both an accomplished cellist and a playful spirit, bright with enthusiasm for sharing the rich tonality of the cello and viola da gamba, a cello-like instrument popular during the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Since 2016 Walder Amata has performed her solo program Cello Trip, which includes both classical and contemporary compositions as well as her own works for cello with looping. The result is joyful and lovely, as you can see on the videos she links on her website (link below).

Sarah Walder Amata

Prince attended Cello Trip in September last year and it inspired her to ask Walder Amata if she would be interested in collaborating. Walder Amata agreed, and the pair felt an immediate kinship.

Prince’s Topaz will be one of the pieces on the April 27 program. The Quad City Interfaith Choir will sing one piece from Women of Courage about Topaz, based on Okubo’s story. Joining Prince and Walder Amata will be Michael DiBarry on violin, Kin (Desmond) Siu on violin, Kimberly Sullivan on viola and Patty Christiena Willis on vocals and storytelling.

The theme of Paris also runs through this concert — not only did Okubo spend time there studying art, but Prince and Willis also spent time in Paris informing their creative work over the decades. The program will include Prince, Willis and Walder Amata performing Paris-inspired songs. Prince’s music is deeply moving and delightfully accessible.

Prince and Walder Amata will perform on Saturday, April 27 at Trinity Presbyterian Church, 630 Park Ave in Prescott at 7pm. The concert will consist of compositions by Prince, including Topaz, Seasons and songs inspired by Paris. Proceeds will benefit the Granite Peak Universal Unitarian Congregation.

Prince’s excitement about this collaboration is palpable. I was able to meet with Prince and Walder Amata twice, shortly after they met and then again after Prince had time to compose more works, and they’d spent more time playing and getting to know one another. Both are highly trained professionals who bring sheer joy to their music-making. I expect we can look forward to more innovative collaboration from these two.

Prince’s koto was carved from a single piece of wood, hollowed out painstakingly with tiny carving tools and ornamented on one end with intricate carvings and brass inlay, which is normally covered, but I’m sure she’ll show you if you ask.

You can find out more about Mary Lou Prince and Sarah Walder Amata at marylouprincemusic.com or sarahwalderamatamusic.com.

Abby Brill is Associate Editor of 5enses.

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