Review | JMU Provost Heather Coltman takes center stage at Forbes

Review | JMU Provost Heather Coltman takes center stage at Forbes

February 16, 2022

Quartets are inherently intimate — a barren stage inhabited by four musicians and a gazing audience — and what connects them is the music. The music did just that Feb. 8 with the Amernet String Quartet joined by Heather Coltman, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at JMU, performing with gusto at the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts.

Opening with Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G minor, K. 478, the brooding introduction was a dramatic start to the night. The Amernet String Quartet played with a rich, blended sound that resonated throughout the hall, complementing the piece well.

Although Coltman has played with the quartet before, including a 10-concert tour of Israel in 2016, she isn’t a permanent group member — although she very well could be.

Some might’ve been puzzled by Coltman’s appearance on the program, but she has a long history with piano. Steeped in classical music as a child, Coltman credits her mother, who she said was a concert pianist, and her first teacher as major influences.

“[Piano] was a very central part of my adolescence and [is] why I decided to major in music,” Coltman said. She received her Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Texas at Austin.

Coltman said she participated in many competitions, traveling mostly through Europe and South Africa to perform before switching to higher education in her 30s. She taught piano at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) for 24 years, eventually working up to dean of FAU’s Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters.

Along the way, she gained experience in administrative work, including forming the FAU marching band from scratch.

“Everything I did taught me more about the impact higher education can have, not only on students but on communities and on professions,” Coltman said.

During the second movement, a wistful Andante, Coltman took center stage, bringing out the sweet sound of the piano while striking a delicate balance between her instrument and the strings. Finishing the work with an iconically playful Rondo, she showed off her technical prowess during the stormy middle section.

“The three movements go through these phases of intense questioning and then reflecting and then resolving by being kind of playful,” Coltman said of the quartet in G minor.

The next three pieces were performed exclusively by the Amernet String Quartet. Starting with Korngold’s Suite from “Much Ado About Nothing,” cellist Jason Colloway described it as embodying the “sound of the golden age of Hollywood.” With both a “post-romantic” and “animated” feel, as one audience member put it, the Korngold showed off the quartet’s versatility.

After the performance, JMU senior Christopher King described his thoughts on the group.

“Their bowings were exactly the same,” King said, referring to their bow articulation and musical approach. “Their strokes are the same. They brought out a lot of things in music that I had never heard before.”

After a 15-minute intermission, the players continued with Schubert’s stately quartet in E flat major, D. 87. The quartet seemed to work as one unit, with their breathing — often used as a way for players to communicate while performing — audible to the audience. Misha Vitenson, the first violin, was passionate, displaying sharp control and using a great deal of vibrato.

Ending the concert was Shoenberg’s Quartet No. 0. Opening with a rustic Allegro Molto, the piece transitions to a more ghostly second movement that showed off violist Michael Klotz’s suave style. The final movement of the piece is declarative, with the quartet blending their sound while the instruments remain individually present.

The next day, members of the Amernet String Quartet held a workshop with JMU music students. Coltman said visiting artists create a special experience at JMU.

“I love how at JMU, when artists come in, we really want them to work with students,” Coltman said. “They don’t just perform and then go home.”

For sophomore music education major Briana Clark, the Feb. 9 workshop turned out to be her first masterclass. Playing for the first time on the Concert Hall stage solo, Clark said she was nervous.

“My heart rate was 138 [beats per minute]; I measured it right before,” she said.

Although Clark said she was anxious, she characterized it as a positive experience, eventually warming up to the quartet members on stage. “Once they started talking to me,” she said, “everything they said made sense.”

“[The quartet] could tell that a lot of people are nervous, and when you’re nervous and you’re only thinking about the mistakes you’ll make, then you don’t play to your full potential,” Clark said. “You only get one shot.”

For Coltman, embracing her experience as a pianist is central to who she is as an educator. As she said, “Let’s do what musicians do, which is respond in the moment to something that’s going on.”

“You can be the star, you can be in the background and you can be everything when you’re a pianist,” Coltman said. “I really do think that translates as to what it is to be a leader … Your job is to tie it all together.”

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