Last Sunday, Jan. 14, the music department here at Carleton played host to the concertmaster of the locally beloved Minnesota Orchestra, Erin Keefe. According to the Orchestra’s biography of her, Keefe has been known for her “exhilarating temperament and fierce integrity.” Keefe performed alongside the well-known pianist, Christopher Guzman.
The program consisted of Mozart’s 27th Sonata for Violin and Piano, Prokofiev’s Five Melodies for Violin and Piano, Messiaen’s Theme and Variations for Violin and Piano, Beach’s Romance for Violin and Piano, as well as Robert Schumann’s 2nd Sonata for Violin and Piano.
Violinist Klara Kjome Fischer ’26 was at the concert and commented how she appreciated the music choices being for both instruments — piano typically used merely as accompaniment. In her recollection of Keefe’s words, “there was no overriding theme for the concert” and that these were simply pieces both she and Guzman enjoyed playing together. “Good music,” she called it, adding that she especially enjoyed the pieces by Prokofiev and Amy Beach.
“I loved the concert because she played with the kind of expression that, I think, is the meaning of music,” said Fischer. She added that sometimes when working on her own music, she worries about the pretentiousness associated with violin music.
With Keefe’s concert, she found none of that: “This music is worth playing, because when played with such an obvious personal connection and attention, it turns into something alive that affects everyone in the room.”
Other music students at Carleton were moved by the concert as well: violinist Max Kingston ’26 said the Schumann Sonata brought them nearly to tears. Kingston appreciates the manner in which the program was decided, saying that “her level of interest made the performance more energetic and entertaining.” Kingston echoed others’ praise of Keefe’s playing, describing her style as “very expressive and dynamic.”
The concertmaster also hosted a masterclass earlier that weekend for violin students which Fischer, among others, attended. For context, a masterclass typically involves each student playing a chosen piece onstage while the guest sits in the audience and gives them suggestions, which they are supposed to apply in the moment.
Fischer said she “loves that kind of challenge” with the “resulting change in my playing” giving her a lot to think on and experiment with. During the masterclass, Keefe even sightread one of the pieces with an expressiveness that “made [Kjome Fischer] even more excited for the concert.”
In the masterclass, Fischer remembers being surprised to hear that Erin Keefe actually hates practicing. But this in turn makes her really efficient at practicing. One method Keefe uses is to play through a piece very slowly, “one note per second,” because it makes each pitch stand out and helps her balance everything one must think about when playing the violin.
Of her experience, Fischer is glad she went: “Ms. Keefe is a talented violinist but also a gifted teacher, as she pushed us to play beyond our expectations without making us feel bad.”
Keefe gave the students advice about different ways to use the bow — weight, contact points and positioning — to produce different tone qualities and how she goes about playing difficult chords. Lily Vargo ’25 described Keefe’s approaches to teaching technique in the masterclass as teaching them shortcuts to improve efficiently.
Vargo said she liked participating in this masterclass because “it’s always nice to get a fresh perspective on your playing, especially if you are working on a piece that you have been playing for a while.” She left feeling “inspired…to have a deeper focus on [her] piece.”
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