Avery Morris ’13 was looking for violin/viola duets to play with her twin sister, Alexzandra ’13, when a piece written in quarter tones, by Czech composer Gideon Klein, caught her attention. Intrigued by the duet, Avery wanted to know more about Klein’s work and his life, which she learned had been tragically cut short when he was killed during the Holocaust at the age of 26. Avery never expected that this initial spark of curiosity would evolve into a research and performance project focusing on Klein, and land her a prestigious Fulbright Study/Research Award to support nine months in Prague exploring his legacy.
“I’ve always been interested in Jewish musicians and composers before and during World War II,” she said. “But it was really serendipity that led me to Klein.”
Avery was surprised to find that Klein’s work was less well-known than she had expected. Though some of his compositions had survived the war, including those he wrote while in the Nazi concentration camp Theresienstadt, many had never been published. A cache of his work from before the war was discovered in an attic in Prague in the 1990s and donated to the city’s Jewish Museum, where the manuscripts are available to scholars.
Avery’s project is beginning to take shape around various ways to make Klein’s work more accessible. She hopes to perform and record his compositions as well as give lectures on his music and its context. Having previously transcribed several Klein pieces for violin, she will also pursue their publication.
Currently a doctoral candidate in violin performance at Stony Brook University in New York, Avery credits Crossroads with helping her realize that she could pursue a career in the arts. When she joined the School in ninth grade to become a member of EMMI (the Elizabeth Mandell Music Institute), Avery was already a committed violinist, but she hadn't imagined becoming a professional musician. Being part of a community of young performing and visual artists opened her eyes to the possibilities for herself.
She recalls the high caliber of the EMMI orchestra and the impact of teachers like Richard Grayson, Mary Ann Cummins and Alex Treger on her education. “Alex Treger is one of the most inspiring teachers I’ve had to this day,” she said of the program’s conductor. “He holds his students to very high standards. There are few student orchestras that are at EMMI’s level of musicality and preparedness.”
During her senior year, some EMMI alumni returned to play with the student orchestra. She recalls, “I found myself sitting next to Sheryl Staples ’86, the principal associate concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic. It was like being in this sound bubble of the most resonance you could ever imagine. It was a really huge moment, and I felt like, ‘I could do this.’”
As EMMI shaped Avery’s musical development, she also excelled academically and was encouraged by her teachers across disciplines to dive into the ideas that engaged her. She remembers that while studying vibrato in violin music, she also chose it as the subject for a physics project, making graphs that represented the phenomenon in scientific terms. She continued to follow her interests in music and STEM subjects after graduating from Crossroads, and earned double bachelor’s degrees from Bard College Conservatory of Music in violin performance and mathematics.
Avery’s Fulbright project reveals the dynamic space she is creating for her work as an artist. She explains, “When I was younger, it seemed like there was only one way to be a musician. You would follow a pretty set path and perhaps get an orchestra job. Now, it feels like some of the traditional molds are beginning to break open. I feel very grateful to be able to take on a project in which I both play my instrument and engage in serious scholarship. I think Crossroads was really important in allowing me to bridge different interests and create a path that connects them.”