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May 20, 2010

ULM professor offers old style, new music with grant funding for CD

From its inception in 2006, Duo Chanot has performed to acclaim throughout the United States. Christopher Thompson, violinist, and Michael Gurt, pianist, are both established performing artists who bring consummate technique and seasoned musical interpretive skills to their collaborative effort.

A University of Dayton reviewer once wrote of the duo, “Thompson and Gurt achieve such a profound level of communication that each phrase seems to emanate from a single artistic impulse.”

As Louisiana professors (Thompson teaches violin at the University of Louisiana at Monroe and Gurt heads the piano department at Louisiana State University), they qualified for the UL System’s Awards To Louisiana Artists and Scholars (or ATLAS) grant. All professors can apply annually, and Thompson made sure to file the ATLAS grant by the September 2009 deadline.

The grant request covered various expenses, including travel for Thompson and Gurt to record at the studios of Chicago’s “Classical Experience” radio station, 98.7-WFMT. Thompson knew that the request would be a hard sell with the statewide budget cuts, but he described himself as “cautiously optimistic.”

Months went by and in May 2010, with the application all but forgotten, Thompson was overjoyed when the UL System’s Board of Regents named his request sixth place out of 25 applications. The board gave his project full funding, totaling $22,000, with good reason: the duo’s CD will not be an ordinary “classical” recording.

The panelists reviewing Thompson’s application stated that Thompson and Gurt were “clearly prepared for the project,” and that, based upon the quality of the demo discs submitted with the application, the anticipated recording promised to be of “excellent quality.”

Most works recorded in the “classical music” field consist of new performances of old compositions. This CD will feature three works, commissioned by Thompson exclusively for the duo, which will be recorded for the first time.

Thompson feels that his request to record new compositions in the “classical” style is what gave his application an edge with the board.

“Their attention fell on the new recordings and these reconstructed pieces, which were all written specifically for me,” he said. “I definitely think that’s what got me in the top 10 applicants.”

Among these new works is “Divinities at Dawn” by Eric Ewazen. The Juilliard-trained Ewazen has a history with ULM. He composed “Divinities at Dawn” for Thompson during his tenure as ULM’s composer-in-residence and Thompson and Gurt performed the piece’s 2006 world-premiere in Monroe.

The duo will also record “Creole Eyes” and “Souvenir d’Porto Rico,” two works by famed New Orleans composer Louis Gottschalk that have been reconstructed specifically for Thompson and Gurt by Dinos Constandinides. Gottschalk is considered one of 19th century Louisiana’s most important composers, having been raised in New Orleans and then sent for training at the Paris Conservatory. Gottschalk then established himself as an internationally acclaimed concert pianist and composer.

Centaur Records, an internationally recognized classical music recording label, will produce and market the CD. The Baton Rouge-based company is among the oldest and largest independent labels in the U.S.

Recording their CD is a great achievement for the duo, and certainly a highlight of their distinguished careers. Still, Thompson and Gurt show no signs of resting on their laurels.

“We’re going to continue to perform as a duo in concerts around the country,” Thompson said. “The CD is going to help us book larger venues and showcase Louisiana as a diverse center of musical culture to offer the international arts community.”

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