A U.S.-native, Switzerland-based flute and harp duo, the Cochlea Duo, brings its classical music with a contemporary twist to An Die Musik this Sunday.
The duo will be performing a concert of pieces that few have heard, including two pieces that were composed specifically for the duo.
The two musicians met at an international school in Basel, Switzerland, where they both taught after-school music lessons. Although each is classically trained, they decided to perform together based on a mutual interest in contemporary music. Lindsay Buffington, the harpist of the duo, explained, “Classical training is pretty much the only option if you want to make music a career.”
Born and raised in Howard County, Buffington received her bachelor’s degree in music performance from University of Maryland, College Park. After studying abroad in Switzerland, she decided to return to the town of Basel for two master’s degrees, one in music performance and the other in pedagogy.
Music was a huge influence on her life growing up. “We would play Jewish and Yiddish songs on the piano with my grandma, and if I didn’t understand the words, she’d translate,” Buffington said. “That whole tradition from the 20s and 30s was a part of my musical upbringing that was just as important as my classical training.”
Chelsea Czuchra, the flutist, grew up in a small, rural North Carolina town. After receiving private flute lessons and attending a summer program, she ended up at a performing arts high school. This proved to be the stepping stone to receiving her music degree from Purchase State College in New York. Czuchra ended up in Switzerland because she was interested in how different contemporary music is in Europe. With her husband being from Switzerland, it was the ideal locale.
“Flute and harp is a common combination,” Czuchra said. “We had each played in duos separately in our careers before — there is so much music for flute and harp. We have similar interests in what kinds of music we want to play and what programs we want to put together.”
The concert series that the duo will be performing in Baltimore and the rest of the United States is unique because it is music that nearly no one will have heard before. Everything on the program with the exception of one piece was composed in the last decade. “The concerts that we are playing also feature two pieces, which were written for us, that we commissioned,” Buffington explained.
“One is by a composer from Basel [Michele Rusconi], a composer that Lindsay has worked with before on a solo piece,” Czuchra elaborated. “The second piece is by an interesting young composer [Jesse Jones], who was just appointed to the faculty at Oberlin. There’s a very interesting, evocative way of which he combines his musical interests.”
“People might know Steve Reich or Philip Glass because they’re really popular, but there is a whole other realm of composers,” Buffington said. “One of the pieces that we’re playing is by a composer from New Zealand. I think every time we play this piece, people who even think they hate the music come out and say, ‘That’s the most gorgeous piece.’ It’s really interesting to surprise people with music that is written now, but is beautiful and transcends any school of composition.”
Czuchra explains that Juda-ism is prevalent in the world of music and composing. “You can’t really play American music without crossing tons of Jewish composers. One of the composers that we’re playing, Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon — he’s Mexican, but his family emigrated from Austria to Mexico because they had to leave before the rise of the National Socialist Party.”
Right now, the duo is extra-ordinarily busy, with a multitude of concerts this summer. Leading up to tour, the two have been meeting several times a week to practice and talking a lot on the phone. They don’t have a manager, preferring to take care of the details themselves. “It is certainly challenging, but the more you put into something, the more you get out of it,” Buffington said. “It’s a different level of commitment — you’re there for the whole process from start to finish. The concert is the absolute last stop on a long road of preparation.”
Cochlea Duo performs at An Die Musik, 409 N. Charles St., Baltimore, on Sunday, July 31, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $7 for students and $10 for adults. Visit andiemusiklive.com