OAC welcomes cellist and pianist from Thursday Musical for concert Sunday

The Thursday Musical group, an organization that has brought music to communities around Minnesota for over a century, will be featured Sunday at the Owatonna Arts Center with pianist Salam Murtada and cellist Lindsay Schlemmer.

“We’ve had a longstanding relationship with Thursday Musical,” said Silvan Durben, creative director of the Owatonna Arts Center. “Their musicians are always very, very accomplished,” and the group performs in various venues all over the state, from homes to arts centers.

The ensemble tries to reach not only to the Twin Cities area, but across the state as musicians are found everywhere, Durben added. “They want to bring music to all those communities.”

Thursday Musical “is a fantastic musical group that promotes music on all levels,” Schlemmer noted. Indeed, she played roughly a dozen concerts at schools in the Twin Cities during one especially-busy 30-day stretch earlier this year.

Murtada values the opportunity to play for a variety of audiences, as well as performing different pieces of music, as a member of Thursday Musical, he said. The group, which he’s been playing in since 2012, lets him “put myself in the community,” and he’s “very excited to play in Owatonna.”

Schlemmer, the principal cellist for the Southwest Minnesota Orchestra, picked up cello in middle school, a bit later than many other professional musicians, she said. A piano player, first, she’s attracted to cello because it’s closest to the range of the human voice, as well as its “dark color.”

Paramount to her growth as a cellist has been “finding my own voice” within the instrument, she said. “You need to work within the instrument to get a full, rich sound.”

On Sunday, Schlemmer, who also teaches, will perform the Prelude to Max Reger’s Solo Suite No. 3 after playing J.S. Bach’s cello suite No. 3.

“It’s time travel,” to play the Bach and then another German composer who wrote 200 years later, she said. Though the Reger piece “is a really different musical language, it’s reflective of the Bach.”

Bach, of course, “is a pillar of the cello repertoire, and it’s always a pleasure to perform one of his suites,” she said. With his Baroque style, each of his three suites contains a unique dance.

Schlemmer, who recently completed her doctorate work in cello performance from the University of Minnesota, performs solo and in groups, and “I love both,” she said. However, to play totally solo, like she will Sunday, presents a unique challenge, as “you have to create the texture yourself.”

Murtada, who was once a semi-finalist in both the Van Cliburn International Competition for outstanding amateurs and the Washington International Piano Competition, will lead off his portion of Sunday’s concert with Franz Schubert’s Impromptu No. 1, Opus 142 in F Minor, he said. He’s heard it performed several times to open other concerts, and it’s an ideal starter, since it’s “very pleasing to the audience.”

He’ll then move to a pair of “more complicated and mystical” compositions by Alexander Scriabin featuring “complex structure,” before concluding with two of his own pieces, both written last year, he said. “I wanted to make the concert as well-rounded, with as much contrast, as I could.”

The two original compositions he’ll play Sunday have been well-received. For example, they earned him an invite to perform at a conservatory in Sydney, Australia.

Murtada, a prize winner in the Greensboro Music Academy National Piano Competition, is originally from Jordan, and his mother studied at a conservatory in Beirut, so his house was constantly filled with classical music growing up, he said. Initially, “I played by ear,” before starting formal piano lessons at age 11.

He then continued his musical studies in America when he came to the U.S. to attend college at the University of Texas in 1985, he said. “I was really impressed with the caliber of students here, and I developed into a new phase of musicianship.”

Even as a child, he “loved to improvise” following his practice sessions, and “I’d play anything and see what might jump out,” but he “didn’t really take it seriously” until he grew older, he said. Eventually, he began putting his thoughts down on paper, and his compositions are heavily-influenced by being raised in Jordan.

“I was always surrounded by local folk music,” he said. “That is the passion I start with.”

Writing his own music has also given him perspective on the other composers he’s studied and played, he said. “I’ve developed a unique respect for other composers.”

Sunday’s 2 p.m. concert featuring Murtada and Schlemmer is free and open to the public.


Reach Reporter Ryan Anderson at 507-444-2376 or follow him on Twitter @randerson_ryan.