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James Wilson and Joanne Kong perform music inspired by the City of Light. 

La Chanson for Cello

It's hard not to fall in love with Paris; almost everyone does, even the most hardened, travel-weary cynic. However, not everyone is enraptured enough to compose music about it as Richard Becker was after spending the summer of 1998 in a humble Parisian atelier. During his visit, he would cross Le Pont Marie on his daily pilgrimage to the post office. "Eventually it came to me that there were all these connections between crossing this bridge and the cello, the action of bowing a stringed instrument," Becker explains. A member of the piano faculty of the University of Richmond since 1975, he was in the midst of writing songs and setting his own poems and lyrics to music. While working on "Equinox," a piece for baritone James Smith, Becker realized that lyrics impose limitations on compositional possibilities. "There were some ideas in that piece that wanted more composing than I could fit into that song," he says. Becker began to envision a work for cello, "something sensual and sensuous that only a cello can evoke." Becker contacted James Wilson, cellist with University of Richmond's Shanghai Quartet. Transatlantic conversations resulted in an agreement: Wilson would breathe life into whatever Becker ultimately produced. Becker laments the unwillingness of many cellists to grapple with contemporary music, but Wilson displays an enthusiasm for it. "In his case, he is so versatile and so wonderful," Becker says of Wilson's capacious talent. "I wrote this piece for Jim." By the end of the summer of 1998, "Crossing Pont Marie" for cello and piano was completed and has since undergone only minor revisions. The work will be premiered at a performance by Wilson and Joanne Kong, director of accompaniment at the University of Richmond. Each a superb solo artist and chamber musician, their collaboration began six years ago when the Shanghai Quartet took a hiatus in order to search for a violist. "We put 50 hours into that first recital together," Kong remembers. "When you put so much work into a piece of music, you want to have lots of opportunities to improve on it and perform it." The well-liked pair currently hold the post of artist faculty duo at the University of Richmond and have earned touring grants from the Virginia Commission for the Arts four years running. Becker is effusive about the duo's grasp of "Crossing Pont Marie." "They understood a huge amount of the piece right away," he says. "They played it the way I heard it right from the first. That will come through in the performance." A certain freshness inevitably results from a collaboration between living artist and living performer. "It's wonderful to work with a living composer," Kong remarks. "You get immediate feedback right from the composer. That's one of the most rewarding things about performing contemporary music." In addition to Becker's premiere, this free concert will feature works by Chopin and Chausson. Wilson and Kong adopt Yiwen Jiang from the Shanghai Quartet for the Chausson Trio in G minor, op. 3. The thematic thread running through the concert's program is Paris — all three compositions are flooded with the rhythmic pulsations and sensual impressions of that haunting
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