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Prime Time/'Cello recital five and a half years later

I started typing at 3:55 p.m. Sunday, May 15, having just returned from a senior recital in Bemidji State University's Thompson Recital Hall. I had arrived early and secured my favorite seat, front row, left of center, so I could see the accompanist's hands and also watch Eric Haugen play, and wouldn't need hearing aids.

There weren't many people there and Eric's dad, Mark Haugen later told me he'd thought there might be a poor turnout. Not to worry. By 2 p.m., the rows down in front of the hall's dividing wall were mostly full, and it sounded like the upper rows were also.

Sonja Connell, Eric's original teacher, sat behind me, and we visited some. Frances Van Dorn sat to my right, and reintroduced herself.

Eric came out with his 'cello, followed by accompanist Emily Larson and her page turner. The cheers that greeted them told me lots of Eric's schoolmates were on board. The usual senior recitalist in the Thompson is a BSU student. This was a high school senior's recital.

Eric and Emily first did the two movement Sonata in A by Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805). Watching and listening, I thought to myself, "What distinguishes this from performances I've seen, live and on TV, by eminent cellists such as Peter Howard, former first chair with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (and one of Eric's teachers)?"

I am no music scholar, but the answer is that I don't know. Eric is incredibly good, and also about as non-flamboyant as could be. He is not posing for the audience; he is playing the 'cello. Bravo!

The second piece was a two-movement sonata for solo 'cello by Hungarian composer György Ligeti (1923-2006). I had heard works by Ligeti on Minnesota Public Radio and not paid them much attention. I am into more melodic 18th-19th century composers, but watching Eric handle the intricacies of the piece was amazing. The first movement sounded like a spirited conversation, and then I noticed it was titled "Dialogo." Mission accomplished. The second movement, "Caprice" was livelier, and again, an example of consummate skill.

The final scheduled piece was Tchaikovsky's "Variations on a Rococo Theme." The theme itself is not Rococo, but is Tchaikovsky's own theme in Rococo style. The original is scored for solo 'cello and small orchestra, but Emily was the orchestra and did very well. I have always loved this piece, but had never seen it done live. It has seven movements, in various tempi, and Eric handled them all splendidly. You can read more about the piece here:

After the Tchaikovsky, the crowd went wild. Eric came out for three bows, but there was no sign of an encore. Sonja and Frances had an animated conversation: No encore? Sonja said he could at least play "Julie-O" by Mark Summer of the Turtle Island String Quartet, which he often does. People were beginning to leave. (NB: I did not take notes, but the quotes below are pretty close.)

Frances asked Sonja if she should follow Eric into the wings and ask for an encore. "Yes." So she ran in there and came back out, and yelled, "There will be more."

When she sat down, I asked, "So you're really not from Minnesota?"

She merely laughed, so I still don't know. Anyway, Eric came out and played "Julie-O." The crowd was satisfied.

We were further satisfied when we got to the lobby: treats, and a chance to schmooze. I learned from Mark, while he was replacing trays emptied of scrumptious bars, that Eric and Emily had at most three hours to rehearse the recital. I had to go easy on the treats, because that same evening I'd be in the same recital hall for the Bemidji Chorale's annual "Mother's Day" concert, given this year on Fishing Opener day, and that's always followed by an ice-cream social. (Both the concert and the social were fine.)

You may remember my 2005 essay, when Eric, with a downsized 'cello, provided music at a First Lutheran lutefisk dinner. He was good then, but he's fantastic now. He's been looking over colleges with notable music departments, and doing auditions at some, but last I'd heard from Nancy he'd not settled on one. Sunday I learned he has chosen the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I did my grad degrees there in the '50s, and I get a periodical from Michigan's college of literature, science, and the arts. They have done a lot to humanize the undergrad experience in recent decades. Eric will do well.

Evan Hazard, a retired BSU biology professor, also writes "Northland Stargazing" the fourth Friday of each month.