Nobody saw violinist’s Adam Murphy’s junior recital in the spring of 2021.“I was the only person whose live stream didn’t work,” Murphy said. Instead, he had to send a recording to his family and friends. Still, Murphy didn’t mind. “It was nice and intimate. I don’t want it to be too big of a crowd this year.”
While Murphy can expect a bigger crowd on April 16th at Kulas Recital Hall, other differences are of his own design. His program was a rather traditional repertoire last year: his program featured a Sonata by Bach and a string quartet by Beethoven, among other selections.
This year, Murphy is highlighting Romantic-era composers and composers of color. His program will open with Vaughan William’s The Lark Ascending, featuring Larissa Michel and Johnum Palado on violin, Brian Shoop on viola, Luka Stefanović on cello and Andrew Crapitto on bass. Another selection is Jessie Montgomery’s Rhapsody No. 1 for Solo Violin. “I wanted a modern piece that added diversity,” Murphy explained. Montgomery, a Black female composer, wrote Rhapsody in 2020.
Finishing off the first half will be Martinů’s Duo No. 2 for Violin and Viola with Brian Shoop. To continue the Eastern European theme, he’ll play Szymanowski’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in D Minor, with Sydney Porth. His last piece, Piazzolla’s Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas is a fitting closer, with Michel, Palado, Shoop, Stefanović, and Crapitto once more joining him.
Though the pieces in Murphy’s recital are either Romantic or Modern, the violinist’s true passion lies in playing Baroque music. However, he’s saving that repertoire for a joint recital with violinist Eliana Estrada, where they will play on period instruments. Murphy loves that the Baroque violin doesn’t fight the weight of gravity. Instead, the down-bow on those violins is naturally stronger than modern violins, meaning “it embraces decay of the sound.” The music is also less technically difficult. Instead, the performer can focus on conveying emotions, he said.
Murphy’s musical journey started on the piano at age five. While his parents are not professional musicians, they both sang in the church choir. After learning some piano, Murphy was dead set on playing the clarinet. “My mom talked me out of it. I didn’t have a natural embouchure–she said I wasn’t a good breastfeeder.”
She encouraged him to play the violin in the school orchestra instead. Making the transition to the violin wasn’t difficult. “The piano is the key to unlocking other instruments.”
Having found a sense of community in his high school orchestra, Murphy arrived at Oberlin with a dream to play in one professionally. He soon discovered it was not easy to fit in the recommended four hours of practice time every day. “I remember sitting in the French House lounge looking at my Google calendar and having a mini-meltdown trying to figure out how to fit everything in,” he said.
Everything came to a head in the summer of 2020 when he had a conversation with a close friend, Larissa Michel, who told him she wasn’t going to pursue music after graduation. “I always thought it would be sinful for me to turn away,” he said. But Murphy eventually accepted that, “Polishing excerpts is not where my skill set lies. I have to stand up for myself and accept my limits.”
While Murphy knows he won’t pursue an orchestral career, he knows he won’t completely leave music behind. Harpsichord Professor Mark Edwards recently told Murphy he would be an excellent fit for an Early Music Masters Program, an area of study where he could learn more about Baroque instruments. Even though Murphy’s career trajectory has evolved, he’s glad he came to Oberlin. “I would never trade it for anything.”