New resident faculty string quintet forms in Korff School

Una Corda: (clockwise from top left): Karen Becker, Mark Clinton, Hans Sturm, Clark Potter, David Neely.
Una Corda: (clockwise from top left): Karen Becker, Mark Clinton, Hans Sturm, Clark Potter, David Neely.

With a committed love of chamber music, five faculty members of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Glenn Korff School of Music recently decided to form a new resident faculty string quintet to share that love with the community.

So was born the Una Corda Ensemble, translated as “One String” and/or “One Voice” — musicians (specifically string players) coming together to play music as one.

The members include David Neely, Clark Potter, Karen Becker, Hans Sturm, and Mark Clinton. Members of the quintet have performed on five continents, including performances for the American String Teacher’s Association, the College Music Society, the International Society of Bassists, and the American Viola Society. The members of Una Corda have recorded for Albany Records, Centaur, Élan, Musical Arts, and EMI. All of them have also performed together in some capacity.

“The bottom line is that we all love playing chamber music,” Potter said. “I can’t remember who had the idea first, but as we went around the table, we all said, ‘Heck, yeah!’ We will definitely enjoy doing this together – these are my friends as much as my wonderful co-workers. The beautiful thing about an ensemble like this is that not only is there a terrific piano quintet repertoire that would use all five of us, but we can split up and perform music for a whole host of other combinations: Piano quartets, piano trios, string trios, duos for each combination. The rep goes on and on.”

“We hope to perform a wide range of works with this group - in varying combinations with special guests in additional to GKSOM faculty,” Sturm said. “We are currently discussing possible pieces to perform. We will begin rehearsing once we develop a menu of potential works and when it is safe to do so, respecting current best practices for social distancing. We have our first performance scheduled for April 2021.”

Potter added, “those who might have feared that chamber music would die at UNL after the Chiara Quartet disbanded will be happy to know that it is alive and thriving. There are all kinds of reasons to form this group: we can model to our students, use it to reach out to the state and region, and just share moments of beauty with everyone that will hear.”

Neely said, “As for the Una Corda ensemble, all of us, have been steeped in chamber music throughout our musical lives! Starting back when all of us were still students. I'm sure every member could give you a long list of chamber groups that we have been in or are currently involved. It is a deep passion we all share - that of playing intimate chamber music. All of us have played together as a group, so this isn't our first gathering. Forming the Una Corda chamber group just seems like a natural outgrowth of our combined passions, expertise and experiences.”

Together, Potter and Neely are part of the chamber group, the Trans-Nebraska Players. The ensemble was started in 2010 when there was a push to find more ways to work together with the sister Universities in the state of Nebraska. So, they put their heads together and formed a group consisting of Potter, Neely, two members from the University of Nebraska-Kearney, and a pianist from Chadron State University. Since then, the Trans-Nebraska Players have performed throughout Nebraska and the United States, and in Canada and England.

While Becker added, “The bulk of my chamber music activity has been with summer music festivals in the U.S. and abroad and as current cellist of the Concordia String Trio (CST). Since joining the CST (the other members teach in Illinois and Missouri) we’ve had two recordings released on the Centaur label. I enjoy a wide variety of chamber ensemble activities and look forward to embarking on this new adventure with my wonderful colleagues!”

Small classical string chamber ensembles are usually either string quartets or string trios (violin, cello, piano), Sturm added. That said, there are quite a number of pieces that incorporate the double bass (Paul Nemeth’s website lists over 3000 chamber works with bass). Quite a few of these are patterned after the famous Schubert ’Trout’ Quintet instrumentation (violin, viola, cello, bass, and piano), which also happens to be the instrumentation of Una Corda.

“As far as the name, Una Corda, we like the element of unity that the name brings,” Potter said. “Of course, we’ll have more than “one string” represented on stage. Even the piano is a stringed instrument! We are looking forward to getting started.”