Cellist Steven Elisha and violinist Larisa Elisha, together the internationally known Elaris Duo, are now making their home in Statesboro thanks to hiring decisions in the music department at Georgia Southern University.
Although they performed recently with the student symphony orchestra, the Elishas will offer their own musical hello to the community Sunday at 3 p.m. with a free concert in Carter Recital Hall at the Foy Fine Arts Building. They will perform music from "Duo Virtuoso: Works for Violin & Cello," their CD released by MSR-Classics in 2008. Both hold newly created assistant professor of music posts: she as director of Upper Strings Studies, he as director of Lower Strings Studies.
Music department chairman Dr. Richard Mercier credits their arrival with immediately increasing the size and quality of the Georgia Southern Symphony and prompting the creation of two student string quartets. In previous years, he said, the department did not attract enough students studying stringed instruments to sustain a strong program in these.
By hiring the Elishas, the university was able to more than double the number of student players in the orchestra’s string section, Mercier said. The number of cellists alone has increased from two to seven. A few students, he said, followed the Elishas from their previous university, while others, includingat least one student from China, decided to enroll at Georgia Southern after learning the Elishas were coming.
“So it’s transformed the symphony overnight,” Mercier said. “The first concert that they did this year was really wonderful. It sounded rich and full, and it’s all students.”
In past years, the university hired professional musicians or sought alumni and faculty volunteers to round out the student orchestra. But that is no longer necessary, he explained.
Community contributions this year have provided four new scholarships for string musicians — where previously there were none — creating one string quartet intended to serve as ambassadors for the university. A second quartet has also formed, and both quartets and a string trio played a recital Monday.
“This is unheard of for us,” Mercier said. “It allows us to present a lot of the wonderful chamber music repertoire that we’ve never been able to offer to the students and the faculty and the community.”
The Elaris Duo
The Elishas have performed together as a duo since 1999. They speculate that their paths crossed several times, including in Europe where both of them taught and performed, before they met in the United States.
“Playing together brought our lives together,” Larisa Elisha said. “So I think that is very special when understanding and relationship goes further and connects us in music, and not only our performance ideas but our teaching ideas are very similar as well, even though we are coming from different backgrounds.”
She grew up in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, then part of the old Soviet Union. She took up the violin at age 5 and later studied at the State Conservatory of Belarus in Minsk under Professor Olga Parchomienko, a pupil of the renowned Russian violinist David Oistrakh.
Then, she earned her doctorate at the Academy of Music in Wroclaw, Poland, where she served as violin professor and concert master of the Witold Lutoslawski State Philharmonic Orchestra for 10 years and performed extensively in concerts throughout Europe.
Steven Elisha grew up in New York state. Although his mother, the professional violinist Dorothy Kesner Elisha, would have preferred that he choose her instrument, he started playing the cello at age 6, and it became his favorite. He studied under the famous cellist Janos Starker at Indiana University before earning a master's at Yale and a doctorate from the University of Kansas.
In addition to his work in the U.S., Europe, Israel and Brazil, he has taught and performed extensively in China, where he played featured solos with the Beijing Central Philharmonic and symphony orchestras in several major cities.
Until this summer, the Elishas held similar teaching posts at Washburn in Topeka, Kan., where she also served as concert master and he as principal cellist of the Topeka Symphony. While in Kansas, they also launched the Elaris Duo & Friends Chamber Music Series.
In 2003, the Kansas Confederation of Music Clubs honored the Elishas as Musicians of the Year. In 2008, then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, now U.S. secretary of health and human services, presented them with the Kansas Governor’s Award in the “Artist” category.
Last weekend, Steven Elisha was back in Kansas, where he played a solo recital for a packed hall in Topeka and a live performance for Kansas Public Radio station KANU, fulfilling earlier commitments. They are scheduled for a performance in Kansas City as a duo next spring. Their son Patrick, 17, is a freshman majoring in piano at Park University near Kansas City.
While the duo will miss their Kansas friends and established audience, they said they hope to establish connections just as deep in Statesboro. They added that they want to be seen as valuable resources for primary and secondary school teachers as they seek to develop promising young musicians.
“With every community we've ever been associated with, we have always invested a lot of our time and energy in strong programs for strings and chamber music, and we are hoping to continue those traditions here in Statesboro,” he said.
Selections from “Duo Virtuoso” to be performed Sunday include duos composed by Boccherini, Beethoven, Mozart, and Zoltan Kodaly, plus the Halvorsen-Handel “Passacaglia.” CDs will be available for purchase after the recital. A review in the classical music magazine Fanfare used the words “breathtaking” and “mesmerizing” in describing the album.
The Elishas also plan to resume their Elaris Duo & Friends tradition with Statesboro area musicians. They are scheduled to perform with Mercier, who plays piano, at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 29, also in Carter Recital Hall.