music

Battle comes home, with clarinet

Yellow Springs native Mark Battle will play his clarinet with pianist George Lopez on Tuesday, March 18, at 5 p.m. at a free concert. (Submitted Photo)

Yellow Springs native Mark Battle will play his clarinet with pianist George Lopez on Tuesday, March 18, at 5 p.m. at a free concert. (Submitted Photo)

Yellow Springs native and one-time Yellow Springs News paper carrier Mark Battle will return to town with his clarinet in tow next week to perform a house concert with colleague and friend, pianist George Lopez.

The now 48-year-old Battle, who has a degree in clarinet performance from the New England Conservatory of Music, is a faculty member in the physics and astronomy department at Bowdoin College, in Maine, where pianist Lopez is an artist in residence.

The son of longtime villagers Esther and David Battle, and a 1983 graduate of Yellow Springs High School, Battle pursued undergraduate music studies at the conservatory in Boston as part of a five-year dual degree program with nearby Tufts University, where he studied physics. He received separate degrees from both institutions in 1988, and then continued his education at the University of Rochester, earning a masters and a Ph.D. in physics. He has been at Bowdoin for 14 years and lives in Brunswick, Maine, with his wife, Kathy Thorson, and their two children, Zoë and Felix. His research focuses on climate-related issues.

In a phone call last week, he described his life as busy and full, but without a lot of opportunities in recent years for clarinet performance.
The addition of George Lopez to the Bowdoin community, however, has helped the professional physicist expand his music-making efforts, Battle said. He began playing with Lopez regularly after first collaborating with him on a February 2013 recital at the college. He said Lopez, who has a concert this weekend in Hilliard, Ohio, suggested the duo performance in Yellow Springs when he realized he would be traveling near his friend’s hometown.

The 5 p.m. performance on Tuesday, March 18, which is being presented as a gift to the community, is literally a community event. It will take place in the Phillips Street home of Jane Baker, a Battle family friend. And Mark Battle’s parents will serve as co-hosts. Admission is free, but contributions to Chamber Music Yellow Springs will be accepted.

Battle said he is happy not only to be able to play for the town that nurtured him as a youth, but also to introduce Lopez’s artistry to the community. Lopez has performed around the world, including Paris, London, Cologne, New York’s Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, and in Los Angeles, where a Los Angeles Times critic hailed his “musical perspective, continuity and kaleidoscopic colors.”

Although Battle said his own playing had been “languishing” before its recent renewal with Lopez, music has been a passion his whole life. And that passion was fed by opportunities he had growing up in Yellow Springs, where he went through Mills Lawn and then the middle and high schools. Mills Lawn didn’t have an instrumental program during his years there, but there were many other resources in town.

He began taking lessons when he was in fourth-grade, he said. “I wanted to play sooner, but my fingers were too small to cover the holes.”

Initially attracted to the saxophone — “I liked how shiny it was and how the keys worked” — his parents suggested he start with the clarinet. And once he started, he was hooked.

His first teacher was a high school student, as a part of a successful student-mentor program that earned widespread recognition. “Shirley Mullins (the district’s long-time orchestra teacher) wrote an article about the program” that introduced it to other school districts, he said.

After a couple of years under the tutelage of an older student, Battle progressed to private lessons with Richard York, the principal clarinetist for the Springfield Symphony Orchestra. He continued his studies with faculty members at Wright State University, while also playing in regional and state groups, including the Dayton and Springfield youth orchestras, with additional lessons in Columbus and Cincinnati, before heading off to college.

The dual-degree program in music and physics allowed him to pursue his “two passions,” he said. A shared love of science and the arts, particularly music, seems natural, he said.

“There are many people in the sciences and mathematics who have a strong interest in music. Anecdotally, it seems that a brain wired for math and physics is also wired for music.”

In putting together the program for Tuesday’s performance, Battle said he “wanted to play really good music” that also offered a variety of time periods and styles. “It’s good to bring less similar works to light as well,” he added. He and Lopez plan to perform works by Johannes Brahms, Bohuslav Martinu and Witold Lutoslawski. In addition, Lopez will play the Argentine Dances by Alberto Ginastera and three sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti.

Seating is limited for the performance, so those interested in attending are asked to make a reservation by calling Jane Baker at 767-7129.

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