Sanda Schuldmann is poised to celebrate the miraculous.
The pianist, one-half of the brains and muscle of Chamber Music PLUS, had a stroke in December. This weekend, she will take the stage with her husband, cellist Harry Clark, to resume the work she loves.
Actress Margot Kidder will again join Clark and Schuldmann for A Rare Pattern, a celebration of the fierce tenacity of women artists who have often struggled in a world long inhospitable to women's intelligence and talents.
The show offers the story of a young woman who came of age during a time when women writers and musicians were an oddity. Women who committed themselves publicly to their artistic sensibilities and talents were actually likely to be literally committed.
Such is the case for the fictional heroine in Harry Clark's script. Unable to reconcile the world of early-20th-century women and her passion for music, the bright coed, a student at Vassar, finds herself housed in a sanitarium.
"We see this young woman's self-examination," says Schuldmann. "And as she shares with us her process of discovery, she echoes the words of writers like Amy Lowell, Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay. And, of course, we hear music by women composers of the day, like Amy Beach, Nadia and Lili Boulanger and Carrie Jacobs-Bond."
This combination of the written word and the intimacy of chamber music is characteristic of Chamber Music PLUS. Schuldmann calls it a "hybrid" approach to musical performance which she and Clark have developed over 30-plus years. And she's delighted to have Kidder on board for the show.
"For this piece, Margot Kidder was the perfect choice," Schuldmann says. "She is such an amazing and vibrant actress, and she has experienced her own personal turmoil. We presented a version of A Rare Pattern three years ago for an event here at the (Tucson) Botanical Gardens. The response was just overwhelming. People told us that experiencing this piece changed their lives."
Kidder was delighted by the experience of working with Schuldmann and Clark back in 2007.
"I was absolutely blown away when I got to town and saw what that was all about," says Kidder by phone from her home in Montana. "I really didn't know what to expect, but what I saw exceeded whatever expectations I had. I know that 'visionary' is a strong term, but I truly believe that Harry is a visionary. Both (Schuldmann and Clark) are really brave in their artistic commitment."
Kidder didn't hesitate to return for A Rare Pattern. "You know, I still don't know exactly what to expect. I'm sure I will be surprised—which is one of the best parts of this whole experience for me. When I see how the music interacts with the written word ... the last time, when we rehearsed, I was so taken by the music, I almost forgot I was part of the show."
When asked about the character she will become for this event, Kidder has some definite ideas, as well as a determination not to have too many preconceptions.
"I'm not sure it's fair to say this character has a breakdown. I think she is overwhelmed by the stress of trying to fit into a culture where one doesn't fit the mold of normalcy. Probably by physical issues as well—I think those are always involved. I don't think she 'breaks down' as much as she reacts.
"My generation was lucky, I think. I graduated high school in 1965. The last two years were an agony. But by the time I got to the University of British Columbia, girls no longer had to be stupid. I felt I could take flight. Everything had changed."
Soprano Jennifer Nagy will lend her talents to what Schuldmann calls the "immersion" of the audience in this intimate event.
"I hope this can renew an appreciation of women's contributions to art," says Schuldmann. "And I hope our audience will cherish the experience."