GUILFORD -- The musical partnership between Judith Serkin and Paul Wiancko began in the most amiable circumstances.
The two cellists met at the Marlboro Music School and Festival in the summer of 2009. Though they were never placed in an ensemble together, they sensed a musical kinship.
"In our spare time, we would get together and sight-read cello duets. We would just share this very untapped set of music," recalled Wiancko. "During these sight-reading sessions, we never once ‘rehearsed.’ We just played."
The friendship forged in those sessions continues.
"We just enjoyed playing together so much, we sort of continued that as our own private tradition each year," he said.
On Saturday, Serkin and Wiancko will take their private tradition public by presenting "A Cello Celebration," featuring cello duets from four centuries, at 7:30 p.m., at the Guilford Center Meeting House, 4042 Guilford Center Road, The program is a benefit for the Guilford Free Library.
The program includes music by Boismortier, Telemann, Kummer, Popper, Paul Dedell and Mezo Imré, as well as a brand new piece by Wiancko for which the ink might still be wet on the page.
"I’m working on it," he said, a bit sheepishly.
Wiancko is unabashed in his enthusiasm for returning to Vermont and playing cello duets with his friend, Judith Serkin.
"I have the utmost respect for her as a musician and as an artist and as an influence on my life," said Wiancko. "As a musician, her priorities lie in finding the essence of what makes a piece of music beautiful or enjoyable or joyful."
As a musician, Wiancko’s priorities including collaborating across genres and composing.
He has performed all over the world, from concertos in Warsaw’s National Philharmonic and Brazil’s Teatro Nacional to chamber music in Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center to jazz at the Hollywood Bowl and the Blue Note. At 29, he has already collaborated with many of today’s iconic performers, from Midori, Yo-Yo Ma and Richard Goode, to jazz greats Etta James, Chick Corea and Gary Burton, to rock legends Dave Stewart and Joe Cocker.
"Besides classical, I’m a big ‘70s rock and jazz fan. Throughout my childhood, I listened to a lot of different styles ... a lot of bluegrass and hip-hop and weird electronic stuff," he said.
He has found a way to balance all those interests, especially through composing. His body of original work ranges from an electronica animation soundtrack to an experimental suite for strings to a Hip Hop Cello Concerto. This year, Wiancko’s classical commissions have included new works for the Grammy Award-winning Parker Quartet and the Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival. This fall, he is collaborating with Mark Morris Dance Group and the Houston Ballet.
"I’m taking composing more seriously than I ever have before," said Wiancko.
But he hasn’t put aside his cello.
"In my heart of hearts, the chamber music at Marlboro ... it just doesn’t get any better than that," he said.
He urged people to come out and hear cello duets, a combination that isn’t often featured.
"Repertoire for two cellos is special. It covers a special range of pitches," he said. "The cello range is more or less the same as the male human voice. There are textures you can create with two cellos that are very, very human."
Serkin began her cello studies in Puerto Rico with Marta Casals Istomin and continued with David Soyer, of the Guarneri Quartet, at the Curtis Institute of Music. She was also a student of Mischa Schneider, of the Budapest Quartet. Serkin was a member of the Iceland Symphony and of both the Guilford and the Hebrew Arts (now known as the Mendelssohn) String Quartets. A founding member of the Soldier Creek Music Festival in Nevada, she has been a frequent participant at the Yellow Barn and Marlboro Music School and Festivals and has also been on numerous Music from Marlboro tours. Serkin has performed across the United States and Canada, and has toured extensively throughout Japan.
Tickets to Saturday’s benefit concert are $25 (includes dessert). Tickets are available at the Guilford Library, Everyone’s Books, Guilford Town Office and at the door, or by calling Becky Anderson at 802-257-0064.