McDuffie Center Accepting Bass Students, Welcomes New Distinguished Artists

statue of jesse mercer sitting on a bench

MACON —  The Robert McDuffie Center for Strings, a special institute within the Townsend School of Music at Mercer University, has expanded its program and is accepting bass students for the 2009-2010 academic year. The Center has openings for two bass students, and auditions to fill the spaces will be held Feb. 21.

To accommodate the program expansion, two world renowned double bassists have been named to the faculty of the McDuffie Center to serve as Distinguished Artists. Eugene Levinson, principle bassist for the New York Philharmonic, and Kurt Muroki, distinguished professor at The Juilliard School, will join the faculty of the McDuffie Center for the 2009-2010 academic year.

Levinson is a world-class soloist and has served as Principal Bass of the New York Philharmonic since May 1985, in addition to being one of the foremost and world-renowned double bass teachers.

Born in Kiev, he began his musical studies at the age of nine. He graduated from the Leningrad Conservatory, where he later received his doctoral degree and was, at the age of 29, the youngest member to be appointed to this institution’s faculty. For 13 years, Levinson was the principal bass of the Leningrad Chamber Orchestra and a member of the Leningrad Philharmonic for nearly 16 years. During this period, he made many solo and ensemble appearances on U.S.S.R. radio and television, in addition to releasing three recordings on the Melodiya Records label.

Levinson has appeared frequently as soloist with the New York Philharmonic since joining the Orchestra in 1985. In 1986 he performed Koussevitzky’s Bass Concerto under the direction of Zubin Mehta. In November 1996, he performed the New York Philharmonic premiere of Eduard Tubin’s Bass Concerto, under the direction of Kurt Masur. In January 2004, he performed the bass obbligato part in the New York Philharmonic premiere of Mozart’s Bass Concert Aria, “Per questa bella mano,” K.612, with bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff, conducted by Riccardo Muti and broadcast on PBS’s “Live From Lincoln Center.”

Levinson has had three of his transcriptions published: “The Franck Sonata by Medici,” “The Misek Sonata” and “J.C. Bach’s Adagio by International.” In 2002, he wrote a new technical method book entitled “School of Agility,” released by Carl Fischer. Carl Fischer Music has released his two-CD set, “The Art of Eugene Levinson.” In 2003, he was honored with the distinguished Special Recognition Award in Orchestral Performance from the International Society of Bassists for his “extraordinary skills and contribution to the worldwide community of bassists.”

“Eugene has reached the zenith of his profession,” Robert McDuffie said. “He is the principal bassist of the world’s greatest symphony orchestra.  His dedication to education and to the mission of the McDuffie Center for Strings will continue to keep the Center at the forefront of American music education.”

Muroki, a native of Maui, Hawaii, began his musical studies on the violin at the age of six and subsequently performed concerts with the Honolulu Symphony and the Maui Symphony. He went on to study the double bass at the age of 13 and entered The Juilliard School at 17, studying with his teacher and mentor Homer R. Mensch.

At the age of 21, Muroki began performing with the internationally renowned Sejong Soloists. He is an Honorary Artist Member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and has performed with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, The Jupiter Chamber Players, Concertante Chamber Players , Speculum Musicae, “Great Performers” series at Lincoln Center, Ensemble Sospeso, Sequitur, The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Brooklyn Philharmonic, American Composers Orchestra, Tokyo Opera Nomori, New York City Ballet, the 92nd Street Y, and Bargemusic, and festivals including Marlboro Music Festival, Festival L’Autonne at IRCAM, and Saito Kinen to name a few.

Muroki has won numerous competitions including first prize in the Aspen Music Festival double bass competition, the first bassist to win the New World Symphony concerto competition, and the Honolulu Symphony Young Artists competition. He has collaborated with members of the Guarneri, Emerson, Juilliard, Tokyo, Orion quartets, the Ensemble Wein-Berlin, Jaime Laredo, Lynn Harrell, Maurice Bourgue, Toru Takemitsu, Peter Schickele, John Zorn, and Brian Ferneyhough among others, and has performed concerto tours throughout Asia and the United States. He is currently the double bass teacher at the Bowdoin International Music Festival, Stony Brook University, and the New Jersey City University. Muroki performs on a Nicolo Amati c. 1665 double bass once owned by Domenico Dragonetti.

“Kurt is one of America’s most respected and successful double bassists,” McDuffie said, “encompassing a career that focuses on solo performances as well as regular Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and other world-renowned cultural organizations.”

In addition, McDuffie Center pianist Elizabeth Pridgen has been named Distinguished Artist and Piano Chair of the McDuffie Center. Praised for her “big piano presence” by American Record Guide, Pridgen has distinguished herself as a soloist and chamber musician. Recent concerts include appearances at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall, the Tilles Center on Long Island, Spivey Hall in Atlanta, and the Rising Stars Series at the Ravinia Festival. Pridgen has also performed at Alice Tully Hall, Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, and the Kosciuszko Foundation, and in recitals in Washington, D.C., Aruba, Curaçao and throughout the Southeast. She has appeared as soloist with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, Rome Symphony Orchestra and Dekalb Symphony Orchestra. For seven consecutive seasons she has been a featured performer at the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival.

“We are delighted and so fortunate to have Elizabeth as part of our team,” McDuffie said. “Elizabeth is one of America’s great young pianists, and she will be an integral part of the mission of the Center through her chamber music coaching and her own riveting musical personality.”

Pridgen collaborates regularly with McDuffie, Elmar Oliveira, Andres Diaz, the Diaz Trio and the American String Quartet. She has also performed with Lynn Harrell, Hilary Hahn, Sarah Chang, Rachel Barton Pine and Mark O’Connor. Pridgen is a member of the newly founded Trio RPM with violinist Amy Schwartz Moretti, director of the McDuffie Center, and Christopher Rex, principal cellist of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Distinguished Artist of the McDuffie Center.

Pridgen received her Master of Music at the Juilliard School where she studied with Joseph Kalichstein. She earned her bachelor’s degree at the Peabody Conservatory of Music as a student of Ann Schein. Pridgen has also studied with Claude Frank, Pamela Frank, Leon Fleisher, and Ursula Oppens. She spent two summers at the Tanglewood Music Center where she was awarded the piano prize and selected to perform with Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble and the Mark Morris Dance Group at Jacob’s Pillow. She has also been a participant at the Aspen Music Festival, International Musicians’ Seminar in Prussia Cove, England, and the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau, France. A native of Atlanta, Pridgen currently resides in New York City.

About the Townsend School of Music:
Mercer University’s Townsend School of Music and the Townsend-McAfee Institute for Graduate Studies in Church Music offer undergraduate and graduate professional music studies in a comprehensive university environment. The School is nationally recognized for its outstanding faculty, award-winning students, performance ensembles and state-of-the-art facilities. It is also home to the Robert McDuffie Center for Strings. Mercer University is an accredited institutional member of the National Association of Schools of Music.

About Mercer University:
Founded in 1833, Mercer University is a dynamic and comprehensive center of undergraduate, graduate and professional education. The University has approximately 7,700 students; 11 schools and colleges – liberal arts, law, pharmacy, medicine, business, engineering, education, theology, music, nursing and continuing and professional studies; major campuses in Macon, Atlanta and Savannah; three regional academic centers across the state; a university press; two teaching hospitals — Memorial Health University Medical Center and the Medical Center of Central Georgia; educational partnerships with Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Warner Robins and Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta; an engineering research center in Warner Robins; a performing arts center in Macon; and a NCAA Division I athletic program. For more information, visit

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