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Sandia Prep grad bids farewell to chamber music group with concert

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Pianist Elena Saavedra-Buckley will perform at Chatter Sunday next week before heading off to Yale.

Pianist Elena Saavedra-Buckley will perform at Chatter Sunday next week before heading off to Yale.

Chatter’s volunteer barista will say farewell to the hybrid chamber group with her own performance next Sunday.

After five years as a volunteer, 18-year-old pianist Elena Saavedra-Buckley will play John Adams’ meditative “China Gates.”

The recent Sandia Prep graduate is on her way to Yale University this fall. Grounded in the classical repertoire of Bach and Beethoven, she says finding Chatter opened her ears to more contemporary sounds.

“The first time I went to Chatter was with my dad,” she said, in a telephone interview from New York, where she was interning with a classical radio station. “He had just heard about it and I had no idea what it was.”

The performers played Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, which she had never heard live. The idiosyncratic lineup also included an Oregon folk group called Polka Dot Dot Dot.

“It was this cool playing of sounds I had never heard before,” Saavedra-Buckley said.

Then in the eighth grade, she had reached a slump in her enthusiasm for playing the piano. Volleyball, the arts and cooking were devouring her after-school hours. Chatter rekindled her musical fire.

“It opened up a whole new world of music and composers I was interested in,” Saavedra-Buckley said.

She began volunteering by handing out programs in January 2010, graduating to ticketing and finally brewing the cappuccino for the Sunday morning concerts.

“Chatter has been my single most important activity,” she said. “It opened up a huge intellectual world that led me to this new kind of music. It has also given me some of my best friends and a community.”

The first time Saavedra-Buckley performed at Chatter in 2011, she played three short pieces by Debussy. A 2013 concert featured a piece by Philip Glass.

Saavedra-Buckley first heard “China Gates” at Chatter.

“John Adams is known as a minimalist composer,” she said. “This is one of the first pieces that established his artistic vision. The hands are playing at the same volume the whole time, so they create this one layer of sounds that evolves.”

The composer described it as an “almost perfect palindrome.” He once suggested the constant eighth notes reflect the northern California rainy season.

Once she arrives in New Haven, Conn., Saavedra-Buckley will keep playing the piano, but plans to major in English and/or sociology.

Formed 11 years ago, Chatter consists of a rotating lineup of about a dozen classical musicians scattered across the United States.

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