Throughout this week, orchestra students around Odessa have received lessons and tips from members of the New York-based Cassatt String Quartet, which is part of Cassatt in the Basin.
Cassatt in the Basin is a music educational program that brings the Cassatt String Quartet to West Texas bi-annually to inspire and work intensively with students (from elementary to college) and help expand their horizons as well as develop people through music.
Cassatt in the Basin was founded by Odessa native Jennifer Leshnower. She is currently a violinist for the string quartet.
“Cassatt in the Basin is a music education program that’s in West Texas that brings my quartet from New York to work intensively, every day, inside the schools with student orchestra programs,” Leshnower said. “We not only coach them but also talk about how music can shape your life and the skills required to play, specifically leadership and communication skills that are applicable to anything a student will do in life.”
This week, the Cassatt String Quartet has been at Odessa High in the mornings and Permian in the afternoons in addition to a few performances at UTPB, Rea-Greathouse Recital Hall at the Wagner Noël.
“Our aim is to inspire them and be examples and mentors to what is possible if you work hard and focus your energy and find something that you’re passionate about,” Leshnower said.
Cassatt in the Basin got started in 2005.
In addition to Leshnower, the Cassatt String Quartet consists of Muneko Otani on violin, Rosemary Nelis on viola and Gwen Krosnick on cello.
The Cassatt String Quartet has performed all over. The quartet has been invited to share its program at Texas A&M University and the Hot Springs Music Festival in Arkansas.
Leshnower said she started up Cassatt in the Basin to help give back to the community that helped shaped her as a musician.
“I’m from Odessa,” Leshnower said. “I’m a graduate of Permian High. When I finished my master’s degree, I had the opportunity to work in the Midland-Odessa Symphony as a member of the string quartet. With that experience, I then was asked to join the Cassatt String Quartet in New York. After a good bit of time, I was asked to give back to the community and I felt that bringing my colleagues to share their expertise and be inspirational to the next generation of students would be a meaningful way to donate to West Texas.”
Violinist and Cassatt in the Basin alumnus Dominique Valenzuela, who is also a native Odessan, returned to town this week and joined the group’s events and master classes.
Valenzuela is getting ready to study at the Juilliard School in New York this fall to get his master’s in violin performance.
This week has been the first in-person visit for Cassatt in the Basin since before the pandemic in January, 2020.
“We’re thrilled to be back,” Leshnower said. “We did keep going during COVID. We used zoom but everyone knows it’s not equivalent to being in-person. Students and teachers need to be together in a room.”
Each day, Cassatt in the Basin broke into groups with students and coached them on music that has been selected by their orchestra directors.
“We’re playing and demonstrating how to make the sounds that are appropriate,” Leshnower said. “We’re giving them technical tools to achieve their musical goals. We’re giving college guidance for those that are interested in going to music. We’re helping any student that shows talent. We’re a bridge or liaison to finding exceptional teachers. We give financial support when needed for the exceptionally gifted students to have the right kind of proper musical training from teachers that are world renowned.”
Odessa High Orchestra Director Seth Bedford said he is excited for this partnership with Cassatt in the Basin.
“The most exciting thing is watching the kids be excited for it,” Bedford said. “I feel like so much of what we do is orchestra is part of school but they’re really seeing the trajectory of what orchestra can have outside of school and seeing the world open up a bit.”