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Fulbright Scholarship Brings Student Closer to Renowned Composer

Avery morris fulbright

Avery morris fulbrightAvery Morris discovered the work of Czech modernist composer Gideon Klein during a routine online search for violin/viola duets to play with her twin sister in the early days of the pandemic. She didn’t realize at the time that she had opened a door that years later would lead to a Fulbright scholarship and important research that will help bring the tragic story of a Holocaust composer and his remarkable work to light.

“I came across a 1939-40 duet that Klein wrote for violin and viola that was pretty unusual,” said Morris, who is studying for her Doctorate of Musical Arts in violin performance. “It’s written using quarter tones — the notes in between standard chromatic pitches. Quarter tones and other microtonal music were relatively popular in the 1930s, especially in Prague with the formation of Alois Haba’s microtonal department at the Conservatory. Later this technique was considered a type of ‘degenerate music’ by the Nazis. I thought that was really interesting. The more I learned, the more Klein’s music and story resonated with me.”

Morris was one of eight Stony Brook University students awarded finalist status by the Department of State’s prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Program, earning a Fulbright Study Research Award to spend nine months in Prague immersing herself in her music and studying the work of Klein, a Holocaust victim known for his final works composed in the arts concentration camp Theresienstadt (Terezín).

Her interest in music began as a child; she started playing violin in an after-school program in elementary school after hearing the internationally known Japanese violinist Midori perform Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto in her native Los Angeles. Her sister also played violin, forging a healthy competition that fueled both their musical passions.

“The two of us would play for hours,” she said. “It was like a game to play duets together and make up new pieces.”

Morris credits her parents and their dedication to supporting her early musical interests. “My mom would drive me to violin lessons every week and driving in LA is not easy,” she said. “We’d be in the car for hours. It takes a lot of people to support a passion like this.”

After nurturing her passion through high school, Morris began her college career at the Bard College Conservatory in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, where she double-majored in violin performance and mathematics. After graduating, she went to the University of Ottawa to pursue her master’s degree in violin performance. It was there, while applying for doctoral programs, that her professor, the late violin and viola virtuoso Yehonatan Berick, suggested Stony Brook.

“When I came here, it was my last audition for all the DMA programs I applied for,” she said. “As soon as I got here I had a very clear feeling that this was where I wanted to be.”

Morris said Stony Brook’s Doctorate of Musical Arts (DMA) program is different from most universities in that the violin studio consists of mostly all DMA students, so the level is very high across the board. She also credits Jennifer Frautschi, violinist and artist-in-residence in the Department of Music, as an integral part of her success.

“She was the first to suggest that I apply for a Fulbright because I had been researching Klein for my doctoral lecture recital, and uncovered some of his violin pieces,” said Morris. “After my lecture recital, we organized an independent study, and then every week worked on transcriptions of Klein’s manuscripts, so I’m really grateful for her. She’s a busy performer and always traveling but she always makes time for her students no matter where she is.”

Morris said her interest in Klein developed over several years, beginning with the duets she played with her sister. In 2021, Erika Honisch, associate professor of music history and theory and graduate program director in the Department of Music, sent her an article about Klein as a demonstration for writing styles, and it connected a thread.

Morris was working on her lecture recital and brainstorming research topics. “I knew I wanted to do something related to Holocaust music or music that was suppressed by the Nazis,” she said. “Initially, I thought that Gideon Klein’s music was common knowledge but that turned out not to be the case.”

She eventually came across archives at the Jewish Museum in Prague and saw other manuscripts of Klein’s pieces that had never been transcribed, and contacted the museum in hopes of getting scans. She was able to transcribe one of the pieces for her lecture recital and then another work the next semester. They were pieces Klein wrote before he was deported to Theresienstadt, a concentration camp comprised of many artists and used as Nazi propaganda.

“He was only 20 or 21 when he wrote these and he passed away when he was 26,” Morris said. “Most people know Klein for the works he wrote at Theresienstadt, as his pieces written beforehand were lost for more than 50 years. They were later found in a suitcase in the attic of a house in Prague in the 1990s and are currently housed at the Jewish Museum in Prague. Several have never been performed. I’m excited for the opportunity to learn more about this music.”

For her DMA lecture recital, she performed part of a Klein violin piece she had transcribed that had never been performed before. “I played it and my teacher, Hagai Shaham, said, ‘You need to publish this,’” she said. “At that point it became very clear. Like ‘this is what you need to do.’”

Morris traveled to Prague when she was at Bard as part of a conservatory tour to Europe, performing in Eastern Europe and Russia, including the Rudolfinum concert hall in Prague. “It was a really special experience and I’m excited to go back,” she said.

As a Fulbright scholar, Morris will be working at HAMU, which is the Academy for Performing Arts in Prague.

“My mentor, Dr. Iva Oplištilová, is well-versed in quarter tone music,” she said. “But I also have made connections at the Prague Conservatory with a composer who knows a lot of Klein’s music. And I’m also hoping to meet a scholar in Brno outside of Prague who is the only other person I know of in the world who is working on Klein transcriptions. In Prague I’ll have an opportunity to perform these works and speak about them to other conservatory students who might be interested.”

Morris said being awarded a Fulbright is an honor; she hopes to build a career focusing around performance, especially chamber music.

“What keeps me going is playing with other people and honing my craft,” she said. “I would like to start applying for faculty teaching positions in my final year, but it’s important to me to keep Klein’s music alive and perform it. I have a commitment to this composer and to these pieces.”


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  • The entire extended Morris Family is absolutely thrilled! Thank you for this wonderful profile, and for providing such excellent education, support and opportunities for the Stony Brook students.

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