UND Musical Trio’s Tour Of Asia Coincides With Grand Forks City Delegation Visit To Region

(left to right) Vinicius Sant'Anna (violin), Keith Teepen (piano) and Fernando Vargas (cello) play recently in the Great Hall of the North Dakota Capitol in Bismarck. (Photo by Colleen Neff)
(left to right) Vinicius Sant’Anna (violin), Keith Teepen (piano) and Fernando Vargas (cello) play recently in the Great Hall of the North Dakota Capitol in Bismarck. (Photo by Colleen Neff)










It’s a tale of two tours, two countries and two friendly cities a world apart.

It’s also a story of the strong support of a local eye surgeon and plenty of overseas connections to the University of North Dakota and Grand Forks.

And it’s only just beginning.

The University of North Dakota’s Red River Piano Trio will kick off an international tour, entertaining universities and high schools throughout Asia, with a concert at Tongji University, on May 13, in Shanghai, China, before heading off to Japan for more performances.

The Trio left Thursday, May 9, for the three-week hop across China and Japan, eventually crossing paths with a Grand Forks city delegation on an Asian tour of its own.

The musical tour features UND students Vinicius Sant’Anna on violin, Fernando Vargas on cello and Keith Teepen on piano.

“For me, one of the greatest things about being a performing musician is the experience of seeing the world and meeting new people,”  said Teepen, a native of Cincinnati.

Grand Forks Mayor Michael R. Brown and Pete Haga, Grand Forks community and government relations officer, will leave for Kanuma, Japan — soon after the UND Trio — to represent the city on a business and cultural mission and to support the musical group on its tour. Kanuma is one of the main stops on the Trio’s musical tour.

Grand Forks maintains a “Friendship City” relationship with Kanuma, which grew out of a pre-existing Sister-City affiliation with Awano, Japan. Awano merged with the larger city of Kanuma in 2005, but due to strong ties with Grand Forks, Kanuma struck up the new Friendship-City arrangement based on the successful model Grand Forks had had with Awano. The Friendship Cities, to this day, conduct bi-annual student exchanges and regular communication between officials of the two cities.

The Red River Trio performances in Kanuma and the Mayor’s visit will be at the same time as the city’s Spring Festival.

“The Mayor will get to represent the Friendship City officially at the city celebrations,” Haga said.  At the same time, the community of Grand Forks, as well as UND, will be represented by the Red River Trio. What we’re really excited about is that we’re getting yet another opportunity for the community and the University to demonstrate our collaboration and how interlinked we are with this Japanese city.

“(The tour) is just another example of the types of world-wide experience students are able to get while attending UND.”

While overseas, Brown, who grew up in Japan and spent time there as a member of the U.S. Air Force, also will explore opportunities to visit  companies that are doing business in the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS).

Strong supporters

The Red River Trio began performing together in August of 2012 under the direction of UND Music faculty member Nariaki Sugiura, a native of Japan.

In the fall of 2012, Dr. Gerald Gaul, an ophthalmologist at the North Dakota Eye Clinic in Grand Forks and a longtime supporter of the UND Music Department, donated $15,000 to fund a new piano studio at UND.  Gaul said that he’s very enthusiastic that the money will be used, instead, to support the tour of china and Japan by the Red River Trio.

“Our region does a fantastic amount of international trade, and music is absolutely an international language,” Gaul said.  “These sort of tours are great for the University, great for the students and really great for our region.”

Gaul is violist and his wife plays the violin. He studied viola at the University of Iowa and continues to perfect his talent in Minneapolis. He has worked with the Greater Grand Forks Symphony for nearly 25 years, and has an informal musical group of his own called the Buffalo Commons Chamber Music Society.

Another friend of UND Music and the city of Grand Forks, Jennifer Tarlin, is director of the American Culture Center at the University of Shanghai Science and Technology (USST). Her influence also was a tremendous help in coordinating the Trio’s performances in China.  USST is the second stop on the Trio’s visit to China.

China is rapidly becoming the world’s largest economy and one of the most powerful nations and UND has been a pioneer among American Universities in developing a relationship with schools such as USST.

“Sending musicians to Japan and China broadens UND’s international relationships and builds bridges that both faculty and students will benefit from,” Tarlin said. “I think it’s quite significant that a UND student ensemble is doing an Asia tour – something that would’ve been impossible 10 years ago.”

While in Shanghai, the UND Trio will have a chance to meet USST students and learn from each other. USST is primarily an Engineering and Business School but the students immediately and intuitively understand the importance of music as a form of creative expression, Tarlin said.

“A lot of the programs at the Center touch on what it means to live in a diverse society, so the fact that the Trio is composed of extremely good musicians from three very different backgrounds is quite serendipitous, but also very American,” Tarlin said.

Tarlin, who lived in Grand Forks from 1995-2010, was the executive director of the Greater Grand Forks Symphony for much of her time in the city.

Returning Home

Along with performing, the Trio members will have the opportunity to immerse themselves into the culture.

“They will be staying with host families, so they will get a first-hand experience of living with people in Japanese homes,” Sugiura said. “They will have a valuable cultural experience in Japan.”

This trip will be Vargas’ second  to Japan for music.

“It’s a wonderful experience because not only does it give us a chance to perform in another country, but also it provides us the chance to meet other musicians, to make connections with people and to help promote ourselves as musicians.”

For Sugiura, it’s a return to his native country.

“I am very proud to be part of this trip representing the collaboration work of UND and the city of Grand Forks. We are extremely fortunate to have many strong supporters for our music program,” Sugiura said. “I want people in Japan and China to know how great UND and Grand Forks are.


Red River Piano Trio’s Trip Schedule:

  • May 9: Trio departs Grand Forks
  • May 13: Concert at Tongji University
  • May 14: Concert at University of Shanghai Science and Technology
  • May 15: Arrive in Japan
  • May 16-19: Rehearsal in Kanuma East Junior High School
  • May 20: Concert at Kanuma Cultural Center
  • May 21: Visit Tokyo College of Music High School
  • May 23: Visit Omiya Koryo Music High School
  • May 26: Visit El Systema Japan in Soma, Fukushima
  • May 27: Visit Soma East High School Music Program
  • May 29: Trio departs Japan

About the group:

Brazilian violinist Vinicius Sant’Anna began his studies at Grupo Pao de Acucar Music Institute, where he quickly became concertmaster of the Pao de Acucar Orchestra. During his time as concertmaster, the orchestra performed in the United States, Buenos Aires and Italy. In 2008, he began his college studies at the Pensacola Christian College, studying violin with Alberto Jaffe. Recently, Vinicius won the 2012 Bismarck-Mandan Symphony Concerto Competition and is scheduled to play Lalo’s Symphonie Espanol with the orchestra in March.

Vinicius is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Music degree in Violin performance with Alejandro Drago at UND.

Venezuelan cellist Fernando Vargas began his music studies at the age of five. He studied cello at the Geneva Conservatoire in Switzerland, and finished his undergraduate degree at the University of Southern Mississippi. He has studied with Daniel Grosgurin, Alexander Russakovsky and Carmen Rosa Rodriguez, and performed in master classes with Christine Walevska, Joshua Roman, Sandor Devich and Peter Howard.

Recently, in 2012, Vargas performed in Japan with “Trio Ferace”. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in cello performance, studying with UND’s Simona Barbu.

Pianist Keith Teepen, from Cincinnati, Ohio, has performed in Europe, Asia and throughout North America. He has performed with famous trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth, internationally known euphonium player, Adam Frey and “Rent” star Anthony Rapp.

Teepen has won many awards and competitions including the DePauw Concerto Competition, which lead to a performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the DePauw Symphony Orchestra. After earning a Bachelor of Music degree in piano performance from DePauw University, he received a scholarship to study with Gerald Stofsky in Vienna, Austria. He has also studied under May Phang and Claude Cymerman. He has held collaborative piano positions at DePauw University School of Music and Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. He is currently working as a graduate teaching assistant and pursuing a Master of Music degree in piano performance at UND under Sugiura.

Friendship City Background:

The seed of a great friendship was planted with Grand Forks’ Sister City, Awano, Japan, in 1989, when Steve Heyd, a native of Grand Forks, established the first elementary English program in Japan.

In 1993, a group of Grand Forks high school students entered into an exchange program with Awano. As a result, hundreds of students from Grand Forks and Awano have crisscrossed the globe to their educational counterparts and experienced the type of learning that can only come from immersion and personal interaction.

This cultural exchange further blossomed into a community-wide appreciation when the City of Grand Forks received unheralded support from the heart of the Awano people following the disastrous 1997 flood. In addition to expressions of comfort and concern, the City of Awano graciously donated financial assistance to the recovering citizens of Grand Forks.

On Oct. 5, 1998, Awano Mayor Takao Yuzawa, Grand Forks Mayor Pat Owens, Awano Council President Kenichi Oshima and Grand Forks City Council President Doug Carpenter solidified the relationship by signing a Sister City Agreement in the Grand Forks City Council Chambers.

The relationship between the communities and the peoples of Awano and Grand Forks flourishes yet today. In fact, the bond continues to branch out in new directions.

In November of 2004, Grand Forks Mayor Brown led a delegation from Grand Forks to Awano, Japan to take part in Awano Town’s 50th Anniversary and to present them with a gift from the people of Grand Forks.

On the journey, the Grand Forks delegation visited many businesses and cultural locations, including the high school that is home to the students with whom the Grand Forks schools exchange through the Awano/Grand Forks Homestay Program.

They also visited Utsonomiya University, where a developing exchange program has begun between students and faculty of the University of North Dakota.

Due to the 2005 merger of Awano-Town and the neighboring larger city, Kanuma, the city of Awano-Town is no longer in existence and, therefore, the same is true of the official Sister-City relationship between Grand Forks and Awano. However, Mayor Abe of Kanuma asked that a “Friendship City” relationship be maintained between Kanuma and Grand Forks, allowing bi-annual student exchanges and regular communication between officials of the two cities.


Written and compiled by Emily Aasand, University & Public Affairs student writer

David L. Dodds
Media Relations/Writer & Editor
Office of University Relations
264 Centennial Drive Stop 7144
Grand Forks, ND 58202-7144
701.777.5529 | 701.777.4616 fax