DATE BOOK – When not enticed by sensual habaneras or rollicking wedding parties, the classical music lover can find equally adventurous programming in this summer’s many East Coast chamber music festival offerings.
A commission by André Previn, a solo recital by violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, and an appearance by the San Francisco Baroque Orchestra highlight a diverse summer of standards and new works performed by eminent ensembles such as the JACK and Emerson quartets. Several of the festivals offer conservatory training with esteemed professionals and provide opportunities for advanced students to perform for the public.
Here is a sampling from the rich offerings along the Atlantic Coast.
[For a more geographically extensive guide, check out Musical America’s Festivals 2016 Special Report.]
Brunswick, Maine: Stars of today, tomorrow highlight Bowdoin Festival
June 25-Aug. 6: Full details
Set against a lush Maine summer backdrop, the Bowdoin International Music Festival returns this season with the theme of so-called (Re)Invention. Led by David and Phillip Ying, members of the Ying Quartet (based at Eastman School of Music), the six-week summer festival on the beautiful campus of Bowdoin College features a rich program of chamber music standards as well as contemporary works by composers such as John Zorn and Caroline Shaw. According to the Yings, “reinvention is always at the heart of composition, performance, and teaching – everything the festival is about. It also characterizes the growth process that keeps the festival relevant and dynamic.”
Musicians from ensembles such as the Jupiter and Ying Quartets, the Houston and Detroit Symphonies, the New York Philharmonic, and major conservatories come together with gifted pre-professional musicians for more than 100 performances.
The festival’s Monday Showcase series will feature five different string quartets including the JACK Quartet (July 25) in a program of works ranging from the 14th-century Machaut, 15th-century Rodericus, and 16th-century Gesualdo to contemporary works by Zorn and Shaw. Shaw’s Ritornello 2.sq.2.j, which the JACK will perform, is part of a larger ongoing multimedia project in which the JACK has repeatedly participated, including a well-received 2015 concert at Lincoln Center. Other quartets include the Shanghai, Ariel, and Jupiter.
A variety of chamber configurations is featured on Wednesdays and Fridays, and the Gamper Festival for Contemporary Music runs July 28-31, with works to be announced. Advanced students will perform on “Artists of Tomorrow” concerts throughout the summer.
Greensboro, N.C.: New work by Previn bows at Eastern Music Festival
June 25-July 30: Full details
In the summer months at Guilford College, the dorms, buildings, and historic Dana Auditorium are filled with students and faculty of the Eastern Music Festival. Now in its 55th season of bringing world-class artists to the three cities of the Piedmont Triad and providing educational groundwork for orchestra students, the 2016 season runs from June 27 to July 30 and features two world premieres – a viola concerto by the 27-year-old American composer Julia Adolphe, performed on July 16 by Cynthia Phelps, principal viola of the New York Philharmonic, and a yet-to-be-named work by renowned composer, conductor, and pianist André Previn on July 23.
The Festival Orchestra will collaborate with guest artists such as Awadagin Pratt performing Brahms’ First Piano Concerto July 2, William Wolfram in Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto July 30, and violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, who will open the season June 30 with a solo recital.
In addition to the Festival Orchestra, EMF faculty perform Sunday afternoon chamber music programs on the campuses of Guilford College and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Both are within easy driving distance of downtown Greensboro, which offers quality hotel and restaurant choices.
Charleston, S.C.: Gershwin classic, Golijov Tenebrae light up Spoleto USA
May 27-June 12: Full details
Among the 33 concerts presented at this summer’s Spoleto Festival USA, eleven will come from the Bank of America Chamber Music series, programmed each year by director Geoff Nuttall of the St. Lawrence String Quartet. With Porgy and Bess serving as the Festival’s centerpiece, the Chamber Music Series will feature occasional selections from the opera performed by countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, violinist Livia Sohn, and pianist Pedja Muzijevic.
Costanzo, who is making his rounds of the world’s opera houses — notably, Philip Glass’ Akhnaten in 2015 at the English National Opera — will perform on the first three programs of the series. In addition to Gershwin, Costanzo will offer some Handel, a selection from Suzanne Farrin’s dramatic cantata La dolce morte, which was written for him, and Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov’s Tenebrae, a 2002 Spoleto USA commission. The chamber series will also feature members of the St. Lawrence String Quartet and assorted guests.
Chamber concerts take place in the city’s historic Dock Street Theatre, offering festival goers an intimate opportunity to hear an eclectic mixture of lesser-known works and newly commissioned pieces. The festival’s co-mingling of opera, chamber music, and modern works is further augmented by the City of Charleston’s concurrent Piccolo Spoleto Festival, which permeates the city with hundreds of additional events and activities, many admission-free.
Rockport, Mass.: Coffeehouse Othello in the Seraglio at Chamber Fest
June 3-July 2: Full details
Housed in the oceanside town of Rockport, an hour outside of Boston, the Rockport Chamber Music Festival will open its summer season June 3 with the young award-winning Parker String Quartet (recently installed on the faculty of Harvard University) in performance with the venerable pianist Menahem Pressler, founder of the Beaux Arts Trio. Visiting artists include the NEXUS percussion ensemble, Trio Solisti, and pianists Lise de la Salle, George Li, Jeremy Denk, and Kiril Gerstein.
One unusual highlight, on June 12, is the Dünya Collective’s coffeehouse opera Othello in the Seraglio: The Tragedy of Sümbül the Black Eunuch, a mashup of three Othello sources including Shakespeare and Turkish writer Reşad Ekrem Koçu’s 1933 Kızlarağası’nın Piçi (The Bastard of the Chief Black Eunuch). The libretto is by New England Conservatory music historian Robert Labaree with music by composer-performer Mehmet Ali Sanlikol, performed on traditional Turkish instruments.
Norfolk, Conn.: Muse explored at Norfolk Chamber Music Fest
July 8-Aug. 20: Full details
An Unlikely Muse, a staged biographical drama by Harry Clark about Brahms’ late-life surge of creativity upon hearing the clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld, will receive its East Coast premiere at the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival. Pianist André Watts, clarinetist David Shifrin, actor Jack Gilpin, and assorted chamber musicians will appear. (The artists also take the work to Chamber Music Northwest July 29 and the Ravinia Festival Aug. 30.) Brahms’ last nine works included the Clarinet Trio, Clarinet Quintet, and the two Clarinet Sonatas, which figure in the performance.
Another inspiration is explored in Lalo Schifrin’s Letters from Argentina, which blends tango, folk song, and classical music in a vivid homage. Clarinetist Shifrin, violinist Cho-Liang Lin, pianist Alex Brown, double bassist Pablo Aslan, percussionist Satoshi Takeishi, and Héctor del Curto on the bandoneón.Most of them also played at the work’s 2005 world premiere at Lincoln Center. The Norfolk Chamber Music Festival ends Aug. 27 with a visit by San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque. The entire festival takes place on the beautiful grounds of the Battell-Stoeckel Estate, which was left in trust for Yale University to operate as a music school. Young artists perform frequently throughout the festival.
Jackson Cooper writes for CVNC, an online arts journal in North Carolina. He is a member of the Music Critics Association of North America and the Conductor’s Guild. He is a student at UNC-Greensboro and serves on the board of PARK Productions in Pittsburgh.