The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Violinist Benjamin Beilman, guitarist Jason Vieaux, and the Escher String Quartet will bring a youthful vibe to the seventh annual Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass, Memorial Day Weekend at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. Rounding out the lineup are pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel, who have served as the event’s artistic directors since its inception in 2007.
In that short period, the festival has seen a number of changes, including the departure of one of the original co-presenters, Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts, and a change in leadership at the Shaker Village. But the appeal of hearing musicians from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center perform in the pastoral beauty of the Shaker Village and the directors’ affection for the venue have sustained it.
“It’s the community; it’s the setting,” Wu said last year, in an interview with the Herald-Leader. “Management will come and go, from our experience, but art, if you have a community to support it, if you have the audience and, in the case of the Shaker Village, that particular setting, it’s irreplaceable.”
While the Escher will play several times together in the four concerts over two days, there will also be several chances for the group to mix with other musicians on pieces such as Johannes Brahms’ Sextet No. 2 in G major for Two Violins, Two Violas, and Two Cellos, which will close out the festival in the May 26 concert at the Meadow View Barn.
The event will open late on the morning of May 25 with Wu and Finckel, one of classical music’s celebrated couples, teaming up for Claude Debussy’s Sonata for Cello and Piano.
That concert will also give Beilman a solo turn performing Eugène Ysaÿe’s Sonata in E Minor for Violin and the Escher will play Benjamin Britten’s Three Divertimentos for String Quartet. The next morning, Vieaux will have the stage to himself with Isaac Albeniz’s “Sevilla” and “Asturias” from Suite española for Guitar. And then there will be plenty of mixing and matching over the four performances. The festival really is a chance to watch world-class musicians play, in several senses of the word.
Beilman’s star is rising quickly in the 2010s with appearances around the world, particularly in chamber settings, and an Avery Fisher career grant to his credit.
Vieaux has recordings of works by J.S. Bach and Astor Piazolla to his credit, serves as the head of the Guitar Department at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and he is a co-founder of The Curtis Institute of Music’s Classical Guitar Department.
The Escher String Quartet does take its name from the Dutch artist M.C. Escher, famous for works such as interweaving stair cases, and has racked up a distinguished list of venues and achievements over its eight years together, including being invited to perform at Itzhak Perlman’s summer festival. Its recorded catalog includes works by Alexander von Zemlinsky and Amy Beach.
May22Filed under: Classical Music, Norton Center for the Arts, Podcasts; Tagged as: Astor Piazolla, Centre College, Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, David Finkel, Escher String Quartet, Franz Schubert, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Jakor Koranyi, Joseph Silverstein, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Memorial Day weekend, Music@Menlo, Norton Center for the Arts, Orion String Quartet, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Stephen Collins Foster, Wu Han, Yura Lee
Click play to hear a podcast of our conversation with Wu Han and David Finkel.
The unplayed tune that has colored the Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass is a Rodgers and Hammerstein classic: Getting to Know You.
For the fourth consecutive Memorial Day weekend, the festival will bring together members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and Central Kentucky classical music fans at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.
“I could feel there’s a sense of trust that’s been building up on the reputation and the quality of the music,” says pianist Wu Han, who co-directs the festival with her husband, cellist David Finkel.
She points out that in the festival’s first years, she and Finkel brought along other brand-name classical stars such as violinist Joseph Silverstein and the Orion String Quartet. This year, like last year, leans more on new faces. Last year’s fresh entry was the Escher String Quartet. This year, it’s some hot young soloists, including violinist/violist Yura Lee and cellist Jakor Koranyi.
That duo will play Maurice Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello, which earned them flat-out raves when they played it in New York last month. In his review for the New York Daily News, Howard Kissel acknowledged it was not a piece he was familiar with, but he was completely taken with Lee and Koranyi’s performance.
Offering performances like that put the festival, presented by Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts, on a trajectory it should be on, Wu Han says.
May22Filed under: Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Music, Norton Center for the Arts, Theater, UK; Tagged as: Arlene Hutton, As It Is in Heaven, Centre College, Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Claude Debussy, David Shifrin, Erin Keefe, Escher String Quartet, Fred Sherry, J.S. Bach, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Maurice Ravel, Meadow View Barn, Norton Center for the Arts, Robert Schumann, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, University of Kentucky Theatre, Wu Han
Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill doesn’t necessarily need music.
The lush, green grounds of the community are a sustained pianissimo passage, frequently augmented by the songs of birds, whistling of the wind and rhythm of rippling water.
Leave your iPod behind.
But that does not mean that music cannot enhance the Pleasant Hill experience.
The Shakers, after all, are known for their songs – Simple Gifts, anyone? The University of Kentucky Theatre has been bringing some of those tunes to the stage of the Meadow View Barn the past two weekends with its production of Arlene Hutton’s As It Is In Heaven.
That production, which has its final performances today through Sunday afternoon, begins and ends with the women of the play strolling through the field adjacent to the barn raising songs to the tops of the trees.
The music does not stop there, though.
Next weekend brings the third annual Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass, and if you are trying to come up with a more perfect marriage of music and venue in Kentucky, you have some work to do.
We tend to think of classical music as something to seal in a perfectly quiet concert hall, supposing that one obscured note would obliterate an entire work. Of course, perfect silence is rarely achievable in a hall full of people, with walls that aren’t impervious to honking horns and sirens.
Yes, Meadow View Barn is susceptible to the sounds of its environment, but a violin mixes so much better with a bird or a breeze than a candy wrapper or screeching tires.
In the natural setting, at last year’s festival, the music seemed to open, with the instruments so close to their source materials.
And these are musicians to make the most of the environs.
All three years of the festival, the Norton Center for the Arts at Danville’s Centre College has engaged the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center to oversee its artistic direction. Pianist Wu Han has been the constant, and this year she brings violinist Erin Keefe, cellist Fred Sherry and clarinetist David Shifrin. If you pay attention to classical music, each is an internationally known practitioner of his or her instrument.
For the second year, the festival has engaged a second group, this time the Escher String Quartet, to play in its own right and mix with the Lincoln Center musicians in the festival’s four concerts.
Those combinations, like Robert Schumann’s Quintet in E Flat Major for Piano, Two Violins, Viola and Cello, scheduled for next Sunday night, are the real treats of the event.
The morning sessions, in the village’s Meetinghouse, focus on Ludwig van Beethoven on Saturday and J.S. Bach on Sunday. The evenings include music of Beethoven, Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy.
Debussy and nature? — makes sense.
As does trying to take the arts out to environments such as Pleasant Hill.
So often we try to hype the natural beauty of the Bluegrass, but then when it comes to presenting the beauty of the arts, we retreat to the city like everywhere else.
The Heaven performances, chamber music festival and other outdoor events show an arts community trying to get more in tune with our surroundings.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich