Funk group won’t appear, but Felici Trio and friends promise to electrify
And it’s exactly that diversity that the Felici Trio and their special guests celebrate every year in the Mammoth Lakes Music Festival, one of the country’s best chamber music concert series. And this year, among other highlights, violinist Rebecca Hang, cellist Brian Schuldt and pianist Steven Vanhauwaert are starting with the elements, kicking off the series with an opening night gala, entitled “Earth, Wind & Fire,” at Cerro Coso Community College on July 18.
That performance is a straight up, greatest hits show, featuring well-known works by chamber music masters, Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms, performed along with violin wizard Corey Cervosek and welcoming back pianist Paulina Zamora, after a short absence.
From there, the MLMF’s program gets more adventurous, and actually back to its origins. Chamber music was never really intended to be performed in public. Most of the music created for it was for dinners and smaller social occasions, played in drawing rooms, thus the term, “chamber.” Of course, as Schuldt points out, “Those drawing rooms were a lot bigger than your living room,” often hosting dozens of guests.
Chopin, one of the genre’s undisputed masters, gave only one public concert in his lifetime, playing the rest of his works in private concerts in drawing rooms.
Early chamber pieces, Hang explained, were called “salon pieces,” to be played in the home. “The composers had fun with certain pieces, writing them in a flirtatious way, for courtship,” she noted. Early chamber music was written for piano for four hands, ideally with the idea that two would-be suitors would play together. (You’ll hear one of those pieces in the final night’s concert this year.)
This year, program highlights include “Fiddlin’ Around,” Hang’s response to Schuldt’s “Cellisimo” evening last year, with violins taking the spotlight this year. Violinist Jennifer Banks makes her MLMF debut during the show, which includes a “violin choir” segment. (The program’s working title was “The Violin Empire Strikes Back!”)
The “Tour de France” is a “staged” ride through France, with Cervosek’s Stradivarius violin racing against Vanhauwaert’s piano in Camille St. Saëns’ “Violin Sonata No. 1.”
“Born in the USA” won’t include any Springsteen, but will feature music from John Williams’ score to “Schindler’s List,” as well as Leonard Bernstein’s “America” from “West Side Story,” as well as selections from noted American composers Samuel Barber and David Diamond.
In “Good Vibrations,” you’ll hear not only Mendelssohn, but also an original composition by cellist and festival veteran Emilio Colón. With shades of a bolero and tango, and a distinctly Puerto Rican style, the piece is about his grandparents’ life in Puerto Rico, and comes with an introduction by Colón. The “String Sextet” by Dvorák will be a first for all six string artists, none of whom have played it before.
“Russian Roulette” is highlighted by a sting quartet from the “great, but terribly underrepresented” Anton Arensky, a contemporary of Tchaikovsky, according to Hang, the historian. Arensky was known for his drinking and gambling, but was fond of Tchaikovsky, and laces his piece with direct quotes from him, “not to rip him off, but in genuine tribute,” Schuldt said. Featuring Cincinnati Symphony First Cellist Mark Kosower, Arensky’s innovative arrangement inverts the standard two violins, viola and cello, using two cellos and one violin instead.
Practice, practice, practice
Many of the artists will perform double duty, teaching students in the Sierra Academy of Music workshops, held in conjunction with the MLMF. Among this year’s 60 enrolled are four pianist from Santiago, Chile, who are students of Zamora’s, and two from Spain, as well as three local students who passed the rigorous qualifications for admission.
“There is lots of great talent,” Hang enthused of the Saturday free student recitals. During the workshops, older students collaborate with younger ones, helping with voicing, timing and basic sight reading, which are all at the heart of improving any performance. “Students can work together without being stressed out over gender roles, and this helps not only to break the ice socially, but helps ‘bridge the gap’ between teacher and student,” she said.
Another part of the MLMF that helps hold down costs: the auction, which this year includes packages for stays in Hawaii and Germany, tickets to Hollywood Bowl performances in Los Angeles, and the one item everyone will want to win: a hand-painted violin by artist Lady Jill Mueller, also signed by Dave and Roma McCoy, with a depiction of Minaret Vista on the face, and the lakes basin of Rock Creek Canyon on the back.
Mueller has been a professional artist for 34 years. Originally from Los Angeles, she fell in love with the area, and in 1983 Lady Jill moved to the Nevada side of the Eastern Sierra. The auction will be held on July 18, after the opening night concert. Auctioned items will support the festival and the Sierra Academy of Music.
Performances are Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings at 7:30 p.m. at Cerro Coso College in Mammoth through Aug. 3. Free student concerts are on Saturdays, July 21 & 28. View auction items, buy tickets, and find more info on artists and programs at www.ChamberMusicUnbound.org.