A real Guitar Hero, Richard Savino brings the Beatles to the Mammoth Lakes Music Festival. (Photo Mammoth Lakes Music Festival)
Earlier this year, when it seemed Mammoth wasn’t going to have much of a spring, I popped Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” in the CD player.
I figured if I couldn’t experience “Spring,” at least I could listen to it! It further reminded me of how unique and cool chamber music can be. And with some of the world’s best chamber music players already living here (the Felici Trio), now that we’re fully into summer, you can feast on those cool sounds during the Mammoth Lakes Music Festival at Cerro Coso College through Aug. 6.
As usual, the program sports variety, running the gamut from Beethoven to Bruch to the Beatles.
In that spirit, the Trio (Rebecca Hang, Steven Vanhauwaert and Brian Schuldt) and some of the festival’s regulars are going to more than get by with a little help from their friends. This year, old acquaintances will be on hand to mix it up with the festival’s other stellar players, including Corey Cerovsek and Emilio Colón.
Newbies this year include Ron Selka, principal clarinetist with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, an old friend Hang has known since her teens.
Then there’s Mark Votapek, a professor at University of Arizona Tuscon, who Schuldt remembers from his college years in Indiana. “I remember him as a clean-shaven music student and a violist we both know showed me a recent photo of a guy with this ZZ Top beard after 8 weeks hiking the Pacific Crest Trail,” Schuldt recalled. Votapek, whose wife Emma (a principal in the symphony in Arizona) will also play the festival, plans to hike some trails while he’s in town.
Also back to play with his Felici friends is Bulgarian pianist Sarkis Baltaian, who auditioned for the Trio many years ago. “You’ve heard of ‘six degrees of separation?’ With the musical community it’s more like 2!” Schuldt quipped.
New friendships will hopefully be fostered with young students attending the Sierra Academy of Music (SAM), which runs alongside the festival. Students from California and Denver will learn and play along with contemporaries from as far away as Spain. They’ll also get to share the stage in an SAM student recital next Saturday, July 31, at 10 a.m. (Note: this is a free concert, and the festival’s only daytime show.) Last year’s performance drew raves from the audience.
Among the numerous shows on the lineup, a few highlights include “Bohemian Rhapsody,” with music from Dvorák and Brahms, and “Guitar Hero,” showcasing Spanish Baroque music for guitar, including music by Villa-Lobos and Boccherini (who Hang describes as more “Early Classical” as opposed to Baroque). And as a special treat, Richard Savino plays the Beatles arranged for solo guitar by Cuban composer and guitarist Leo Brouwer.
Make sure you read Hang’s program notes on the material and the musicians, including Amadi Azikiwe, Lina Bahn, Tim Frank, Oscar Hidalgo, Scott Hosfeld, vocalist Maria Jette (well known from her appearances on Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion”), Aimee Kreston, Maria Newman (daughter of nine-time Oscar winner Alfred Newman and a composer/performer in her own right), Nokuthula Ngwenyama (a professor in residence at Hang’s and Schuldt’s alma mater, Indiana University), Andrew Picken and Josefina Vergara.
The festival shows usually have had only two days of actual rehearsal, which doesn’t seem to bother Hang. “If we had more time, we could delve deeper, but sometimes quicker is more exciting,” she said. Chamber music, as opposed to its symphonic big brother, is essentially “one person to one part.” Instead of 30 violins arranged hierarchically, a single violin carries that part of the piece, which Schuldt and Hang point out allows for more “individual expression.”
“You’re playing from your heart even as your head’s working in the background,” Hang explained. In terms of its popularity with and accessibility to mass audiences, Hang likens the art form to developing a taste for wine. “You try a glass and ask yourself, ‘What do I like about it?’ It says different things to different palates.”
The festival, which uses Cerro Coso College’s main lobby as its venue, has no sound system of any kind. The sound is purely acoustic, “mixed” only by the intricacies of the musicians.
The lobby, however, was the subject of a sound engineer analysis. “It’s almost acoustically perfect,” Schuldt said. “The ceiling’s not parallel, and it’s got just the right mix of wood and sound absorbing materials,” he described. “You get great separation and reverb. When we record, we just hang two stereo mics and the room takes care of the rest.”
All concerts start at 7:30 p.m. For complete festival information, including programs, artists and tickets, call 760.934.7015 or go to www.chambermusicunbound.org.