Monadnock Music, headquartered in Peterborough, New Hampshire, has just announced a very strong season for this summer (detailed here). Clear from its direction is that both Executive Director Will Chapman and fairly-newly-named Artistic Director Gil Rose have ambitions to return to the popular summer concert series its former historic variety of programs and to instill a new sense of freshness. The focus of this coming season is the work of Virgil Thomson. Opera returns to the Monadnock offerings with two one-act chamber operas, The Boor and A Water Bird Talk, by American composer Dominick Argento, on July 29 at the Colonial Theatre in Keene. Performers will be soprano Heather Buck, baritone James Maddalena, tenor Frank Kelley, and baritone Aaron Engebreth. And it will be the directorial debut of Gil Rose (who, of course, will conduct).
Gil Rose told BMInt that his intention was very much to explore American opera. “It’s a wider area than a lot of people think, both in this century and the one we just got through. I am hopeful that it will work for us. Everything will be on the table. I want to identify the opera community up there and see what happens. This is a test case,” he added, “and a pretty good one, too, I think.”
Chapman added, “We are not trying to be Glimmerglass or Santa Fe, but chamber opera is something we can do in the Monadnock region. Frankly, given the resources available at this time, we weren’t going to attempt Antony and Cleopatra! We will always try to keep the range that Bolle envisioned, but we also want to have an American focus.”
But vocal music will not be limited to opera; Sanford Sylvan, whose career began in Boston but has blossomed into world-wide performances and a Grammy Award, will venture north for Schubert’s Winterreise on Aug. 4 at the Peterborough Town House.
Chapman was asked how he managed to snag Rose. (They both worked for seven years with Opera Boston.) “Gil got in touch with me. I would say, he was curious, and the more we talked, the more we thought it might be a fit. And it certainly fit into his schedule, that is, as it was last year. No one had any inkling, of course, that Opera Boston would go away, but [joining us] would complement things he could do neither at BMOP nor at Opera Boston. Gil has a wide range of interests and talents. Jim Bolle is a tough act to follow, but I think Gil can do it.” Not insignificant is that the strategic assessment undertaken by the board in 2010 — before Chapman was hired —“identified opera as something people missed,” he said. And at the retreat, held after he was hired, “more of that came up.”
Some announced players for the upcoming season are very familiar names, longtime performers at Monadnock, like Rafael Popper-Keiser, Maddalena, Gabriela Diaz… so Chapman was ask how many are old-timers, how many new. He replied that the Monadnock Quartet, which will make its debut, is made up of Popper-Keiser and Diaz with two newcomers, Charles Dimmick and Wenting Kang. “Between the fact that James Maddalena lives here and Frank Kelley spends time at Apple Hill, it is a natural. We have some other musicians who have been with Monadnock who will be returning,” Chapman added, “to be part of the Monadnock Players. We will populate our website as those contracts come in. We want to keep a nice mixture of some of the wonderful artists we have had in the past and to bring in some new artists so there’s always a freshness to [our programs].”
The focus on American music starts the season on Friday, July 6, at the Peterborough Town House, when the Monadnock Sinfonietta performs music commissioned by Martha Graham: Norman Dello Joio’s Diversion of Angels, Paul Hindemith’s Herodiad, Huang Ro’s Chamber Concerto No. 4, “Confluence,” and the complete original ballet of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring.
Many of the most intriguing concerts are those that are free and take place in the local community churches, a tradition Monadnock Music is committed to continue. The concert on July 8, in the historic town of Harrisville, includes three compositions by Thomson, Portraits for Violin Alone, In a Bird Cage for Solo Cello, and Sonata for Flute Alone, along with String Trio No. 2 by Max Reger and Persian Folk Songs Set #9 by Reza Vali. On Sunday, July 22, at the Francestown Old Meeting House in the center of its bucolic town green, Monadnock Players will offer pieces by Boston’s Michael Gandolfi, Gunther Schuller, and John Harbison, along with Mozart, Villa-Lobos, and Barber. Irina Muresanu, well known to Boston-area audiences, will play at the Deering Community Church on July 11, with her regular accompanist Rob Auler. Another concert of note is that of the Monadnock Players on July 15 at the Wilton Center Unitarian Church, to include besides the Beethoven Sonata in F Major for Horn and Piano, music of Arnold Bax, George Antheil, and Stjepan Sulek. Hardly average fare.
There are fewer ticketed concerts at the Peterborough Town House than in former years. Asked why the season ending is so early when it used to run to mid- to late-August, Chapman answered, “We normally would end later, but Gil has a conducting engagement out West, and we have a housing arrangement that ends on August 12. The season is still six weeks,” he pointed out, “which is what we have done from the first. There are fewer concerts,” he admitted, “but we are investing more in each concert.”
The odyssey from the Boston area up Rt. 119 to West Townsend, then up Rts. 124 and 123 to Peterborough, to an evening concert and back again in mostly pitch black night, is always an adventure. But this writer also is looking forward to an old Sunday-afternoon ritual in the Monadnock region: arriving in one of these small towns in time to enjoy a picnic before (or after) one of the Sunday concerts, eating beside the old mills, or in front of the 19th-century long row of wooden stalls for parking carriages, or in the center of a town green on a hill, to enjoy a concert in such bucolic settings.