High seriousness may be what makes Brattleboro’s Yellow Barn more than a musical summer camp—seriousness about learning, dialog, and performance. For the listener there is a festive month of Big Barn concerts, but don’t worry about roughing it, as the 125-seat high-beamed space is air-conditioned. As for the quality of the teaching and playing, both are quite elevated, to judge from the names and the critical notices.
From 1969, when founder and cellist David Wells with pianist wife Janet opened their home and barn as a summer music retreat for students, new works and composers were central. Roger Sessions and John Cage were early residents. This year the fashionable and productive German composer/clarinetist Jörg Widmann will be in residence for concerts featuring him in both of his roles.
While the concert on August 3rd includes one of his works (Skelett, which repeats the next night), Yellow Barn’s major tribute to the composer comes on the 4th, in the form of this season’s Composer Portrait, which is devoted to his compositions and conversations about them. Fourteen players, including Widmann, will participate. The next night two “hunt” quartets will arrive, Mozart’s very different from Widmann’s. In the latter, the upper strings hunt and kill the cellist, whose screams are so curdling that WGBH declined to present this piece in a Live at Drive Time performance a couple of years ago.
There will be more Widmann in the final two concerts, culminating in the composer’s fifth string quartet (with soprano) from 2005. Versuch über die Fuge (Trial of a Fuge) was commissioned by the Artemis Qartet and soprano Juliane Banse. The players on August 8th will be Tiffany Du Mouchelle, soprano; Yoonhee Lee and Daniel Chong, violins; Roger Tapping, viola; and Michael Kaufman, cello. Schott, the publisher, rates the work as difficult.
Artistic director and Peabody Trio Pianist Seth Knopp tells Yellow Barn is thriving. From six US cities plus London, Berlin, and Salzburg, 560 individuals apply for 36 tuitionfree resident slots. Then unlike similar workshop festivals, a dialog ensues in which Knopp develops the season’s programming based on the wishes of the players and participants. Of the 80 works programmed, each resident plays in five or six and is in the audience for the rest.
“Our programming is definitely not thematic in the sense that we don’t devote an entire season or even a single concert to a concept like the Second Viennese School,” Knopp. “But there is always a thread. For instance, on our August 6th concert, the Carter Cello Sonata of 1948 carries references to Stravinsky’s Concerto per due pianoforti soli and Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, which both also appear on the program. It will be interesting to see if anyone can hear the allusions.
“I’ve no agenda in programming, but I do value helping players bring the weight of tradition from old works to new ones. And perhaps most important, we establish trust among faculty, participants and audience members, allowing us to feel that we are all part of the same lifelong process of musical discovery.”
The festival calendar is here.
More about the Composer in Residence
The 42-year-old Widmann studied clarinet at the Hochschule für Musik (Academy for Music) in Munich with Gerd Starke and later with Charles Neidich at the Juilliard School. Beginning at age 11, he began to study composition, continuing with Wilfried Hiller and Hans Werner Henze and later Heiner Goebbels and Wolfgang Rihm.
Widmann is passionate about chamber music, and partners with Tabea Zimmermann, Heinz Holliger, András Schiff, Christine Schäfer and Gidon Kremer. Several new clarinet concertos have been dedicated to Widmann, including works by Wolfgang Rihm, Aribert Reimann und Heinz Holliger.
He was composer- and artist-in-residence of the Salzburg Festival, the Lucerne Festival, the Cologne Philharmonic Orchestra and the Vienna Konzerthaus, followed by the Cleveland Orchestra throughout 2010/11.
In 2001, he was appointed as professor of clarinet at the Freiburg Staatliche Hochschule für Musik (University of Freiburg) where he also got the professor ship of composition in 2009. Jörg Widmann has received numerous national and international awards for his cultural works.