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Rockport Festival in Fine Fettle


Joshua Bell (file photo)

Violinist Joshua Bell opens the 36th Rockport Chamber Music Festival on a June 2nd benefit-tribute to one of the nation’s most successful and beloved presenters. Artistic Director David Deveau, who has led the organization for the last 22 years, presides this season in his signature avuncular style for the last time. On his watch, a regional chamber music festival has grown to greatness. The Shalin Liu Performance Center constitutes his enduring legacy.

Running through July 9th, the festival includes pianists Garrick Ohlsson, Joyce Yang, Charlie Albright and Russell Sherman, the Jupiter, Brentano, Escher and Jasper quartets, as well as the Canadian Brass, the Lorelei Ensemble, Boston Camerata and the Handel and Haydn Society.  The Festival features 2 world premieres, one by by Charles Shadle (June 3) and the second from David Alpher, co-founder of the Rockport Chamber Music Festival (June 24). In his final Festival, David Deveau is highlighting Boston’s rich musical heritage along with artists with strong ties to the Festival.  The Festival concludes in a nearly sold-out collaborative tribute to Deveau and his successor-designate Barry Shiffman. Individual tickets go on sale April 18th. The season rundown is HERE.

FLE: Lots of old friends on tap for your last year as artistic director at Rockport. And you will be playing several times with them. Can we discern a statement in your valedictory choices?

DD: “Statement” is perhaps too grandiose; I just wanted to feature many of our audiences’ favorite works and performers, and especially spotlight a number of artists with strong ties to Boston. My successor, violinist Barry Shiffman, is based in Toronto and will be introducing many new faces to the Rockport Music attendees, so it seemed appropriate to conclude my tenure with lots of ‘old friends’.

The repertoire for the most part looks safe and conservative. Tell us about where listeners might be stretched.

Safe? I wouldn’t want to endanger my audience….. Conservative? We’re apolitical.

There are many programs that include unusual or recent works. For example, the brilliant young cellist Jonah Ellsworth’s recital includes the George Crumb solo sonata; the Jupiter Quartet will offer the first Ligeti string quartet; Andrew Rangell and friends will perform the almost-never-played Brahms Piano Trio in A major (Op. Post.); The Carter Epigrams and rarely heard first Shostakovich Piano Trio are on tap, as are a number of excellent but unfamiliar works by Hindemith, Taffanel and Pavel Haas for wind quintet. Two very unusual early music programs will surely delight: The H + H presentation of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen and Boston Camerata’s medieval Tristan and Iseult. In addition, two world-premieres are scheduled, both inspired by Rockport and Cape Ann. The first is by Boston based composer Charles Shadle, a piano quartet called Dogtown Commons (in honor of a large, inland woodland area that used to be populated long ago in the geographic center of Rockport), and a set of songs by RCMF co-founder David Alpher for baritone and piano based on poems of Marsden Hartley called Between Twilights. I am very gratified that our tradition of commissioning and premiering new chamber works continues.

Your predecessor and successor are both playing. What kind of torch had you received and what kind will you pass will you pass?

The Rockport Chamber Music Festival began as an idea in 1981, hatched by David Alpher and late soprano Lila Deis, each vacationing in Rockport with respective spouses at the Linden Tree Inn. Along with local businessman Paul Silva, Alpher and Deis created a very welcoming and successful regional chamber music festival. When I was appointed Artistic Director in the fall of 1995, I inherited a strikingly vibrant festival of 16 programs in the month of June. The community and volunteer support that the Festival enjoyed then continues today, with a large cadre of engaged music lovers serving as ushers, concession sellers and docents. Over the years, the festival season expanded to include more concerts, family concerts, pre-concert lectures, symposia, master-classes, and occasional free community concerts. As we planned for the opening of the Shalin Liu Performance Center (2010), it was clear we needed to broaden our schedule both in length and programming. While the annual chamber music festival in June-July remains the signature offering of Rockport Music, we now present over 120 events annually, including classical, jazz, folk, and pop music along with the Metropolitan Opera simulcasts. Our education and outreach efforts reach over 5000 students on the North Shore annually, and is a model of integrated efforts between RM’s education director, Stephanie Woolf and the music departments of area schools.

The torch that I will pass on to Barry is burning brightly, and he knows it. I told him he’s getting the keys to the BMW.

Do you expect to be playing again at the series next year?

No. Old artistic directors should remain on the shelf for a while as a new artistic director is introduced to the community and gets his ‘sea legs’. Perhaps someday Barry might ask me to return, but as of 2018, it will be his show. I’ll be enjoying some unheard-of vacation time in June, I hope.

You have achieved something of a miracle in building the Shalin Liu Center in a remote summer community. Will there be any challenges equaling that for your successor? Have any idea what surprises Barry may come up with?

The Shalin Liu Performance Center was the result of visionary, entrepreneurial  board members and donors who saw the value and quality of the music we were presenting, and wanted an appropriate stage for it. It is indeed a miracle. I still get goose-bumps when I walk out to perform on its stage. The challenges seemed almost insurmountable during the years leading up to the opening- everything from legal challenges to permitting hurdles to the historical commission’s regulations, and a very small footprint on which to build. The number of meetings and hours and dollars this enterprise required were staggering. And almost all was done by volunteers- until we moved into the hall, our paid staff was tiny. My successor will now be able to concentrate on building the musical and educational aspects of RM (as opposed to building a building!) I don’t know what Barry is planning yet, but he has significant experience in running both festivals and concert series. It will be new and different, and exciting.

Will you be issuing CD with excerpts from some of your most memorable moments? I can never forget how Governor Patrick stayed through an entire concert and seemed to be engaged. Was that Russell Sherman’s all-encore concert?

There are no current plans for such a CD, although there will be a limited edition recording made of some concert highlights from the Shalin Liu Performance Center from the past 7 years. This will be a private release for our patrons.

David Deveau (Paul Carey photo)

The series opens this year with Joshua Bell’s benefit-tribute to your 22 years.

The point of our gala concerts is to raise a substantial percentage of our annual development budget. To that end, we’ve had such luminaries as the Juilliard and Emerson string quartets, Leon Fleisher, Peter Serkin and most recently Yo-Yo Ma in 2015. (In alternate years, such jazz greats as Dave Brubeck, Chris Botti and Wynton Marsalis have performed for the galas.) Joshua Bell is one of today’s great violinists, and he graciously accepted our invitation. The fact that Rockport Music is recognizing my 22-year tenure with this concert is both a great honor and a joy for me; I am also looking forward to performing on several occasions this summer as I say ‘au revoir’ to the organization and people who have meant so much to me for more than a third of my life.

Tell me it isn’t true that I will be interviewing Barry instead of you next year.

Haha. Barry’s a great guy. The board has chosen well, and I wish him great success. I hope he will have as much fun and satisfaction as I have had. Plus, he has a nice Canadian accent, so you’ll enjoy talking with him, eh? You can interview me about other things, if you’d like. I plan on continuing to record, perform and teach, and look forward to having some more hours for those activities.

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