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Chamber Fest Rocks On Anew


Minsoo Sohn to play at Rockport

The first Rockport Chamber Music Festival under the artistic direction of Barry Shiffman opens Friday June 15th and continues through Sunday July 15th. The dramatic theme for 2018 is r:EVOLUTION. Building on the its history of presenting high-caliber classical musicians, Festival artistic director Shiffman is making several enhancements: composer-in-residence (Osvaldo Golijov this season) , Rockport Fellows program, Pop-Up performances, plus a new late-night series called Classical Cabaret. The festival will bring such world-class artists as the Brentano Quartet, pianist Stephen Prutsman, A Far Cry, violinist James Ehnes, the comedic duo Igudesman and Joo, and will close with the great Emerson Quartet with cellist Colin Carr. A special “annex” performance in August will bring the Pinchas Zukerman Trio.

With emphasis this year on presenting the next generation of stars, the Festival will additionally introduce exciting artists on the rise, including Cliburn winner Yekwon Sunwoo, breakout vocal sensation Davóne Tines (with the Rolston Quartet) presenting a special program “Were You There?,” the Dover and Attacca Quartets, and mezzo Samantha Hankey. Shiffman also expands the festival with three primary initiatives: community engagement, investment and innovation, and performance excellence. Composer-in-residence Golijov will have works featured throughout, including his spectacular song cycle Ayre, which will be presented in a beautifully staged theatrical presentation revealing the musical intermingling of Christian, Arab, and Sephardic Jewish cultures. As part of its theme, the Festival will bring films and a one-act theatrical presentation of Kafka and Son (set to the music of Golijov).

Click HERE for the full schedule.

Barry Shiffman recently answered some BMInt questions.

FLE: In preparing our readers for the first season under your direction, it’s our job to compare and contrast wassup this season with our expectations from our many years of attending, and to divine whither goeth what is for most of us the harbinger of summer music. And is your imprint the wish of the board or your unencumbered vision?

Barry Shiffman: One of the most refreshing things about working for Rockport Music is the extraordinary dedication of the board. They all bring a passionate commitment and professionalism to their work. They focus on their tasks and I focus on mine. I have had many opportunities to share my vision and specific ideas with the board, but at no time have they gotten involved in programming. I have felt very much supported to go in the direction I have mapped out.

Barry Shiffman (file photo)

You seem to be mixing things up with more variety than in some years past. Of 29 events I count six vocal concerts. That seems to be a real departure, Davóne Tines and Dawn Upshaw being the most famous visitors. What does the marketing department think of vocal music? And inviting Tines to show off his full range, including his spiritual essay on police brutality, shows impresario genius.

I am so glad you recognized this embrace of vocal music; however, I do not really view any of the concerts as specifically vocal concerts. All of the vocal music happens in the context of a chamber program. Golijov’s Ayre on opening night alongside the Tchaikovsky String Sextet; Brahms songs for viola and mezzo on a program of the Clarinet Trio and a Violin Sonata; Handel love duets with soprano and countertenor on a program with Vivaldi and CPE Bach for chamber orchestra; or Davóne Tines on a program with string quartets of Tchaikovsky and R. Murray Schafer. The idea is to embed vocal music into the fabric of the festival. Much of my inspiration comes from my 13 years as a performer at Spoleto, which was directed by the legendary Charles Wadsworth. Charles had a particular love and advocacy for vocal chamber music, which he developed as the founder of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Through my association with him, I was lucky to discover the incredibly rich world of possibilities with voice in the mix.

You will be playing in five events. That’s probably about right number to avoid viola jokes.

I am looking forward to the performances I will be in at the festival. From opening night, where I get to lead the Souvenir de Florence, to performing in multiple works of Golijov, to joining the chamber orchestra program, or playing a Mozart quintet with the Dover, I am one lucky guy. I hope I avoid the viola jokes, which may be helped by the fact that many of the performances I am in are as a violinist (my day job … ). I have tried to embed myself in various ways in the festival from a lead role to one as a guest of a visiting ensemble, to getting out into the community performing in some of the planned free “pop-up” performances; I wanted to taste all of the opportunities from the perspective of a performer.

I count eight established groups in serious repertoire, often with guest soloists and the same number of entirely ad-hoc contingents. Will there be time to get a high polish on all the events?

Funny timing. I have been working for the last several days on the rehearsal schedule for the festival. I am not at all concerned that the groups being brought together specifically for the festival will be any less prepared than those that come preformed. The job of an artistic director is a kind of combination of alchemist and matchmaker. Knowing who will work well with who, and what sound works, best repertoire, etc., is part of the puzzle.

Your relationship with Osvaldo Golijov, the festival’s first designated composer, goes back to your years with the St. Lawrence Quartet and your advocacy for his Yidishbbuk. To what do you attribute this 30-year connection?

I was so lucky to have been introduced to Ozzie as a young artist at Tanglewood. In the St. Lawrence Quartet, we played his music in hundreds of performances, and when I left the quartet, I was involved in many projects with him. We toured together, recorded together, and became very good friends from the beginning of our time at Tanglewood. He was the first artist I called when I was offered the position at Rockport and I was so happy that he was able to join us.

Osvaldo Golijov (file photo)

Golijov himself is featured in several concerts, and the second one is an unusual theater piece based on the famous letter Franz Kafka wrote to his father. Please tell us more about what it will mean to have a composer in residence.

Osvaldo’s music happens throughout the festival in a total of five different concerts.

We will present his masterpiece Ayre on opening night. Other works will include Lullaby and Doina, which comes from his work with filmmaker Sally Potter, and her work The Man Who Cried, and will open the play Kafka and Son. As well, we will perform his string quartet Yiddishbbuk , and his cello and marimba work Muriel on our late-night cabaret concerts. Finally, A Far Cry will perform Tenebrae, commissioned for the St. Lawrence Quartet.

We wanted his music to happen throughout the festival and for audiences to feel that they really did discover his art through the summer. For those who have not discovered his sound world, opening night’s performance of Ayre is going to be a sensation. A song cycle for soprano who sings in Ladino, Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish, and English, with a band that includes harp, flute, klezmer clarinet, guitar, cello, viola, laptop, electronic accordion, bass, percussion and horn, all woven together in a seamless way that leaves the audience transported. I get excited just writing about it. The first time I heard Ayre I was blown away by its power and beauty. This performance brings a new vision to the work, as we have invited the Lebanese-born soprano Miriam Khalil and director Joel Ivany to reimagine the work in a more theatrical presentation than had been originally conceived.

Extending the festival hours with three upstairs classical cabaret events seems like fun, especially since the town goes to sleep so early and many of us, especially the artists, aren’t ready to call it a night. Will the audience continue to be invited to post-concert receptions after the other 26 events?

When I saw our third-floor space at the Shalin Liu Performance Center, I immediately felt that there was great potential for presenting music in a different way from our mainstage, in a more informal way that blurs the lines between stage and audience. We still plan to have receptions following many of the concerts as the opportunity for artists to meet the festival audience and for the audience to enjoy the community that is so special at Rockport Music. Don’t worry, the partying will continue.

You’re not starting with an advertised benefit this year, but your closer, the Pinchas Zuckerman Trio, is priced as if it were one.

Actually, our big gala concert this year, just prior to the festival, is with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, from New Orleans. I think this will be a ton of fun, as they are converting space across from the hall into a French Quarter-inspired reception and dinner space. The Preservation Hall band will lead the audience carnival-style, out of the hall and across the street for the party. Rockport has historically alternated between classical artists and jazz artists for the gala, so having had Joshua Bell last summer we went in this direction for 2018.

Bringing the Pinchas Zukerman Trio to Rockport in August as part of our Festival Annex is very exciting for me. For a violinist, any opportunity to hear the great Pinky is something not to miss. His piano trio includes two friends of mine from Canada, pianist Angela Cheng and cellist Amanda Forsyth. How often does one get to hear such artists in such an intimate venue as our Shalin Liu? If ticket prices are a bit higher than what some seats would be in a 2500-seat auditorium, you can be assured that the experience is worth it. This repertoire was meant to be experienced in smaller spaces and we are so lucky that our concert hall was purposefully built for the needs of the music.

Miriam Khalil to appear in Ayre (Darryl Block photo)

Do we really want to hear Rachmaninoff had big hands?

Hmmmm. I think the “Big Hands” skit is part of an earlier show that Igudesman and Joo created. I went to school with the pianist Hyung-ki Joo at Juilliard. He was a sensational pianist at that time, someone who always was the life of the party and blessed with a ridiculous sense of humor. Their career has become so big now that it was almost impossible to find a date. They are playing at the major European festivals and teaming up with the likes of Emmanuel Ax, Joshua Bell, and Gidon Kremer. I find that their humor is totally hilarious whether you come to the show as an experienced connoisseur or new audience member. They poke fun at all of the decorum and tradition that has been steeped on classical music, and coming when it does in the festival, I think it will be very welcome chance to enjoy a good laugh. I can share that the Emerson Quartet, Colin Carr, and the Dover Quartet have all expressly written to me NOT to plan any rehearsals during the Igudesman and Joo show because they want to attend.

I am also looking forward to showing the other side of the comedians, as they are both exceptional artists in their own right, and will be performing chamber music on our cabaret concert following their show.

How many of the seats are sold out by subscription?

We have a devoted patron base for the festival who purchase multiple performances within the festival. Anyone can purchase a subscription, receiving a discount with five or more concerts. Depending on the concert, approximately a third to over half of the concert hall may be filled with subscribers. Since patrons can select a “flexible” subscription to suit their interests, it does vary per concert.

Are you really sure we want to hear Rachmaninoff had big hands?

Haha, funny. You will really enjoy it!


A Descriptive Summary:


Artistic Director Barry Shiffman kicks off his first Festival with a dramatic Opening Night, with Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence and Osvaldo Golijov’s Ayre featuring soprano Miriam Khalil. Additionally, Golijov is the composer-in-residence. Opening weekend continues with the Snow in June program showcasing pianist Frederic Chiu and cellist Andrés Díaz performing works of Bach, Tan Dun, and Messiaen. Later in the Festival (June 22), the Attacca Quartet is joined by pianist Stephen Prutsman and violinist Danny Koo for a program called War & Peace, showcasing works by Arvo Pärt, Shostakovich, and Steve Reich’s Different Trains.


This summer we feature several string quartets, including the acclaimed Brentano for two nights, the Dover performing music of Mozart and Dvořák, and the famed Emerson Quartet on the closing weekend. The self-conducted A Far Cry makes its much-anticipated return with a concert featuring Bach, Philip Glass and Golijov. Other notable strings include the Montrose Trio (along with Barry Shiffman) on opening weekend, violinst James Ehnes in an all-Beethoven program, and the great cellist Colin Carr performing Bach’s complete cello suites. The renowned Pinchas Zukerman Trio comes in a special “annex” concert in August.


What’s a Festival without phenomenal pianists? On June 23, the genre-bending Stephen Prutsmanbrings a varied program that includes Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier interspersed with works by Beethoven, Debussy, and jazz legend Charlie Parker. Recent Van Cliburn competition winner Yekwon Soojoins the Brentano Quartet in a concert of Schubert, Ravel, Strauss and Dvořák, and later that weekend Minsoo Sohn performs Bach’s Goldberg Variations.


This summer provides numerous vocal programs with mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey in An Evening of Brahms as well as a sumptuous night of Handel Love Duets featuring soprano Suzie LeBlanc and countertenor Daniel Taylor. The great Dawn Upshaw returns to Rockport as a guest vocalist with the Brentano on Respighi’s Tramonto. Witness the meteoric rise of heralded young baritone-bass Davóne Tines on two concerts, first with the Rolston Quartet with works by Murray Schafer and Matthew Aucoin along with several powerful spirituals. He later performs with the acclaimed ARC Ensemble

Classical Caberet

This year’s Festival brings an exciting new “late-night” program of classical cabarets on the third floor reception hall of the Shalin Liu Performance Center. Enjoy a glass of wine or cocktail as some of the world’s greatest classical musicians play an intimate short program.

The first cabaret on June 21 features mezzo Samantha Hankey and pianist Stephen Prutsman among others for an evening entitled Carmen & Liszt. In July, we have two, one bringing works of Bach & Golijov starring Barry Shiffman and members of the Rolston Quartet. The final cabaret features an all-star assemblage including the Dover QuartetIgudesman & Joo, and cellists Colin Carr and Paul Watkins for works of Debussy, Schumann and Popper.

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