With near-perfect symmetry, summer solstice will occur midway through the twenty-second annual Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, a two-week series of more than twenty concerts taking place in theaters, chapels, galleries, and recital halls across Detroit, Windsor, Bloomfield Hills, Beverly Hills, and Grosse Pointe, and at the Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor. Co-sponsored by a fellowship of Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish communities in league with the Detroit Chamber Winds & Strings, the festival states that its mission is to “celebrate and foster the special intimate musical conversation that is central to great chamber music.”
This year’s guests will include the Altius, Calidore, and Excelsa quartets; U-M prof and classical saxophonist Donald Sinta; and eighth blackbird, the envelope-pushing, postmodern ensemble. The festival’s recently appointed artistic director is Paul Watkins, the newest member of the world-famous Emerson String Quartet. Watkins will participate throughout as pianist, cellist, conductor, and commentator.
The list of works slated for performance at the Kerrytown Concert House combines bedrock classics with music by composers active in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. On June 19, “Nobody’s,” a study for unaccompanied violin written by Ted Hearne in 2010, will be heard among flute sonatas by Bach and Prokofiev, a cello sonata by Rachmaninoff, and a nocturne for flute and strings written in 1918 by Arthur William Foote, a Boston-based Unitarian organist who was a colleague of Edward MacDowell.
On June 26, a string quartet written in 1827 by the teenage Felix Mendelssohn–considered bracingly experimental in its day–will precede “Crashing Through Fences” (2009), a piece by Timo Andres originally scored for piccolo and glockenspiel. David Lang’s “these broken wings” (2008) will preface a set of “Songs of Love and Loss” penned by a collectively determined selection of composers and songwriters and reinterpreted by eighth blackbird.
The festival’s finale–a matinee on June 28–promises to layer old and new traditions in high contrast. Haydn’s “Bird” Quartet of 1781 will be followed by the Calidore’s premiere of a work by contemporary composer Mark Grey that was commissioned for this festival. A similar time warp is sure to occur when Edvard Grieg’s old-fashioned Holberg Suite of 1884 segues into the Donald Sinta Quartet’s reading of “You” (from Radiohead’s 1993 album Pablo Honey). Lastly, Paul Watkins will join the Excelsa Quartet for Franz Schubert’s double-cello Quintet in C Major, an emotionally stoked opus that fully embodies the shared wonderment of art music played and heard in an intimate setting.