Chamber music festival returns to Kerrytown

By Joe Cadagin, For the Daily
Published June 6, 2010

Ann Arbor is a hotspot for exciting chamber music performances by established artists — from traditional ensembles like the Emerson String Quartet to more experimental groups like Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble. But every June, our town gets a chance to see future stars of chamber music.

Minifest: Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival in Residence

June 11 and 18 at 8 p.m., June 20 at 2 p.m.
Kerrytown Concert House
Tickets from $15

Since its inception in 1994, the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival has presented an annual series of concerts throughout Southeast Michigan featuring today’s leading chamber music ensembles, as well as up-and-coming groups.

While the majority of the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival’s concerts take place in the Detroit area, the Kerrytown Concert House features a three-day “Minifest” that gives Ann Arbor audiences a taste of the festival.

“We always do the Kerrytown concerts in conjunction with our regular programming,” said James Tocco, the festival’s artistic director. “We always try to have all of our festival artists represented at Kerrytown and a sampling of the programming.”

This year’s season celebrates three important anniversaries in classical chamber music: the 200th birthday of Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schumann, as well as the 100th birthday of American composer Samuel Barber. Works by all three composers will be featured at the Kerrytown Minifest.

In order to tie together many of the unique aspects of the season, the festival’s organizers have chosen the title “The Poet Speaks.” The title comes from the last movement of Schumann’s piano work “Scenes from Childhood.”

Tocco said that the season will feature a greater emphasis on vocal music as part of the poetic theme.

“We have a composer-in-residence, the Russian composer and pianist Lera Auerbach, who is also a poet,” said Tocco. “It’s an interesting festival. I think we’re going to have a lot of fun with this.”

In offering quality performances of live chamber music, the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival also provides opportunities for up-and-coming artists.

“We bring three to four young ensembles every year as part of, what we call, the Shouse Institute,” Tocco said. “These are young professional ensembles at the threshold of their career.”

The Shouse Artists performing at the Minifest this season include Trio La Plata, the Harlem String Quartet, the Jasper String Quartet and Trio de Lausanne.

By working with more experienced festival ensembles and artists such as Tocco himself, Shouse Artists gain a foothold in the world of chamber music through the event and quickly move up in the industry.

“So many of the ensembles that come through the Shouse Institute go on to make major careers,” said Tocco. “Some of them are so successful that we can’t even afford to bring them to the festival anymore.”

The 2010 season will also showcase the work of composer Uriel Vanchestein. The young artist will serve as the festival’s first Stone Fellow Composer, a position created last year to introduce new works by enterprising composers. The Harlem String Quartet will perform Vanchestein’s newly composed String Quartet at the June 11th concert.

As for the performance venue, Tocco explained that the Kerrytown Concert House was tailor-made for concert music and is unanimously the artists’ favorite place to perform.

“It’s a house whose L-shaped living/dining room has been converted into a little, mini concert hall with a little platform,” Tocco said. “It’s absolutely a wonderful environment because the intimacy of chamber music can be experienced here better than any of our other venues.”

Tocco also stressed the Minifest’s popularity among Ann Arbor audiences.

“They are really passionate devotees of chamber music, and we always get wonderful responses from them,” he said

The three Minifest concerts will take place on June 11th and 18th at 8 p.m. and on June 20th at 2 p.m. Tocco himself will perform at the second of these concerts accompanying soprano Lauren Skuce in the “Hermit Songs” of Samuel Barber.

Tocco expressed the importance of the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival for providing chamber music to audiences in Southeast Michigan, stressing the importance of the music in general.

“I don’t think chamber music is any more or less important than any other form of music,” said Tocco. “It is just a particular genre of music that lends itself to more intimate spaces. It is a different kind of experience than what you get with symphonic music or with opera or with rock music for that matter.

“Music is music — people can’t live without it.”