Summerfest 2016 is a homecoming of sorts.
The annual summer chamber music festival, which is marking its 26th season, returns to St. Mary’s Episcopal church for its Sunday afternoon concerts, and the theme of this year’s Summerfest is American Roots, which will emphasize music from our own backyard.
The Saturday evening concerts still will be performed at White Recital Hall on the UMKC conservatory campus. For the past several years, Summerfest has been holding its Sunday afternoon concerts at Country Club Christian. After recent renovations at St. Mary’s, Summerfest has decided to return to one of its original venues.
“We’re moving our Sunday concerts back to St. Mary’s, where, historically, we had done them for a really, really long time,” said Jane Carl, clarinetist and member of Summerfest’s artistic committee.
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“They’ve made a ton of improvements in the church. It’s gorgeous on the inside. They’ve redone the flooring and the lighting. They used to have really creaky, cane-bottom chairs that were kind of uncomfortable and loud, and they replaced all of those with beautiful, upholstered, wooden chairs. And I think people just love being in there when the sun comes through the stained-glass windows late in the afternoon.”
Carl has no complaints about Country Club Christian, but feels that the more intimate space of St. Mary’s is more conducive to chamber music.
As in years past, the Summerfest musicians will perform classics and rarities by composers of the European tradition, but this year they’re taking some back roads to explore America’s contribution to the chamber music repertoire.
“It’s an election year, and we’re all thinking about our national identity and things like that,” Carl said. “So we’ll be playing pieces that have ties to more indigenous American music. And by indigenous, I don’t mean Native American, necessarily, but music that arose out of the American experience, like Appalachian folk tunes or bluegrass-tinged music and blues and jazz, which, of course, came from African-Americans.”
Works that evoke a bluegrass, Appalachian sound are Dan Visconti’s “Lawless Airs” and “Love Dogs” by Evan Chambers. On the first weekend, David Baker’s jazz-oriented Roots II melds chamber music and boogie woogie. The last concert of the season will feature John Harbison’s “Songs America Loves to Sing.”
“Each movement is a piece of Americana twisted through Harbison’s own lens, and they’re very different takes,” Carl said. “Very few of them are straightforward, so we have pieces like ‘Amazing Grace,’ ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken,’ ‘The St. Louis Blues’ and ‘We Shall Overcome.’ The last movement is ‘Happy Birthday.’ Sometimes it’s hard to even pick out the tune because he’s transformed it so much. It’s in there, but you have to kind of work a little bit with some of them.”
As a clarinetist, Carl is especially looking forward to works that employ the licorice stick.
“One would be the septet by Max Bruch, which he wrote when he was 11 years old,” Carl said. “It’s a huge piece for clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello and bass. Also Alexander Zemlinsky’s trio for clarinet, cello and piano. It’s very Brahmsian. We’re going to do (Ludwig Van) Beethoven’s piano quintet, the one for piano and winds. It’s always great to play some Beethoven that isn’t for strings.”
This will also be the first year that Summerfest takes part in the Fringe Festival. Carl and actor Robert Gibby Brand will perform one of the pieces on the Fringe program called “Animal Antics.”
“They’re poems by Shel Silverstein set by Lori Ardovino, who is also a clarinet player,” Carl said. “They’re a lot of fun and Bob Brand is wonderful. He’s just a joy.”
Summerfest 2016 Schedule
Fringe Festival Concert on July 22: 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. $10. tinyurl.com/zjbqz4j.
▪ July 9 & 10: Musical Voices (Roots II by David Baker, Trio Sonata in C minor, HWV 386a by George Frideric Handel and the Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, op. 16 by Ludwig Van Beethoven)
▪ July 16 & 17: Musical Roots (“Lawless Airs” by Dan Visconti, Maurice Ravel’s Sonatine transcribed for harp by Carlos Salzedo, the Quartet in D Minor by Georg Philipp Telemann and the Trio for Clarinet, Cello, and Piano, op. 3 by Alexander Zemlinsky)
▪ July 23 & 24: Musical Borderlands (“Love Dogs” by Evan Chambers, Sonata Representativa by Heinrich Ignaz von Biber, “Walrus and the Carpenter” by David Alpher and the Septet in E-flat by Max Bruch)
▪ July 30 & 31: Songs at Evening (“At Dusk” by Arthur Foote, Chamber Concerto for Lute by Antonio Vivaldi, “Mountain Songs” by Robert Beaser and “Songs America Loves to Sing” by John Harrison.)