Centuries-old tradition finds relevance, diversity

Award-winning Charlottesville Chamber Music Festival takes place on- and off-Grounds

For the next couple weeks in Charlottesville, the popularity of string quartets and classical pianists will match that of pop concerts. Earlier this year, the Virginia Chamber Music Foundation announced the 18th season of the Charlottesville Chamber Music Festival, where world-renowned artists will play at Old Cabell Hall, the Paramount Theater and the Jefferson Theater beginning Friday, Sept. 8 and ending Sunday, Sept. 21.

Get ready for a blend of electronic such as “Music Fresh Squeezed” and Mozart’s “Sinfonia Concertante,” as contemporary quartets and classical performers gather in Charlottesville to share a fresh take on chamber music. Artists include the Brooklyn Rider quartet, Sharon Roffman, Conor Hanick, Clancy Newman, Joseph Conyers and Mimi Solomon.

“Chamber music is portable, and that means that it not only is able to go to lots of different venues, but it is also artistically pliable,” Brooklyn Rider violist Nicholas Cords said. “In such a fast moving world, chamber music is uniquely able to find relevance while also being part of a several hundred-year-old tradition. Brooklyn Rider has always enjoyed that dichotomy ... I think that means having one foot very firmly planted in the music of today.”

If chamber music sounds unfamiliar, it is only because it has a tradition of being composed for a group of small instruments that could fit into a single room or palace chamber. Groups like Brooklyn Rider have updated the concept of chamber music by displaying an exuberance traditionally more fitting of a pop band, and the group has performed for NPR, Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall.

Raphael Bell and Timothy Summers, co-founders and co-artistic directors of the festival, were both able to provide more insight into what audiences should expect. 

“Each concert will take us deep into different musical worlds,” Bell and Summers said. 

Other performances include what Summers and Bell described as “lesser known gems,” such as Nikolaj Kapustin’s “jazzy” piano quintet or Richard Strauss’s 1945 WWII piece, “Metamorphosen.”

Younger artists include critically acclaimed soprano Ariadne Greif, violinist Alexi Kenney, violist Matthew Lipman, pianist Andrew Armstrong and Charlottesville-based pianist Jeremy Thompson. Work by living composers such as Evan Ziporyn, Philip Glass, Giovanni Sollima and Brooklyn Rider’s Colin Jacobsen will also be presented at the Festival. 

“While the focus has been on chamber music, this term has been redefined to cover a wide variety of musical genres and instrumental groups from small orchestras to individual soloists and from baroque compositions to cutting edge contemporary music,” Festival Manager Maggie Graff said. “The audience is exposed to many different musical forms and instruments played by outstanding musicians. Professionalism and variety are two hallmarks of the Charlottesville Chamber Music Festival.”

Music Fresh Squeezed, for instance, is a special concert taking place Saturday at the Jefferson Theater, featuring Brooklyn Rider’s works and improvisations. As an added benefit for students, there is a discounted ticket price of $6 as opposed to the standard $25.

“Music Fresh Squeezed, which has been around since 2013, is more exploratory by nature and perfect for a younger audience, which is why we booked the Jefferson Theater for it this year,” Graff said.

Audiences have the opportunity to meet the artists after performances at the Festival. 

“I've been promoting this Festival since June when I was hired, and after only talking to the artists on the phone or seeing their performances on YouTube and their website, I’m so looking forward to meeting them and finally seeing them perform their craft in person,” Graff said.

With such a variety of artists, the Festival will host performances that appeal to both longtime classical music lovers and those with more contemporary tastes.

“I’m looking forward to all of the concerts, which involve quartet performances and collaborations with our old friends and founders Tim Summers and Rafe Bell,” Cords said. “In each of the three shows, we're going to bring new music from our latest album 'Spontaneous Symbols,' and the Fresh Squeezed show will be a diverse a la carte mix, also involving some solo performances.”

Friday’s lineup includes composers Gabriel Fauré, Colin Jacobsen, Philip Glass, Maurice Ravel at The Paramount Theater. Saturday exhibits Music Fresh Squeezed at The Jefferson Theater, and Sunday features, Luigi Boccherini, Evan Ziporyn, Luciano Berio and a performance of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante at Old Cabell Hall. The concert series continues with diverse performances like these until Sept. 21. Tickets can be purchased online at www.cvillechambermusic.org or at the door, with students receiving discounted prices at each event. 

“I've been going to the CCMF as an individual for many years,” Cords said. “I've grown to love the area, the people, the feel. Brooklyn Rider has now been a few times and the way the audience has openly embraced us, especially the new music that we bring, has made it one of our favorite places to be … Recent events in Charlottesville have reignited one of our very core beliefs, that music is a powerful and lasting voice for diversity, and that the string quartet is a place where we can celebrate difference.”

Correction: The article previously misstated Friday and Saturday's lineups as artists.

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