Missouri Chamber Music Festival features Schubert and Stravinsky | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri Chamber Music Festival features Schubert and Stravinsky

Jun 13, 2013

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The third annual Missouri Chamber Music Festival returns June 13-17, with A Celebration of Schubert and Stravinsky” in three concerts in Webster Groves. More musicians are involved and David Robertson is featured, but not as a conductor.

The work of the Festival, however, has been going on since June 6. According to founders and co-directors Scott Andrews and Nina Ferrigno (also husband and wife) that was the beginning of the Pro-Am, a program that put amateur musicians to work in chamber music ensembles with professional musicians. The four days of workshops and enrichment classes include a “celebration” concert performance at the Community Music School.

“We wanted to make the Pro-Am part of the festival from the beginning,” says Andrews, who is first clarinetist with the St. Louis Symphony, as we talk at the First Congregational Church earlier this week between rehearsals for the three concert series.

“The goal was to help build a stronger sense of community among chamber music players in the community. And it’s gone incredibly well. I’m delighted to see how it has grown over the first three years.”

According to Andrews, the number of amateur musicians enrolled in the Pro-Am has grown each year, from 12 in 2011 to 22 this year. And the number of professional musicians involved has increased as well.

“This year we had 10 professional musicians on the faculty for the Pro-Am,” says Andrews. “They were teaching nine ensembles of various sizes, as well as offering enrichment classes focusing on topics chosen collectively by the faculty and the students. For example, the winds class offered extra help on the works the students were going to perform at the final concert. The piano class was all about technique. And the string class was focused on bowing and ways to add other colors and expressions to playing a piece.”

Especially gratifying to Andres and Ferrigno was the fact that the majority of the amateur Pro-Am participants this year had attended previous sessions.

“A dozen or more of the students were returning after previously participating in the Pro-Am,” says Andrews. “That’s very gratifying.”

“It was an inspiring weekend,” adds Ferrigno, a professional pianist and member of the Calyx Trio, scheduled to perform at the Festival. “As professional musicians, sometimes we forget how wonderful it is to experience the fearless love these students bring to the music. It’s wonderful to see them working so hard at something they love.”

“It was a very positive experience for our teachers too,” Andrews says. “Dana Hotle (clarinetist and a co-founder of another St. Louis music group, the Chamber Music Project), talked to everyone in the Pro-Am about how great it was to walk down the hall at the Music School and hear rehearsals of different music coming from several rooms all at once. She commented on how enriched she felt by that.”

The public face of the festival

The theme this year is “A Celebration of Schubert and Stravinsky.” And that theme – especially the second part of the duo – evolved more than a year ago.

“The idea of doing something involving Stravinsky actually began with the thought that 2013 is the 100th anniversary year of the debut of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” Andrews says. “We knew that the work first existed in a two-piano version and decided to program that for 2013.

"We also realized that -- because the League of American Orchestras was going to have its national convention in St. Louis in 2013 at the time our Festival was scheduled -- David Robertson would still be in town as well as other members of the Symphony. We knew David would be very busy with the conference and with a Symphony performance on June 18, but he was gracious enough to agree to the narration for our June 17 performance of Stravinsky’s “History of a Soldier.”

According to Robertson, whom I interviewed for an upcoming Beacon preview of the League of American Orchestras Conference next week, narrating musical performances is not something he has in-depth experience doing, but he is looking forward to being involved in the performance.

“I’ve done a little bit of narrating,” Robertson said during a telephone interview. “I’ve narrated at the Pulitzer as part of our concert series there, as well as in France. And I also did it unexpectedly in 2009 when the Symphony was playing at Carnegie Hall and the composer of “Frankenstein!!,” H K Gruber, had his flight delayed and couldn’t do the narrative for that piece on our program. I had to step in for him. At least for the Stravinsky, I know it’s coming!”

(The New York Times said “Robertson’s performance (of "Frankenstein!!") was a tour de force of uninhibition.”)

Once the decision to perform two Stravinsky pieces for the 2013 festival was in place, Andrews and Ferrigno decided to add a third, “Suite Italienne,” to the program. And both regarded Schubert’s “Octet in F Major” as a true touchstone of the chamber music repertoire, one that needed to part of the concert series.

“It’s a wonderful work,” says Andrews. “And it also fit into our desire to involve more musicians in the festival by performing larger works like the Schubert, “History of a Soldier,” and eventually pieces such as the Mendelssohn Octet and larger chamber pieces by Brahms and Beethoven.”

All in all, 14 musicians will play during the three concerts – as well as Robertson narrating the Stravinsky and dancers from the Missouri Ballet Theatre will be part of that performance as well.

“It’s wonderful to be able to showcase the talents of additional musicians and get them involved,” says Ferrigno. “Eight musicians are members of the St. Louis symphony, and it’s good to be able to expose them in a different musical context than as a member of a large orchestra.”

Dancers are a new element

The addition of dancers follows the involvement of visual artists in the 2012 festival. But according to Andrews and Ferrigno, the mixing of art forms is more a case of serendipity than a continuing theme.

“It’s definitely a lot of fun to collaborate with the dancers this year,” says Andrews. “But I’m not sure cross-collaboration with other artistic mediums is something we plan on every year. But we are open to doing something again.”

As Ferrigno adds, “Fundamentally, we’re program driven. It’s a happy coincidence when it happens, but it’s not planned out.”

In terms of the additional repertoire for the three concerts this year, another Schubert work, “Fantasia for Piano 4 Hands,” as well as pieces by Thomas Purcell, Carl Nielsen and Astor Piazzolla are included. But Andrews and Ferrigno are especially pleased to present a world premiere performance, Amy Beth Kirsten’s “kiss to the earth,” as part if the final concert on June 17.

“We’ve always had a composer-in-residence,” says Andrews. “But thanks to a grant from Chamber Music America, we were able to actually commission a work for a world premiere this year, and we chose Amy, who was a composer laureate for the state of Missouri. She will be giving a pre-concert talk on June 17.”

As part of the Chamber Music America grant, Kirsten’s work must also be performed at least two more times. An additional performance by Ferrigno and the other members of the Calyx Trio - violinist Catherine French and cellist Jennifer Lucht – has been arranged as part of the Carolina Chamber Music festival in New Bern, N.C., in September. Others are in the works as well, according to Ferrigno.

Ferrigno also plans for the Calyx Trio to record Kirsten’s new composition as part of the group’s debut recording.

“The grant gives us exclusive rights to perform the piece for two years,” she says. “And it seems like a perfect opportunity for us to record it as a debut recording for the Trio. A recording is something we’ve been really wanting to do. It feels like things are lining up to make it happen.”

Although Andrews and Ferrigno are focused on the upcoming Festival performances, they also have to think ahead to next year.

“After doing this for three years, we’ve discovered a template for putting the Festival together,” says Ferrigno. “And it’s been incredibly satisfying seeing it grow. But we’d also like to get the Webster Groves and St. Louis community more involved as we continue. We would love to do a concert aimed at families and young children, for example.”

“This year, we formatted the schedule to give us a day off between each of our three concerts,” adds Andrews. “So hopefully those days in between will work for possible additional community events like a family concert or more exposure for our Pro-Am students as we move forward.”

For additional information about the Missouri Chamber Music festival, go to: www.mochambermusic.org.

SCHEDULE: Missouri Chamber Music Festival 2013

“A Celebration of Schubert and Stravinsky”

“Suite Spring” 5 p.m. June 13

Purcell: Golden Sonata
Stravinsky: Suite Italienne
Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring

Catherine French, violin
Maria Schleuning, violin
Nina Ferrigno, piano
Hugh Hinton, piano

 “Serenade” 7 p.m. June 15

Schubert: Fantasia for Piano 4 Hands
Nielsen: Serenata in Vano
Schubert: Octet in F Major

Scott Andrews, clarinet
Shawn Mouser, bassoon
James Sommerville, French horn
Nina Ferrigno, piano
Hugh Hinton, piano
Maria Schleuning, violin
Jooyeon Kong, violin
Shannon Farrell Williams, viola
Jennifer Lucht, cello
Erik Harris, double bass

 “The Soldier's Tale” 8 p.m. June 17

Pre-Concert talk with composer Amy Beth Kirsten at 7:30 (included with admission)

Piazzolla: Primavera Portena
Kirsten:  kiss to the earth  (World Premiere)
Stravinsky: The Soldier's Tale

David Robertson, Narrator
Adam Sage, Choreographer
Dancers from the Missouri Ballet Theatre

The Calyx Trio
Scott Andrews, clarinet
Shawn Mouser, bassoon
Thomas Drake, cornet
Vanessa Fralick, trombone
William James, percussion
Catherine French, violin
Erik Harris, double bass
James Sommerville, conductor