Yellow Barn celebrates ‘a living dimension of chamber music history’
Jörg Widmann is this season’s Composer in Residence at Yellow Barn.

Yellow Barn celebrates ‘a living dimension of chamber music history’

International roster of musicians ready to explore, perform music spanning 18th to 21st centuries

PUTNEY — Catherine Stephan, executive director of Yellow Barn, is enthusiastic as the international center for chamber music begins its 48th season on Friday, July 7, and Saturday, July 8, with concerts in the Big Barn in Putney.

“Each summer since 1969, musicians have gathered at Yellow Barn to celebrate the joys and endless questions of chamber music,” Stephan writes at Yellow Barn's website. “This year, an international roster of musicians arrive ready to explore and perform music that spans the 18th to the 21st centuries. Energizing performances will light up the Big Barn through August 5.”

Although any year at Yellow Barn has surprises to discover, Stephan finds several things to get particularly excited about this year.

“First of all, this year we are hosting a benefit birthday celebration for Leon Fleisher,” Stephan says. “Also, Jörg Widmann will once again be our composer in residence. Finally, three of our long-standing chamber music gurus, Gil Kalish, Peter Frankl, and Bonnie Hampton (Bonnie was a student of Pablo Casals!) are back for this year.”

All three of these octogenarian musicians will perform the opening weekend.

“While a living dimension of chamber music history, they are still remarkable artists,” Stephan says. “They will be an inspiration for all the musicians here at Yellow Barn. Some now in their 20s will be face to face with these remarkable artists for the first time, while others in their late 60s who revered these musicians when they were students at Yellow Barn will be reconnecting with beloved mentors.”

Why do we listen?

To introduce the season's programming on Saturday night, Kalish and Hampton will join Yellow Barn Artistic Director Seth Knopp for a discussion on the question: Why do we listen?

Drawing answers from their extraordinary lives with chamber music from the 1930s to today, this free pre-concert discussion takes place July 8 at 7 p.m. in the Putney Public Library.

“We are taking Yellow Barn's Saturday night discussion series to a new level this year, starting with an introduction to the season and 'why we listen,'” Stephan says. “Seth will lead that discussion with Gil and Bonnie. It is a rare opportunity to hear their personal history and insights in such an intimate setting.”

Stephan explains that the idea for this conversation arose after last year, when Yellow Barn took its van-converted mobile stage, the Music Haul, for a tour of New York City.

“With up to 80 musicians, from recent alumni to members of the Juilliard String Quartet, at various times on board, the van went to 20 different locations in the city, from Times Square to the vibrant neighborhoods on the outskirts of Manhattan, like the Bronx and Washington Heights,” Stephan says.

During all the concerts, there were some commonalities in the way people listened, but Knopp and Stephan discovered that sometimes people listened in styles they hadn't expected.

“Some of our most attentive audiences were in out-of-the-way places where you could not anticipate them to be familiar with the repertoire the Music Haul was performing,” Stephan says.

“These were people out-and-about in their neighborhoods who had no idea that we would be setting up the Music Haul. Nonetheless, many came forward and listened attentively, for 15, 45, or even more minutes. I was reminded of those concerts in the plazas of Europe. Here, Seth and I found ourselves studying the faces of these audiences to discover how they listened.”

Such unfiltered appreciation struck both of them as a positive alternative to many sophisticated concert-goers who put so much pressure on themselves before a concert that something gets lost in the process.

“Perhaps this simpler openness had much to recommend itself for all of us,” she says.

Yellow Barn celebrates Opening Night on Friday, July 7, at 8 p.m., in the Big Barn with a program of works “that bend towards rebirth, innocence, and reawakening,” writes Stephan.

Performances and a master class

The evening's program includes Claude Debussy's groundbreaking “Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune” transcribed for piano four-hands by Maurice Ravel, Leoš Janácek's “Pohádka” for cello and piano, in which each movement depicts a fairy tale, and Caroline Shaw's folk-inspired “By and By,” for soprano and string quartet.

Opening weekend continues with a piano masterclass given by Gilbert Kalish on Saturday, July 8, at 10:30 a.m., in the Big Barn. Yellow Barn's master classes have become mainstays of the festival, giving music enthusiasts and educators the opportunity to experience firsthand the festival's unique approach to the work and inspiration that comes from chamber music study.

Yellow Barn's opening weekend concludes with an 8 p.m. concert in the Big Barn on Saturday evening.

“The program begins with a burst of energy: James Tenney's 'Maximusic' for solo percussion. After the Tenney comes Felix Mendelssohn's 'Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 49,' which, like the Tenney, explores the idea of sound approaching from a distance,” Stephan writes.

The second half opens with Mozart's “Kegelstatt Trio” in E-flat major for clarinet, viola, and piano.

“In 1786, when the trio was written, the clarinet was still developing as an instrument, and this trio was one of the compositions that helped the instrument rise to prominence,” Stephan explains.

The program will then move to Hugo Wolf's 19th-century Spanish and Italian Songbooks for soprano and piano. The final piece of the weekend is Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, a beloved work that “will leave listeners filled with hope and optimism for a fulfilling season to come,” Stephan writes.

Yellow Barn will celebrate Leon Fleisher's 89th birthday on July 23 with a gala performance and dinner. Fleisher - pianist, pedagogue, Kennedy Center honoree, and friend of Yellow Barn - is one of the great musicians of our time.

“How do you honor a national treasure on his 89th birthday?” Stephan asks.

Since Fleisher was one of Knopp's teachers, Knopp posed that question to Leon himself.

“We wondered if perhaps he wanted to perform on the piano or maybe give a lecture,” Stephan says. “But what Leon confessed was that his dream was to conduct Mozart's 41st symphony in C, K551, with us. “

Fleisher will indeed conduct the Jupiter Symphony in the Big Barn. “It will be a once-in-a-Yellow Barn-life experience for an orchestra to play in the Big Barn,” Stephan says.

Fleisher also will play some left-hand pieces in the first half. His son, a cabaret singer in NYC, will be there as well, singing a few standards and talking with his father about his life with music.

Following the performance, a birthday celebration will be catered by A Vermont Table.

“We encourage you to celebrate Leon Fleisher and share your love of chamber music through your generosity,” Stephan writes. “During the event there will be an opportunity to demonstrate your support with a gift or pledge. Together, we will create the Leon Fleisher Scholarship, and help keep Yellow Barn tuition-free for young professional musicians.”

Tickets are $125. Since space for this event is limited, reply by July 15, 2017, to Fiona Boyd, general administrator, at 802-387-6637 or [email protected].

The third special event for the Yellow Barn 2017 season is that Jörg Widmann will return as composer in residence for the week of July 24.

A groundbreaking artist

Widmann, from Munich, Germany, is one of the most versatile and intriguing artists of his generation.

He performs regularly with leading world orchestras, such as Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and Orchestre National de France, and has collaborated with conductors such as Daniel Barenboim, Valery Gergiev, and Christoph von Dohnányi.

Widmann's compositions are performed regularly by conductors such as Pierre Boulez, Christian Thielemann, Mariss Jansons, Andris Nelsons, and Simon Rattle, and premiered by orchestras such as the Wiener and Berliner Philharmoniker, New York Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris and many others.

Widmann has been Artist in Residence at leading orchestras and festivals such as Lucerne and Heidelberger Frühling, and has been featured in artist portraits at Vienna's Konzerthaus, Frankfurt Alte Oper, Cologne's Philharmonie and New York's Carnegie Hall, where his music was featured for an entire season under the motto, “Making Music: Jörg Widmann.”

Widmann will work at Yellow Barn with baritone William Sharp and Knopp, a pianist, as they prepare for the North American premiere of “Das heiße Herz” (“The Hot Heart”), Widmann's song cycle inspired by Robert Schumann's “Dichterliebe.”

“Although definitely a composer of today, Widmann is special in that he remains respectful of musical history,” Stephan says. “For instance, Mendelssohn and Schumann are two of his inspirations.”

Over the course of the week, eight of Widmann's compositions will be performed by the Yellow Barn musicians, with the composer at every performance.

“Since he is a returning composer in residence, more of his unusual pieces can be performed this year,” Stephan says. “For instance, this time Seth was able to program a North American premiere of one of his works.”

Yellow Barn feels honored to have this artistic genius “who will take extraordinary music-making to a new level for us,” Stephan says.

Being such an in-demand artist with a high profile and exhausting schedule, why does Widmann choose to take part with the family of musicians at Yellow Barn?

“Jörg has turned down important commissions so that he can join us in the quiet of Putney,” Stephan explains. “He responds to what he calls our 'humanness' here at Yellow Barn.”

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