Ask orchestra conductor Larry Alan Smith about the continent to the south of us, and he’ll tell you about rhythm and color. South American music can be “mournful and soulful,” Smith says, but by and large “it’s very perky, very bright, very sunny.” Smith’s frequent conducting stints in Brazil in the 80s and 90s engendered a passion for South American music that he will share at this summer’s annual Wintergreen Summer Music Festival and Academy, July 7 – August 3 at Nelson County’s Wintergreen Resort.
Under Smith’s nine-year leadership, a festival that began with a few concerts in Wintergreen homes has grown into a month-long artistic affair comprising hundreds of events for the ear, eye, skin (breezy Wintergreen is about 10 degrees cooler than the surrounding valley), mind and tongue. Entitled Amazonas: The Rhythms and Colors of South America,the 2014 fiesta will comprise orchestral and chamber ensemble concerts, pre-concert talks and master classes, breakfast buffets and wine tastings, sound installations and gallery tours, tango lessons and much more.
The summer’s musical fare will combine the classic and the contemporary, the familiar and the surprising, and feature works by leading South American composers largely unknown to North American audiences. Venezuelan-born Ricardo Lorenz will be one of four composers taking part, teaching, lecturing and conducting. Five South American pianists will play. “We have a guitarist from Paraguay,” Smith says, “and a clarinetist from Venezuela who will also be playing a concerto for maracas and orchestra. We have a conductor from Columbia, a film producer from Argentina, and a soprano from Bolivia. One of our violinists is coming from Uruguay, so we’ve really got the continent pretty covered.”
“People are going to find themselves really pulled into the complicated, fast, fun rhythms that you hear in the popular music as well as in the classical music,” Smith says. “A lot of it is very, very fresh.” Along with sounds from south of the border, we have an incredible mixture of things on the programs, including Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn, “universal composers who defy and region or country.”
“What I’m proud about with the Wintergreen audience is that over the past eight years they’re heard a lot of really interesting new things and it actually has become something that people look forward to because they also realize I’m going to give them things that are more well known.”
The festival kicks off officially on July 9 at 7:30 p.m. in a program consisting of the Star-Spangled Banner, the Argentine national anthem, and selections by four South American composers: Julián Orbón (Cuban), and Luis Gianneo, Alberto Ginastera, and Ástor Piazzolla (Argentinian). Piazzolla “had one foot in the popular world and one foot in the classical world,” Smith notes of the man who introduced elements of jazz and classical music into the traditional tango genre of his native land. Reservations for Opening Night are required and must be made by July 7.
As always, the Wintergreen Festival Orchestra will play four Classics concerts, with performances Saturdays at 6:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. on consecutive weekends beginning July 12. Guest conductor Carl St. Clair will lead the Classics 1 performances of Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Bachianas brasileiras No. 9 (1945), Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 88 in G Major (1878), and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17 in G Major (1784) with soloist Mirian Conti. Smith’s pre-concert talks begin 45 minutes before each performance.
While a full orchestra can sweep listeners away with its power and enthrall them with the colors in a great score, smaller, “chamber” ensembles allow each instrument to be heard clearly, providing a more intimate listening experience. Once again, there will be plenty of chamber music to be heard on the mountain this season.
The Wintergreen Chamber Players and guest artists will perform together twice. The Tuesday, program on July 15 at 7:30 p.m. includes Tango for four violas (2013), one oftwo world premieres by guest composer and lecturer Michael White, written specifically, he says, for the festival’s “great viola players.” Rounding out the program will be Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Quinteto em forma de chôros, W231 (1928) and String Quartet No. 6, W399 (1938), and Reynaldo Hahn’s Sonata for violin and piano in C Major (1926) and Romanesque in C Major for flute, viola and piano (1905, 1910).
While the focus is on South America this year, the 11:00 a.m. Sunday Coffee Concert series, featuring hour-long concerts by the Wintergreen Chamber Players, Academy Ensembles and guest artists, is modeled on Sunday morning performances popular in much of Europe. Coffee and children’s drinks will be served. Performances will take place without intermissions.
The series kicks off on July 13 at 11:00 a.m. with a program of five pieces including Alberto Ginastera’s Pampanea No. 2, Op. 21 for cello and piano (1950), Heitor Villa-Lobos’ String Quartet No. 3, W112 (1916), and Composer-in-Residence Michael White’s second world premiere, Sonata for Piano Four-Hands (2013).
“This is actually the third piece that I’ve written for four hands piano in the last three years,” White says, noting that the combination was common in the 18th century, when “the piano had just been invented. Writing for a husband and wife or two lovers or a brother and sister was very popular, and then it died out. Not for any particular reason I have been able to understand. I kind of wanted to bring it back. Larry’s wife, Marguerita (Oundjian Smith) is a pianist, and Mirian Conti is also a wonderful pianist. I wanted to write for the two of them.”
This year’s weekday Morning Seminars will examine Mozart concertos, Haydn and Beethoven’s string quartets, and Chopin’s Mazurkas, among other works. White will lecture on Mozart concerti July 7 and 8, including Piano Concerto #17, which Conti will play on July 12 and 13. The Seventeenth “just happens to be, in my opinion, the best concerto that Mozart ever wrote for any instrument,” White says. “It’s my favorite concerto. What we’re going to do is something special. Mirian will play excerpts during his lecture.”
White will talk about two of Beethoven’s most famous sonatas, the Moonlight and the Tempest, on July 14, 15, 17 and 18 at 9:30 am. “I feel like I owe them some background on Beethoven,” White says, noting that at Wintergreen he has never lectured on this giant of Romanticism, concentrating instead on Mozart, “the composer that I really love the most.”
Along with European and South American classics both familiar and less well known, Wintergreen concertgoers this summer can hear music newly composed, and music designed to be approached and processed in new ways. Besides writing for the concert hall, Composer-in-Residence Ken Steen creates soundscapes intended for gardens, landscapes and art galleries. “Typically as a sound artist,” Steen says, “I would focus my work on sounds from the natural environment combined with instrumental sounds that have been modified in some way and then put back into a space. Sound art grows more out of the visual art tradition.”
Steen will have two sound installations at Wintergreen this year, Singing Pots/Peeper Pots, a collaboration with his wife, Lyn Harper, and The Garden of Sonic Delights, which he’ll devise with this year’s seven composition students.
Harper and Steen have collaborated before, Steen says, but “this is something new because we’re using clay pots – she’s a ceramic artist – and a set of transducer speakers that are like little magnetic hockey pucks that we attach to the pots, that allow the pots to become speakers. The sonic material is actually taken from recordings of peep frogs that live out in our backyard.”
“What I’m doing with the sound is taking the sound of the frogs that I’ve recorded and then applying other transformative processes to it electronically. And then those will be played back through the pots, which have gone a similar kind of transformation from mud into something else.”
Steen and Harper’s heal the wounds of war is a video composed from newsreel footage of war victims broadcast on Veterans Day in 1987. Conceived “as a timeless homage to the victims of war on a global level,” it will be heard six times on Monday, July 14. The 1:00, 2:00, and 3:00 p.m. showings will be accompanied by a live performance of the score on clarinet. The 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. showings will feature a recording on electronic cello.
“heal the wounds of war is in the form of a conceptual representation of traditional methods of prayer,” Steen writes. “In particular, reference is made to the burning of incense, the Christian rosary and the Buddhist prayer wheel. These are represented by the continually rising melodic line and the repetitive/circular nature of the accompaniment – all of which stand in stark contrast to the horrific images on screen. Due to the nature of the subject, some of the scenes may be disturbing, as well as inappropriate for children.”
Steen’s string quartet, Upon Second Hearing, will be heard – twice – Wednesday, July 16 at 4:00 p.m. “I am not at liberty to discuss the piece or its origins,” he says slyly. “The idea is for the music alone to provide that communication between composer and audience without any of the trappings we customarily use to give insight into what we were thinking or may have been going after.”
Once the audience has encountered the work without preconceived notions of what to expect, Steen says, “In a kind of reveal moment I’ll introduce the ideas that were the genesis of the piece. And then the piece will be played again, and we’ll probably discuss it a little more after that.”
Larry Alan Smith is moving on at the end of the summer, but his programming as Artistic and Executive Director has made Nelson County a destination point for arts lovers – as many as 11,000 each summer. “Larry took something that was a small festival known to very few people and turned it into something really sensational,” White says. “For one month, everybody concentrates on one country or period of time. I don’t know of any other festival in this country that does that.”
Attracting musicians from around the world the festival enriches – and enlarges – the Central Virginia art community. “We’re getting lots of people coming and staying for a week or two weeks,” Smith says, “and we’ve even had a couple of instances where people have decided to buy a home because of the festival.”
“The summer music festival brings a diverse group of people to Wintergreen, some for the first time,” says Tim Hess of Wintergreen Real Estate Company. “The festival has provided a very special contribution to the fabric of the Wintergreen community that often weighs in the decision to own here versus somewhere else.”
“It’s a real community – the musicians, but also the people who come to the concerts and the people who live on the mountain,” says cellist and chamber music coach Sara Sitzer, who has been coming since 2009. “Wintergreen is a very special environment.”
By Ken Wilson