Raphael Bell previews the Charlottesville Chamber Music Festival

Raphael Bell previews the Charlottesville Chamber Music Festival

Now in its 13th season, the Charlottesville Chamber Music Festival has become a local institution: a fortnight’s worth of nationally and internationally renowned composers and performers sharing the most intimate and contemplative form of music stretching back through centuries of western civilization. It has been said that chamber music is a conversation amongst friends, so we spoke via e-mail with former Charlottesville resident and Charlottesville High School grad, one of the festival’s co-founders, the internationally renowned cellist Raphael Bell (via e-mail).

C-VILLE: What can newcomers to the festival expect to find? What will festival frequenters find unique or interesting about this year’s festival?

Raphael Bell: “I think the audiences that come to the Charlottesville Chamber Music Festival each year love the festival for many reasons, but mostly for the dynamic and engaging performances given by some of the most exciting and interesting musicians we know from both Europe and the USA. There is always a good mix of returning musicians that the public can look forward to hearing again, and new musicians coming for the first time. The players this year come to Charlottesville from New York, London, Paris, and Berlin, as well as Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Seattle. The musicians always love Charlottesville and the atmosphere surrounding the Festival. They are often surprised to find an American city with such a charming Downtown, full of cafés and restaurants, bookstores and galleries.”

In its 13th year, how do you keep the festival growing?

“Having a weekday lunch concert Downtown is something we have thought about doing for a long time, and the opportunity this year seemed right with the [Celebrate!250] anniversary, where we thought we could give something back to our city and to the supportive audience in Charlottesville. I hope there will be a good turnout for it, and hope that some people who have never attended the Festival will come check us out. I think if they do, they will be pleasantly surprised by the fantastic musicians who come to Charlottesville to play.”

A free concert is likely to bring in folks who might be new to the festival or chamber music in general; what considerations did you make when choosing the program of music for the Paramount show?

“For this particular concert we found a little piece written by Mozart that was dedicated to Queen Charlotte after visiting and performing for her in London in 1764. He wrote it when he was eight years old! The program follows this with some Variations by Beethoven on a theme from Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute”, written at the end of Mozart’s life, then a gorgeous piece by Schumann for viola and piano called Marchenbilder, and a wonderful and rarely heard piano quartet by Carl Maria von Weber.”

As an internationally touring musician, what is the process of setting up a festival like this every year? 

“I love finding pieces that the audience has never heard before, and I think it is fantastic when people come out of a concert and their favorite piece was the one from the composer they had never heard of! In this case, it’s a relatively unknown 19th century piece, but this thrill is also special when we’re talking about new pieces from contemporary composers. I think the festival has been great over the years at introducing new music, and often these performances are the ones that people continue to speak to me about years later. There is lots of great stuff to look forward to in this year’s festival, both old and new, and I can’t wait to get home and get it started.”

Charlottesville Chamber Music Festival/September 9-23/Info at www.cvillechambermusic.org