Sometimes concert programming just happens. You’ve got an artist or ensemble with a specialty they’re expected to perform. Or a composer you want to feature. Or a bunch of musicians sell you on a program you’d never ordinarily consider.
Or all of the above. Consider what happened when Marc Neikrug, artistic director of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, started to think about programming for the Festival’s 41st season—opening July 14 at St. Francis Auditorium. In particular, he needed to come up with adventurous but satisfying concerts that could serve as a sort-of signature for the season. Especially after last summer’s 40th anniversary blockbuster programs.
“It’s odd sometimes how mundane impulses can lead you into unusual places.” Neikrug was describing how a series of five significant and rather strange August concerts came into being. He’d been talking with members of the Orion Quartet, SFCMF mainstays for years, about their druthers. “They’d been doing quite a lot of Beethoven for us, and they thought—how about some Schumann for a change?”
Neikrug pondered: so why not a lot of Schumann? How about all three quartets, the piano quintet and the piano quartet. Knowing that all five works were composed in a burst of inspiration between June and November 1842, he had a potential theme, too: the creative process as sudden explosion in the manner of, say, Hugo Wolf or Rilke. So, what else might fit the theme?
Try another series: Mozart’s piano trios—not quite comparable, but three composed in 1786 and three in 1788. And then, stay with the notion of works composed in a “serial” sense. Program a wild card, something rich and strange and vocal: Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, of all people. So Gesualdo’s “Quinto libro dei madrigali”(1611), will be performed, complete, over four concerts by members of the Desert Chorale to preface a Mozart trio and a Schumann chamber piece each time.
So be it. This surprising series will be heard Aug. 12, 14, 15 and 19. A fifth concert—Mozart’s trio, K. 502, and Schumann’s second quartet—takes place at noon Aug. 13 and is already sold out.
Another remarkable season put-together happens at the Aug. 4 and 5 concerts. Lawrence Foster, the distinguished conductor, Enescu buff and former music director at Aspen, has longed to participate in the festival. So those ambitious concerts begin with Enescu’s Dixtuor for Winds, then Mahler’s “Songs of a Wayfarer” in Schoenberg’s arrangement, with Matthew Worth as baritone soloist. To conclude, Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire, celebrating its centennial this year, will feature soprano Lucy Shelton, a notable specialist in the piece.
Speaking of centennials, why no Britten on the bill this year? Says Neikrug bluntly, “I don’t do birthdays. I’m much more interested in programs dealing with complexities and juxtapositions.” (See above.) What he does do, year after year, is present piano programming with both seasoned and youthful artists at the keyboard. This season look for, in chronological order of appearance, Inon Barnatan, Soyeon Kate Lee, Jeremy Denk, Shai Wosner, Kathleen McIntosh, Haochen Zhang, Victor Santiago Asuncion, Anne-Marie McDermott and artist-in-residence Garrick Ohlsson. Is that a world-class line-up or what?
Ohlsson’s unusual noon recital on Aug. 15 features Chopin—of course—and Prokofiev, plus works by Charles Tomlinson Griffes and Michael Hersch. Neikrug says he tempted Ohlsson into a performance of Chausson’s ultra-demanding Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Quartet (Aug. 11 at the Lensic) and then the Ludwig Thuille Wind Sextet (Aug. 18). Ohlsson’s first response: “Ludwig who?”
An experiment in foursomes, a workshop supervised by Neikrug to be conducted annually, can be heard July 26 in a program of in-progress string quartets, premieres by Reena Esmail, David Hertzberg and Elizabeth Ogonek. Neikrug’s Quartet No. 4 completes the concert, performed by the FLUX Quartet.
Neikrug himself appears onstage but once this year. That’s Aug. 6 in Mexican composer Mario Lavista’s Marsias for Oboe and Eight Crystal Glasses. Guess who’s helping out on las ocho copas?