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Half-dozen classical music festivals and concerts series beckon

The hills are alive with the sound of classical music

IMAI quartet practices for the upcoming performances. Scott Andrews. (click for larger version)
July 02, 2009
Summer is the season when classical musicians traditionally rusticate and play concerts in resort communities in northern New Hampshire and western Maine, and this year six classical music festivals and concert series in the two-state region beckon listeners from the Mount Washington Valley. Perfor-mances vary in scope and size, ranging from small, intimate settings for chamber music to full symphonic repertoire performed in spacious concert halls.

This summer's dates span two months, beginning July 1 and ending Aug. 30. First up is the "Stars of Tomorrow" concert series at the Heifetz Music Festival on the shores of Lake Winnipesauke in Wolfeboro. That's followed a day later with the first of Heifetz's "Celebrity Concerts."

The summer's classical offerings wrap up in North Conway with the White Mountain Bach Festival, which takes place at two venues in North Conway on the last weekend in August.

The New Hampshire Music Festival operates on the largest scale. Each summer it organizes its own resident symphony orchestra, comprised of topnotch professional musicians from around the country who perform for six weeks in the Lakes Region.

In Maine's Lake Region, the Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival holds forth in the sylvan surroundings of historical Deertrees Theatre in Harrison for five Tuesdays.

The Fryeburg-based International Musical Arts Institute holds a summer concert series for most of July. IMAI presents the largest number of concerts, averaging six concerts per week, mostly on the Fryeburg Academy campus, plus a few in scattered locations in northern New Hampshire.

The most peripatetic is the Littleton-based North Country Chamber Players' concert series, a wandering concert series that visits half a dozen different venues in northern New Hampshire.

Let's take a brief look at each of these, sorted by date of first public performance.

Heifetz Institute

In the rarefied atmosphere of classical music's highest echelons, violinist Daniel Heifetz is noted for his outside-the-box approach to developing top soloists and chamber musicians of tomorrow. His eponymous Heifetz Institute attracts up-and-coming string players and pianists from around the world to a six-week program of intensive training with a faculty that's drawn from America's top conservatories and music schools.

Nothing unusual about that. What sets Heifetz's training program apart from others is his insistence that students learn to "feel" and express their art in non-musical ways, through dance, movement and vocalization.

Two concert series are offered by the Institute. The Celebrity Series runs on Thursdays and features resident faculty, augmented by a handful of visiting artists and a selection of the most advanced young musicians. Institute students, who are mostly in their mid-teens to early twenties, are featured in the Stars of Tomorrow concerts — no-cost performances offered Mondays and Wednesdays. Both these series use Anderson Hall, on the Brewster Academy campus in Wolfeboro.

The July 8 student concert will be a special occasion: National Public Radio will record its award-winning "From the Top" program with several top Heifetz students.

New Hampshire Music Festival

Oldest and largest: Those honors belong to the New Hampshire Music Festival, which has been a fixture in the Lakes Region since the early 1950s. Eighteen concerts are offered in three formats in three different venues. Flagship offering is the Thursday Classical series, which features large-scale full symphonic works with guest artists.

After nearly two decades on the podium, music director Paul Polivnick is moving on after this season. He'll lead his final NHMF concert July 9, a selection of personal favorites. Two of the orchestra's favorite members will be featured as soloists: longtime concertmaster/first violinist Ronald Patterson and his wife, principal violist Roxanna Patterson.

The remaining concerts in the series will be conducted by five guest maestros. Among them are three women conductors, a rare breed in the classical music world.

Five globetrotting guest instrumentalists are highlighted in concertos during the Thursday series. Visiting artists include cellist Sergey Antonov, violinists Lara St. John and Jonathan Gandelsman plus pianists Ana Karina Alamo and Khatia Buniatishvili.

The Thursday series is held in the spacious Silver Center for the Arts, located on the Plymouth State University campus.

The six-part Saturday series, held in the Gilford Community Auditorium, is led by another dynamic conductor, Michael Krajewski. His format alternates between light classics and pops.

Most intimate is NHMF's Chamber Music series, which begins July 7 and continues for six Tuesdays in Smith Recital Hall, another part of the Silver Center for the Arts. Principal NHMF instrumentalists perform a wide variety of works for smaller ensembles.

International Musical Arts Institute

Violin virtuoso Eric Rosenblith, director of the International Musical Arts Institute, headed the strings department at the New England Conservatory for many years. His Fryeburg-based IMAI is a very vigorous post-retirement project that brings together up-and-coming young artists to study and perform for most of July. The four-week program and parallel concert series resides at Fryeburg Academy; Eric's wife, Carol Rosenblith, who also sings soprano for the institute, is a graduate.

A uniquely democratic social and musical environment is Eric Rosenblith's hallmark.

"Everyone is a musician here," he insists. "Some are older, some are younger. Some are more experienced and some are less. We have what one would call an extended family or 'classless society.' We don't have 'student concerts' or 'faculty concerts,' but concerts with everybody together."

And lots of them! Evening concerts are scheduled Wednesdays through Saturdays, beginning July 8. Sunday afternoon concerts are designed to be especially accommodating for seniors and persons with mobility impairments. Off-campus concerts are offered on Tuesdays, and the public is invited to attend open rehearsals on Mondays.

In its past 12 years, students and faculty have hailed from about 30 different countries. Special-focus programming reflects that geographical diversity.

With few exceptions, students and faculty focus exclusively on strings plus piano.

North Country Chamber Players

"Wandering musicians" is one apt description of the North Country Chamber Players: They play concerts at numerous venues around northern New Hampshire.

Numbering an even dozen instrumentalists, the NCCP roster includes a standard string quartet and piano plus a bassoon, clarinet, double bass, horn, flute and oboe. Longtime artistic director Ronnie Bauch, a violinist, also serves as managing director of New York's famed Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

Each of the five weekends carries a theme. The July 10 and 11 opening program is titled "1809," and recalls two musical milestones: the death of Franz Joseph Haydn and the birth of Felix Mendelssohn. Weekend Two is devoted to Russian music and Weekend Three showcases Johann Sebastian Bach and sons. Week Four honors Czech composers while the Weekend Five finale is entirely dedicated to Ludwig van Beethoven.

Every program is performed twice per weekend. Saturday performances are always held in the historic Sugar Hill Meetinghouse, a picture-perfect little white church on a hillside. Other performances are scheduled for Fridays or Sundays, and use several scattered sites, including the Mountain View Grand Hotel in Whitefield, Colonial Theater in Bethlehem, Alumni Hall in Haverhill and the Governor Adams base lodge at Loon Mountain Resort in Lincoln. The latter spot is particularly apropos: Former New Hampshire governor Sherman Adams started Loon Mountain ski area and co-founded NCCP.

Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival

Rusticating and concertizing in one of Maine's most sylvan settings is the ongoing theme of the Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival, which performs five Tuesdays each summer as the programming anchor of historic Deertrees Theatre and Cultural Center in Harrison. The festival has been one of western Maine's favorite seasonal happenings for nearly four decades and consistently draws concert-goers from the Mount Washington Valley.

This year's dates are July 14 through Aug. 11. Twenty-five professional musicians are slated for 2009, under the direction of Laurie Kennedy, longtime principal violist with the Portland Symphony Orchestra. Each summer Kennedy's programming focuses on tried-and-true works with an occasional modern composition added for balance. With more than two dozen musicians to draw from, she has exceptional leeway to select a very broad variety of music. Each of the five programs revolves around a central theme.

The Deertrees building itself is one of the festival's attractions, and many first-time visitors vividly remember the charming woodsy surroundings in the quiet Lake Region village. Deertrees simply oozes bucolic ambience. The setting certainly exemplifies laid-back summers: The 350-seat theater, built in 1936 on a hillside deer run by a vacationing New York opera impresario, is a classic example of the rustic Adirondack style executed in rose hemlock harvested on the site.

Between the 1930s and 1950s, Deertrees primarily hosted summer stock theater with visiting Broadway stars. Following those golden years, the property suffered decades of physical decline and revolving-door ownership-management. Shortly before it was scheduled for demolition, a local arts enthusiast led a spirited campaign to restore Deertrees, an effort that continues to the present.

White Mountain Bach Festival

The region's classical summer season wraps up the final weekend in August with the White Mountain Bach Festival, which takes place in two locations in North Conway. The festival has drawn local audiences for most of its 20-plus years, but is now beginning to attract attention, artists and concert-goers from farther away.

The four-day affair originated in 1989 among a circle of music aficionados connected with local churches. Appropriately, this year's festival opens Aug. 23 with an organ recital at Christ Church (Episcopal) in North Conway.

The festival concludes with three concerts at Cranmore Mountain Resort's 10th Mountain Division Pavilion Aug. 28 through 30 under the baton of Rob Lehmann, artistic director.

Lehmann returns for his second season at the helm. A professor at the University of Southern Maine School of Music, Lehmann is one of the Pine Tree State's most energetic and influential musical figures. His credentials include founding one orchestra and a string quartet plus he leads two other orchestras and works many freelance assignments as both violinist and maestro.

The White Mountain assignment is a perfect fit. Lehmann is noted for conducting all six of Johann Sebastian Bach's celebrated Brandenburg Concertos three years ago in Portland. In North Conway, he'll lead a total of 80 musicians, including local choruses. Several members of the Portland Symphony Orchestra are among the professional instrumentalists.

Lehmann is an avowed Bach enthusiast who relishes the White Mountain gig. "Bach is the cornerstone for everything we do as musicians," he says. "It's just perfect music, so the challenge is that you have to work very hard with everybody to bring out this music's potential."

Portland writer Scott Andrews covers classical music for several Maine newspapers and magazines.

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