KINGSTON, R.I. — With the start of the Kingston Chamber Musical Festival this week, the festival’s Executive Director Beth Etter and Communications Coordinator Anna Gray is excited to share what went into creating its 35th season: “Something Old, Something New.”
The Kingston Chamber Musical Festival (KCMF) 2023 season’s programming, which began last night and runs through August 6, will feature a mix of classical fan favorite repertoire that is “uniquely mixed” with contemporary work, as well as rarely performed pieces and new styles of arranging instruments.
Gray said the theme “Something Old, Something New” was chosen to showcase how modern-day chamber music honors and respects beloved pieces while embracing new composers and artists. KCMF will have seven concerts during the next two weeks at Edwards Auditorium on the University of Rhode Island (URI) campus featuring Grammy-winning guitarist Jason Vieaux, the Grammy-nominated Dover Quarter and other legendary musicians.
“Throughout our two-week festival – and sometimes within one concert – you can travel with us from the 1700s to the 2020s,” Gray said. “From classics by Bach, Beethoven and Bernstein to the groovy dance hits of American composer Aaron Jay Kernis, the soulful jazz of Duke Ellington, and the opportunity to hear French cellist/composer Dominique de Williencourt play his own compositions, we truly have it all.”
For 35 years, KCMF has differed from other chamber music festivals by bringing world-renowned musicians, many of whom have not played together, to perform repertoire they have not previously performed, Etter said. This is a stark contrast from more traditional chamber music performances that feature established chamber ensembles whose identity is known as a group.
This vision of bringing together acclaimed musicians to work together in a noteworthy festival at URI was created by David Kim, the current concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Kim wanted to create a lower cost classical music experience that would bring a distinct music experience to the URI and southern Rhode Island community. Etter said for over three decades, KCMF has strived to stay true to the original intent.
“We bring them all to the URI campus, and ask them to create something extraordinary,” Etter said. “In the space of a few days, each musician brings their skill, creativity, respect for others, and devotion to incredibly hard work to create a delectable, irresistible, one-of-a-kind performance that can never be heard again.”
Nowadays, Kim’s successor and current KCMF artistic director Natalie Zhu selects the repertoire for all of the musicians to perform. Etter said Zhu has an “uncanny” ability to weave repertoire in a stunning manner. Her skills allow the best chemistry to be sparked from the musicians performing together for the first time. This year, she has selected a wide range of pieces including rarely performed pieces by French composer Jean Francaix and Czech composer Josef Suk, Dvořák’s Viola Quintet and Aaron Jay Kernis’s 100 Greatest Dance Hits.
“It is like a chef in the kitchen creating a new sensory experience,” Etter said. “This means that the musicians communicate at perhaps the highest level available to us as humans. They must respect one another, work together as a team but assert their individuality to the highest level possible in order to make the whole as extraordinary as it can possibly be.”
KCMF withstands the test of time because every performance is different from the last, Etter said.
“There is some kind of magic in an extraordinary live performance,” Etter said. “Musicians at the top of their game, playing pieces that have either stood the test of time or represent the present time in exceptional composition, take a risk every single time.”
In addition to the performances, there is a “Meet the Artist” series with interviews with different artists an hour before each concert, allowing the musicians to speak directly to the audience to give some insight about who they are as a human being. The goal of this series is to show a musician’s artistry goes beyond their performance and musical mastery.
“These musicians are not just the best of the best in terms of technique and artistry — they are incredibly wonderful and insightful people too,” Gray said. “I’m excited for the audience to get to know more of the human behind the instrument.”
After all the performances are over, Etter said she hopes patrons of KCMF will have a newfound love and admiration of the adaptability of chamber music.
“The language of chamber music is one of the highest levels of communication, mutual respect and collaboration,” Etter said. “It is teamwork in the language of music.”
Gray said KCMF combines every element needed for a spectacular music experience. While KCMF may be classified as “something old” after 35 years, every musical performance throughout the two weeks will truly be “something new.”
“You don’t need to leave southern Rhode Island to experience the artistry of some of the best classical musicians alive today,” Gray said. “Our festival combines every element needed for a spectacular experience: a historic New England village, a beautiful university campus just a short drive from picturesque beaches, proximity to some of Rhode Island’s finest cuisine, and two weeks of chamber music performed by some of the world’s most award-winning musicians.”
Tickets for the Kingston Chamber Music Festival are on sale and are available at www.kingstonchambermusic.org/tickets/ or by calling the Box Office at 401-308-3614.