Bringing chamber music to the masses

In Music
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Newburyport Chamber Music Festival director David Yang is bringing the festival closer to its mission, “community-oriented chamber music,” as he puts it, for the 16th annual series, which opens Aug. 10.

 

If you go…

WHAT: Newburyport Chamber Music Festival

WHERE: various locations in Newburyport and Portsmouth, NH

WHEN: Aug. 10 through 20

TICKETS: $11.50-$32. Many events are free. Visit www.newburyportchambermusic.org or call 978-701-4914.

 

In Newburyport, the chamber music is coming to your house.

Well, maybe not your own house, but lots of the neighbor’s houses. And cafés, bookstores, libraries. Even a downtown park.

That’s not to say the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival director David Yang isn’t programming some terrific concerts. Just that he’s bringing the festival closer to its mission, “community-oriented chamber music,” as he puts it, for the 16th annual series, which opens Aug. 10.

Open rehearsals at the Commune Café, at Jabberwocky Bookstore, at Chococoa. Hausmusik concerts at various residences — “where the audience gets to choose what we play, from this big stack of music that I’m bringing from my own library,” Yang says. Preconcert lectures. A family concert outdoors in Patrick Tracy Square.

All of it has the genuine feel of what a summer festival should be — relaxed settings, great performers, and music that gets explored not just in a fancy performance, as the end product of lots of private rehearsals, but as a process, with the audience experiencing the music-making.

The concert performances center around composer Steve Reich’s driving, influential work, “Different Trains.” Written in 1988, “Different Trains” broke new ground in chamber composition at the time, blending recorded voices and sounds — mostly train whistles — with live music from a string quartet.

Yang will talk about the work in a free lecture on Aug. 10, musicians will explore its difficulties in open rehearsals throughout the festival, and there will be a performance of the complete work on Aug. 17, at St. Paul’s Church.

“So much of what Reich has done has been influential,” Yang says. “I find him one of the smarter composers around.

“I heard the work in the late ’80s, and I performed it last year in D.C.,” he says. “It’s really so powerful, and when I looked closely into it, I saw how the music reflects the libretto.”

Reich spent parts of his childhood in long train rides across America. In creating “Different Trains,” he imagines those train rides, and how different they would have been if he was on trains in Germany in World War II, with prisoners being ferried to their deaths in the concentration camps.

Recorded voices reflect on both experiences, along with the sounds of trains running, which color the minimalistic score. It’s a moving, and not entirely pessimistic, work.

“I coach chamber music at the University of Pennsylvania,” Yang says, “and last fall we explored ‘Different Trains.’ At first the kids were skeptical — you know, ‘Can’t we play Beethoven or something?’ But as we worked on it all semester, they got the piece down.

“Toward the end, there is this recognition of our common humanity that comes through. The idea that the Germans did all these horrible things, but that maybe we’ve all got the potential for the same thing. Or for better things.

“Musically, toward the end, it has these triplets, and it starts to fade to nothing. I was listening to one of my student groups perform it, and in the last 15 or 20 seconds things started to go all wrong.

“I looked at the first violinist, and there were tears streaming down his face. The violist and cellist saw him, and they were shaking. Afterward, I went backstage and they were locked in an embrace.

“I think you when play this music, you can be completely overwhelmed by it,” he says. “My idea is that maybe we will be able to capture some of that feeling.”

“Different Trains” is part of a program that includes music of Schnittke, Barrière and Shostakovich. A second concert performance, on Aug. 19 (it repeats the next afternoon in Portsmouth, N.H.), features a world premiere by composer Kile Smith.

“It’s a major collaboration for us, a quartet, the Newburyport Choral Society, two different children’s chorus, and organist Meg Harper,” Yang says. “Kile is really skilled with professional voices and with children’s voices. It’s our big premiere of the summer.”

The Newburyport Chamber Music Festival runs Aug. 10-20 at various locations. For tickets and information visit www.newburyportchambermusic.org or call 978-701-4914. 

Keith Powers covers music and the arts for GateHouse Media and WBUR’s ARTery. Follow @PowersKeith; email to keithmichaelpowers@gmail.com

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