KINGSTON, R.I. – June 27, 2022 – As the pandemic played havoc with live events, the Kingston Chamber Music Festival found a way to reach its many dedicated fans the last two summers – presenting a free, online festival in 2020 and, last summer, an in-person festival with limited seating that quickly sold out.
This July, the festival returns with a full in-person experience – except for some lingering COVID-19 precautions – at the University of Rhode Island, presenting seven concerts over 12 days. In its 34th year, the festival is just hitting its stride, said pianist Natalie Zhu, who is in her 13th year as artistic director.
“The festival is at the prime of its life,” said Zhu. “We have the most energy, vitality, and potential. Artists around the world are expressing eager interest in the festival. I hope to continue to welcome established artists and emerging young artists to our festival.”
The festival, which opens Wednesday, July 20, in its temporary home in Edwards Hall on URI’s Kingston Campus, will feature plenty of rising stars – the Dover Quartet, named the greatest quartet of the last century by BBC Music Magazine; 26-year-old pianist Hilda Huang; Curtis-on-Tour, and Arx Duo. As always, the festival will blend works by contemporary composers, such as Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Shaw, Vivian Fung and Grammy Award winner Steven Mackey, with traditional masterworks by such legends as Bach, Mozart and Schubert.
On Friday, July 29, the festival will also pay tribute to URI alumnus and prolific composer Zachary Friedland ‘13, who died in October at age 31.
Friedland, who lived in Richmond, worked for years behind the scenes at the festival while attending URI and pursuing graduate degrees. Though just 31, he penned more than 50 compositions, including commissioned works for URI’s 125th anniversary celebrations and the 30th anniversary of the chamber festival.
“I remember Zach being genuinely passionate and unapologetically positive,” Zhu said. “As a festival staff member, he was responsible and efficient. He loved hanging out with the musicians between rehearsal breaks and every musician liked him very much.”
The July 29 concert will include Friedland’s “Riding Waves,” which was performed at the 30th anniversary celebration by Zhu and festival founder and violinist David Kim. Zhu will reprise her part on piano, with Ayano Ninomiya on violin.
“Zach’s music has a distinct joyful style that represents his personality and spirit,” said Zhu. “Growing up with a complex medical condition, he faced every challenge with hope, courage and grace. Zach is an inspiration to all of us.”
The night will open with Ernest Bloch’s “Prayer,” part of his “From Jewish Life,” followed by “Riding Waves” and Chopin’s “Fantaisie.” “We will end the concert with Schubert’s sublime Piano Trio No. 1 – 40 minutes of lyricism and emotion. Forty minutes of mood shifts and intriguing harmonic detours. Forty minutes of remembering Zach Friedland, who, like Schubert, passed away at the age of 31,” she said. “I have put a lot of thought into this program, and this is the least I could do to pay tribute to a wonderful friend.”
On July 20, the festival’s opening night will feature the Curtis-on-Tour Project, from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, presenting a program of Mozart, Mendelssohn and Duke Ellington. “It’s definitely a positive way to kick off the summer season during these evolving times,” said Zhu, a Curtis alumna. “All three compositions are filled with charm and energy, and meet our goal of combining new possibilities and perspectives with a deep appreciation of chamber music’s roots.”
Huang, who at age 18 was the first American to take first prize at the Leipzig Bach Competition, will present her first all-Bach performance on Friday, July 22, at 7:30 p.m. at Edwards Hall. Huang, an advocate for modern performance of historical music, has learned the complete Bach partitas and toccatas, and planned the one-time recital exclusively for the festival.
“Many of our fans have been persistently requesting a full baroque recital,” Zhu said. “Over the years I have been diligently searching for the right artist who could both revolutionize and champion historical music. I was very lucky to discover Hilda through the Astral Artist Audition in Philadelphia when I served on their jury panel last year.”
Stars of the 2020 documentary “Strings Attached,” the Dover Quartet – violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt, cellist Camden Shaw, and violinists Bryan Lee and Joel Link – take center stage for the next three concerts. On Sunday, July 24, the quartet will play Shaw’s “The Evergreen,” along with works by Mozart and Ravel, in Edwards Hall.
On Thursday, July 26, the foursome debuts Mackey’s “Memoir,” a theatrical musical piece, with Arx Duo percussionists Mari Yoshinaga and Garrett Arney, and narrator Natalie Christa. Co-commissioned by the festival, “Memoir” is an adaptation of Mackey’s mother’s memoir, telling of her struggles with alcoholism. The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. at the United Theatre, 5 Canal St., Westerly.
Back at Edwards Hall on Wednesday, July 27, the quartet will perform pieces by Antonin Dvorák, Anton Arensky and Frank Bridge, joined by Zhu on piano and festival newcomer Yegor Dyachkov on cello.
“It has been a dream of mine to bring one of the best young string quartets to Kingston,” said Zhu. “All three programs will fully demonstrate their artistry and creativity in classical and contemporary repertoires.”
The festival closes Sunday, July 31, at 4 p.m. in Edwards with “a magical and kaleidoscopic finale” of Fung’s “Bird Song” and pieces by Ravel and Camille Saint-Saëns, performed by Dyachkov and festival regulars Ninomiya, Noah Geller, Clancy Newman and Reiko Uchida.
All concerts, except for the “Memoir” performance, will be held in the 900-seat Edwards Hall, 64 Upper College Road. While seating in Edwards will not be restricted because of the pandemic, masks and proof of vaccination will be required for all concerts. For tickets and full concert information, go to the Kingston Chamber Music Festival website.