Summerfest Concerts 26th Season:
American Roots

There’s something about a leap year that brings out the patriotic in us. Perhaps it’s the steady drumbeat of Presidential campaign slogans looking to the nation’s past (“Make America Great Again”) and future (“A New American Century”) that encourages us to explore the warp and weft of the American fabric. Or perchance the inspirational stories doled out with the Summer Olympic Games make us try once again to define the American character. Or, this particular year, it could be Summerfest that spurs you to reconsider the sounds that swirl around us and ask what makes them American.

Subscribe to all four shows with a festival package or purchase single tickets below. Please join us on any of the following weekends.


Week One: Musical Voices

July 9, 7:30 p.m. White Recital Hall
July 10, 3:00 p.m. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church

Our first week presents a compelling argument that African American musical genres are at the root of the American sound. David Baker’s aptly named Roots II presents stylized versions of Louisiana voodoo rites, piano-based boogie woogie, and the celebratory dances of Southern slaves, aurally showing how those styles now permeate American musical culture. Handel’s Trio Sonata in C minor, HWV 386a displays how Baroque composers similarly used the musical culture around them as Handel cleverly wrote an instrumental opera aria in the middle of a sonata. As a counterpoint, the program’s second half presents Beethoven’s Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, op. 16, which not only demonstrates the German sound in music, but how a young composer finds his voice by building on past models, in this case Mozart’s great Quintet for Piano and Winds.

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Week Two: Musical Roots

July 16, 7:30 p.m. White Recital Hall
July 17, 3:00 p.m. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church

The second week embraces what is usually meant by “roots music” in American parlance – Appalachian folk music. Dan Visconti’s Lawless Airs has the simple, open expressivity of mountain fiddle music accompanied by the delicate plucking of the harp, the instrument that forms the basis of Carlos Salzedo’s transcription of Maurice Ravel’s classically balanced and objective Sonatine. George Philipp Telemann’s Quartet in D Minor, from his Musique de table, Part II might seem a strange choice for a program exploring roots music, but Telemann was renowned for his ability to combine the popular and learned styles of his day, much like our modern American composers on these programs. Finally, Alexander Zemlinsky’s Trio for Clarinet, Cello, and Piano, op. 3 allows us to peer into the roots of modern music as the composer reconciles the opposite poles of Brahms and Wagner, a feat composers are still attempting.

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Week Three: Musical Borderlands

July 23, 7:30 p.m. White Recital Hall
July 24, 3:00 p.m. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church

Week three takes place in the borderlands between styles and ideas, a place American music regularly finds itself. Evan Chambers’s Love Dogs brings the urban and the rural, funk and bluegrass, together in a string trio. Heinrich Biber’s slapstick Sonata Representativa brings farm and field animals (and a marching band) into the concert hall while David Alpher’s Walrus and the Carpenter sets Lewis Carroll’s well-known poem into a sound world defined by jazz. The program ends with Max Bruch’s Septet in E-flat, an early work by the composer that already shows him looking back to Mozart and forward to where Brahms would take musical development.

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Week Four: Songs at Evening

July 30, 7:30 p.m. White Recital Hall
July 31, 3:00 p.m. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church

Summerfest’s final week brings the season to a gentle close. Arthur Foote’s At Dusk echoes the dream-like quality of Debussy’s music of the same period and is a perfect counterpoint to Antonio Vivaldi’s vivacious Chamber Concerto for lute (played here on guitar) and chamber strings. Then, the program attempts to kindle your memory of singing in elementary school with two works based on popular American songs. Robert Beaser’s Mountain Songs sets Appalachian folk ballads for flute and guitar in ways that comment upon and enrich the source material beyond the melodies you remember. John Harbison’s Songs America Loves to Sing takes the opposite approach, bringing you into a parlor where the instruments sing familiar gospel, blues, and folk songs. Hearing these melodies, it will be impossible to not stroll out of the concert singing, drifting into the summer night.

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Wynton Marsalis once opinioned, “Jazz music is America’s past and its potential, summed up and sanctified and accessible to anybody who learns to listen to, feel, and understand it.” While he was speaking of jazz, the same can be said of blues, Appalachian folk ballads, bluegrass, and gospel. Join Summerfest this July as we celebrate the threads of American root music that are woven into the fabric of our culture.