Skaneateles Festival offers top-notch performances

Reviewed by Lee Shepherd

Summer would be incomplete without a visit to the Skaneateles Festival, a four-week jewel in New York state’s cultural crown that featuring concerts in churches and at Brook Farm by the lake. The festival logo, “World Class Music,” is exactly right. They should add “by world class performers.”

The Thursday, Aug. 21, concert featured Bulgarian violinist Bella Hristova and Minnesota Orchestra Concertmistress Erin Keefe, cellists David Ying and Mimi Hwang (assistant professor of chamber music at the Eastman School of Music), pianists Elinor Freer and Alan Kay (music professor at Juilliard, Manhattan School of Music and Stony Brook), clarinetist and multi-competition winner Ray Dank, violist Phillip Ying of the Ying Quartet, flautist Joanna Basset and bass player Edward Castilano, in a program inspired by Gypsy music.

The Piano Trio in G Major (“Gypsy”) by Haydn was, in a word, delightful. The sparkling clean and lightning-fast interpretation of the trio convinced me to resurrect the piece and put it back into my chamber music repertoire.

Vibraciones de Alma (Vibrations of the Soul) for Clarinet and Piano by Spanish composer Miguel Yuste alternated between lusty and introspective, impetuous and bejewelled with surprises and Spanish folk tunes. Lullaby and Doina for Flute Clarinet and Violin, Viola, Cello and Double Bass”by Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov was composed for a film set in Paris during World War II, in which a woman falls in love with a doomed Gypsy. The doina (a slow, rubato genre) galloped right into music of a wild Gypsy band.

Last on the program was Zoltan Kodaly’s rarely played Duo for Violin and Cello, Op. 7 — rarely played because it’s so fiendishly difficult.  Even world-class musicians David Ying and Erin Keefe were stretched to the maximum to play this work so perfectly. Can’t say Kodaly is my cup of tea, but I admire the technical proficiency Ying and Keefe brought to bear on playing it with enormous verve and energy.

This concert was especially poignant because it was a farewell performance for David Ying and his wife, Elinor Freer, who have been artistic directors of the highly successful festival for a decade.

We always make it a mini-vacation when attending a Skaneateles chamber concert – walking, snacking and shopping in the quaint, upscale village and staying in the funky Bird’s Nest Motel, a remnant of the era when Route 20 was a major thoroughfare in Central New York. If you choose not to stay overnight, it’s about a two-hour drive from the Triple Cities.

What’s still to come at the festival:

  • Wednesday (Aug. 27): A “Musical Happy Hour” concert at Brook Farm by members of the East Coast Chamber Orchestra (ECCO)
  • Thursday (Aug. 28): ECCO Chamber Music Concert
  • Friday (Aug. 29): Time for Three (folk and popular music by two violinists and a double bass player)
  • Saturday (Aug. 30): Festival finale with ECCO

Details: www.skanfest.org.

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