KINGSTON — Barring a few lingering COVID-19 precautions, the Kingston Chamber Music Festival will return this year with a full in-person experience at the University of Rhode Island, featuring seven concerts over 12 days, including one at Westerly in United Theater.
Now in its 34th year, the festival is just in full swing, said pianist Natalie Zhu, who is in her 13th year as artistic director.
“The festival is in its prime,” Zhu said in a statement. “We have the most energy, vitality and potential. Artists from all over the world are showing strong interest in the festival. I hope to continue to welcome established artists and young emerging artists to our festival.
The festival, which opens on Wednesday, July 20 at its temporary residence at Edwards Hall on URI’s Kingston campus, will feature many rising stars; the Dover Quartet, named the greatest quartet of the last century by BBC Music Magazine; 26-year-old pianist Hilda Huang; Curtis-in-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 masterpieces by legends such as Bach, Mozart and Schubert.
On Friday July 29, the festival will also pay tribute to URI alumnus and prolific composer Zachary Friedland, who passed away in October at the age of 31.
Friedland, who lived in Richmond, worked for years behind the scenes at the festival while attending URI and pursuing graduate school. Although he is only 31 years old, he has written over 50 compositions, including works commissioned for URI’s 125th anniversary celebration and the chamber festival’s 30th anniversary.
“I remember Zach being genuinely passionate and staunchly positive,” Zhu said. “As a member of the festival staff, he was responsible and efficient. He enjoyed spending time with the musicians between rehearsal breaks and all the musicians were very fond of him.
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 his role on piano, with Ayano Ninomiya on violin.
“Zach’s music has a distinct upbeat style that represents his personality and spirit,” Zhu said. “Growing up with a complex illness, he faced every challenge with hope, courage and grace. Zach is an inspiration to us all.
The evening will open with “Prayer” by Ernest Bloch, part of his “From Jewish Life”, followed by “Riding Waves” and “Fantaisie” by Chopin.
“We will end the concert with Schubert’s sublime Piano Trio No. 1 – 40 minutes of lyricism and emotion. Forty minutes of mood swings and intriguing harmonic detours. Forty minutes spent remembering Zach Friedland, who, like Schubert, died at the age of 31,” she said. “I’ve given this program a lot of thought, and it’s the least I can do to honor 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 by Mozart, Mendelssohn and Duke Ellington.
“It’s definitely a positive way to kick off the summer season in these changing times,” said Zhu, a Curtis alumnus. “All three compositions are full of charm and energy and fulfill our aim of combining new possibilities and perspectives with a deep appreciation of the roots of chamber music.”
Huang, who at 18 was the first American to win 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 of modern interpretation of historical music, learned all of Bach’s partitas and toccatas and planned the unique recital exclusively for the festival.
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 perform Shaw’s “The Evergreen,” along with works by Mozart and Ravel, at Edwards Hall.
On Thursday, July 26, the quartet debuts Mackey’s “Memoir,” a theatrical musical piece, featuring 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, chronicling her struggles with alcoholism. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. at the United Theater.
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 was a dream of mine to bring one of the best young string quartets to Kingston,” Zhu said. “All three programs will fully demonstrate their artistry and creativity in both classical and contemporary repertoires.”
The festival closes on 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 Ninomiya festival regulars, Noah Geller , Clancy Newman and Reiko Uchida.
All concerts except the ‘Memoir’ performance will take place in the 900-seat Edwards Hall, 64 Upper College Road. Although seating at Edwards is not limited due to the pandemic, masks and proof of vaccination will be required for all concerts. For tickets and full concert information, visit the Kingston Chamber Music Festival website.