A “festive” tone will underscore the 38th annual Rockport Chamber Music Festival, a notion that is highlighted in a jazzy opening night that explores the musical influences of the Roaring ’20s.
Artistic Director Barry Shiffman has assembled an all-star cast of world-class musicians to open the season this Friday at Shalin Liu Performance Center with a rich musical tapestry of selections.
The program will spotlight the Parker Quartet, violinist Blake Pouliot, soprano Cristina Zavalloni, pianist Stephen Prutsman and the Vera Quartet, performing the music of two influential French composers, Maurice Ravel and Darius Milhaud, as well as an original score set to a 1920s film chronicling the explosion of jazz.
Friday’s concert provides an introduction to a season built around a theme of “Source and Inspiration.”
Now in his second year as artistic director, Shiffman will use the season to continue his mission of exploring that spark that brings music closer to listeners and heightens their experience. The season plays through mid-July, with two additional concerts in August.
“The act of connection between performer and audience is what makes festivals special, and at Rockport, our history of connection is everything,” he said.
Return to the 1920s
During the time of economic prosperity in the wake of World War I, music enjoyed a boom of its own in what became known as the Roaring ’20s, an era that inspired classical music, among other genres.
Two works composed in that decade — Ravel’s Violin Sonata and Milhaud’s “La Creation du Monde” (“Creation of the World”) — provide the centerpiece for Friday’s concert. The program will also feature popular hits of the era by Fats Waller and Hoagy Carmichael, along with songs like “Second Hand Rose,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Stardust.”
The Grammy Award-winning Parker Quartet will perform the Milhaud work.
“He is one of my favorite composers,” said Jessica Bodner, the ensemble’s violist. “I have always found his music to be incredibly colorful and vibrant — always with a creative harmonic language.”
“La Creation du Monde” was originally a ballet, Bodner said, and the quartet will play a suite from a condensed version of the work.
“The ballet is about the creation of the world as seen through African mythology,” she said. “Milhaud created this work after visiting Harlem, where he heard jazz.
“It’s a really interesting mixture of Milhaud using his own harmonic language that is inherent in all his music,” Bodner said. “It’s a piece (that) I don’t think is performed often, so it is a treat for us to have a chance to play it.”
Reflecting on the festival’s overall theme of inspiration, Bodner said that the Milhaud work is an example of how most things don’t exist in isolation.
“Art forms influence and inform each other all the time,” she said. “That’s another way of looking at this piece.”
The second half of the concert will feature an original score by Prutsman performed to Buster Keaton’s 1927 film “College.” Prutsman will join the Vera Quartet for the piece.
The opening night audience is invited to a cocktail reception immediately after the concert at the Rockport Art Association & Museum across the street from the performance center.
Diverse notes ahead
The Parker Quartet returns this Saturday for a sold-out concert featuring a program of Mozart and Brahms. The Blodgett artists-in-residence at Harvard University, the quartet will perform with the New York Philharmonic’s principal clarinetist, Anthony McGill; Camerata Pacifica’s principal cellist, Ani Aznavoorian; and Shiffman on viola.
The members of the quartet first met in 2002 as students at New England Conservatory in Boston and have been playing together ever since.
“Rockport is one of the places we feel most connected to,” Bodner said. “When we were students, there was a community engagement person at our school, who developed a relationship with Rockport. We did a lot of school and community concerts back in 2005, and those were our first appearances there.”
The festival’s first late-night event — Weimar Cabaret — is also planned for Saturday at 10 p.m. It will showcase soprano Zavalloni, violinist Pouliot and pianist Prutsman performing the works of Bela Bartok and Fritz Kreisler and a set with songs by Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler and N. Schultze, among others.
Irish pianist Barry Douglas closes out the festival’s first weekend on Sunday at 5 p.m. The gold medalist at the 1986 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition, Douglas will play works by Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky and Brahms. He’ll lead a pre-concert talk at 4 p.m.
The festival’s second week opens next Thursday, June 20, with violinist Philippe Graffin. He will perform the U.S. premiere of a lost work by Belgium composer and violinist Eugene Ysaye (1858-1931), along with his original “Sonata posthume, Op. 27, No. 7,” which he completed and premiered last year.
Graffin will be joined by pianists Marisa Gupta and Piers Lane and a quartet with violinists Benjamin Bowman and Danny Koo, violist Shiffman, and cellist Thomas Wiebe.
Next weekend continues with a film screening and more concerts.
The Vera Quartet will be “popping up” at two promotional concerts this week to highlight the new season. These performances will take place today at 2 p.m. at Second Glance Thrift Store in Gloucester and Friday at 9 a.m. at Brothers Brew Coffee Shop in Rockport.