With the New England summer halfway through its creative arc, Music Mountain, the Falls Village, CT, treasure that has been celebrating live performances for 93 years continues to charm … and to evolve. “We’ve brought some of the finest chamber music groups and legendary jazz musicians together for another great season,” offers artistic director Oskar Espina-Ruiz. “With free events for the family, intriguing complimentary pre-concert presentations and the celebration of Haydn’s Sun Quartets as the centerpiece of the season, music is alive and well on the mountain.”
… and all that jazz
Twilight Jazz performances mark the calendar every Saturday evening, with August and September programs that both welcome back groups that have built a loyal fan base and introduce groups new to the area. Bob Parker, longtime Cornwall resident, will bring Jive by Five to close the Jazz season on August 27 while the internationally applauded Helen Sung Quartet will take the stage on August 13.
That stage is the focal point of Gordon Hall, a building created by none other than the Sears Roebuck Company as Jacques Gordon, Concert Master for the Chicago Symphony and founder of the Gordon Quartet placed a music festival on over 100 acres in the Litchfield Hills in 1930. With stunning views of the surrounding countryside and an enveloping sense of pastoral calm, the Music Mountain campus has been a worthy destination for generations of music lovers. The acoustics of the building were the subject of great research and design detail. Much as the body of a classic violin is shaped to offer a resonance and tone that is both lively and pure, the “music shed” at Music Mountain is an acoustical delight. Season after season, groups have eagerly returned to perform in the musically satisfying environment.
A festival within a festival
“The Labor Day weekend will be an extraordinary experience,” adds Espina-Ruiz with the gentle modesty that is so typical of an artist who is an internationally celebrated clarinetist, a university professor, and the creative drive behind each musical season. Oskar will be one of the star performers during that weekend, appearing with the Merz Trio on Sunday, September 4 as they present Messian’s Quartet for the End of Time. “Messiaen was an ornithologist as well as a composer. He used bird calls and songs as motivation for the composition. The result is magical.”
To compliment the concert, Fran Zygmont of the Litchfield Hills Audubon Society will offer a free pre-concert Birdsong Walk on the grounds, setting the stage for the ticketed performance. During the season that required that concerts be “remote,” Zygmont had created a lively online presentation by venturing onto the campus and recording bird songs to delight house-bound viewers. With pandemic restrictions relaxed to the point where in-person gatherings are permitted with a conscientious focus on audience safety, the chance to hear and identify the local bird songs can be done face-to-face.
Earlier that weekend, the food trucks will arrive at the property in time to provide local families the opportunity to picnic on the grounds and experience a free concert at 11:00am on Saturday that will certainly delight the youngest family member. “It’s a festival within a festival,” exults Espina-Ruiz as he highlights the appearance of two noted writers who will read from their works at 5:00pm that day. Barbara V. Bechtolsheim will share her poetic interpretation of dialogues with Haydn and Beethoven while Connecticut Poet Laureate Margaret Gibson will elevate humanity’s link with the earth as “one body.”
Classical concerts at the heart of every season
The long standing presentation of the world’s finest chamber music groups will continue to be the “through line” of the August and September concert series every Sunday at 3:00pm. The Cramer Quartet will continue the celebration of Haydn’s 6 Sun Quartets on Sunday, August 14 as well as presenting a piece created by Alexandra Du Bois that is a musical response to Haydn’s Opus 20 Sun Quartets. Du Bois will be on hand to deliver a pre-concert talk at 1:30pm that day, offering concert goers the unique experience of hearing from and meeting a composer even as her work is performed.
If the lure of hearing from contemporary composers and being able to experience their work offers appeal, then the September 11 program will delight. Composer/pianist Octavio Vazquez will speak at 1:30pm, then will take the stage with the American String Quartet during their ticketed 3:00pm concert to join them in performing his piano quintet.
The final concert of the 2022 season will signal the return of the Cassatt String Quartet to Music Mountain as they perform the 6th Sun Quartet and welcome guitar virtuoso Eliot Fisk to perform Godfrey’s Guitar Quintet and Boccherini’s Guitar Quintet.
Enduring art to celebrate a magical season
As the 2022 season was being fashioned by artistic director Oskar Espina-Ruiz to focus on presentation of the 6 Haydn Opus 20 Sun Quartets, the concept emerged to commemorate those presentations with two print pieces created by local artist Duncan Hannah. Offered for sale in limited edition on the Music Mountain website (musicmountain.org) they have emerged as highly sought-after collectables. Just as the season was beginning, Hannah passed away, leaving behind him a rich heritage of paintings, collage, a fascinating autobiography (Twentieth-Century Boy: Notebooks of the Seventies) and a string of life experiences that influenced his art, which he once described as “a love letter to art history.” The two prints available to benefit Music Mountain Summer Music Festival might well be considered Hannah’s love letter to Haydn … and to Music Mountain.
Tickets for concerts at Music Mountain are available online as well as by calling (860) 824-7126. The Music Mountain Summer Festival is presented every weekend through September 18. Tickets for the Twilight Jazz series can be combined with a prix fixe dinner at The Falls Village Inn with reservations made by calling the Music Mountain box office. Light refreshments are available at all concerts on the concert grounds.