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Estival Festivals: East Coast, West Coast


A nod, today, to two smaller festivals (both of which might bridle at the term "smaller").

Music@Menlo was started by the husband-wife team of David Finckel (the cellist of the Emerson Quartet) and Wu Han (the pianist), who had already had some festival-running experience (notably at SummerFest La Jolla) and wanted a way to realize their own particular vision for a teaching/chamber music festival with a thematic bent. Music@Menlo's success was a factor in their subsequently being named to lead the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York; but they've retained Menlo, which fills a niche in the otherwise festival-less area of Palo Alto, California (the season at Stanford Lively Arts runs from October to May). The main event at Menlo, in addition to talks, master classes, and the like, are six main chamber concerts a season; all are recorded and many released on the couple's recording label, ArtistLed. The 2009 festival focuses on one of the year's birthday boys, Felix Mendelssohn; in the San Francisco Chronicle, Joshua Kosman wrote of last weekend's opening concert that he found a lot to like -- and even to discover.

Caramoor is a venerable festival in what was once a private estate in the New York suburb of Katonah. It's notable for having launched the Orchestra of St. Luke's (a crack ensemble which I've mentioned before as an interesting alternative to the traditional orchestra model), and now run by Michael Barrett, a co-director (with Steven Blier) of the New York Festival of Song, it's continued a focus on all things vocal, including sustaining the concert opera series Bel Canto at Caramoor, run by the former Times music critic turned conductor Will Crutchfield. Last weekend saw a performance of "L'elisir d'amore" with Lawrence Brownlee (the rising tenor who will be appearing in Washington National Opera's "Barber of Seville" this fall). The New York Times's Anthony Tommasini was enthusiastic, while in Musical America James Jorden (of Parterrebox fame) appreciated having a lighter-voiced Nemorino, but was reserved about the soprano. Coming on July 31: Rossini's "Semiramide."

An incidental footnote/trivia question for opera buffs: Crutchfield once convincingly demonstrated to me, over coffee, the parallels between the Nemorino-Belcore "Venti scudi" duet in "Elisir" and the quartet "Bella figlia dell'amore" in Verdi's "Rigoletto." (Nemorino's arcing lines in "Ai perigli della guerra" presage the Duke's "Bella figlia" theme; Belcore's rapid patter is echoed in Maddalena's "Ha ha, rido ben di core.") I bought his argument; my husband, however, thinks that any similarities are due solely to both emerging from bel canto convention. What are your thoughts?

By Anne Midgette  |  July 22, 2009; 8:34 AM ET
Categories:  festivals , national  
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