CD Launch Party Rocks

We drew an SRO crowd for the French-Canadian traditional music duo Nicolas Babineau and Alexis Chartrand. This was a celebration held at the Saranac Fire Hall to launch their new recording and it was a great big fun event! Titled “un beau p’tit son” (translation: “a beautiful little sound”), the album was developed and recorded during two residencies at Hill and Hollow Music during 2019. Their first recording “Gigues à deux faces” was nominated Best Traditional Album at the Canadian Folk Music Awards, and we expect that this new album will also be well received. The guys played wonderfully and Mélissandre Tremblay-Bourassa danced up a storm. It was a dynamic and utterly charming performance. Towards the end of the show Mélissandre came down off the stage to lead some dances – she actually got the crowd up and out of their seats to participate– the place rocked!

un beau p’tit son, the new release by Nicolas Babineau and Alexis Chartrand
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At the Peak of their Powers

There is something to be said about musical maturity and the way that a lifetime of experience deepens one’s perceptions and expressions. Arturo Delmoni, Patricia McCarty, Julia Lichten, and David Geber are four superb musicians of a “certain age” who have lived and loved abundantly, who have worked very hard for many years, basked in glories, suffered losses, and endured the mundane. They bring it all to their music, and that is what made their Hill and Hollow Music performance so rich and profoundly satisfying, the glow of which was burnished by their warm friendship and mutual respect.

warm Arturo Delmoni, violin; Patricia McCarty, viola; Julia Lichten & David Geber, cellos

This is not an ensemble of musicians who play together regularly, but rather four friends who came together expressly for a special occasion. They drew a large crowd who demonstrated lavish appreciation after each work. The first half of the program was Beethoven’s String Trio in G major, Op. 9, No. 1 and Jean Francaix’s String Trio in C major. Opening the second half was the North American premiere of Seven into Eight by the British composer John Hawkins. Finally we heard Anton Arensky’s monumental String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 3 – probably the most significant work written for the uncustomary ensemble of a single violin, viola and two celli.

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The Vernal Vera Quartet

The accomplished young Vera Quartet are truly in the springtime of their career. Visiting Saranac for the first time on September 29, they offered a terrific program, starting with Haydn’s Opus 76 in G Major and followed by the Ravel Quartet in F Major. On paper, the second half appeared a little sketchy: four individual movements from four quartets by Schubert, Schnittke, Auerbach, and Beethoven – what was up with that? Apparently it was required repertoire for a competition they had recently participated in, and they discovered that it hung together startlingly well. It was successful, too, for our audience in that it offered great variety – instead of only three composers, we heard six! 

Pedro Rodriguez, Ines Molares, Justin Goldsmith, Rebecca Anderson

The Veras spent a day in the Peru Central School District, conducting workshops with middle and high school string students. The students were fabulously receptive to the quartet, eager to listen and learn. The intensive school day concluded with a live performance and Q & A by the Vera Quartet, which the beginning string students from the intermediate school were invited to attend, along with the older students. It was very cool to be a string player that day and be released from other classes!

The Vera Quartet then hit the road back to Philadelphia, where they are currently quartet-in-residence at the Curtis Institute, as well as under the wing of Astral Artists, whose competition they won in 2018.  Undoubtedly we will hear more from this exciting young quartet, as they are sure soon to be in demand on concert series everywhere.

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25th Season Launched with Gala Celebration!

Over 200 attended the b-b-b-Big Bash on Saturday, August 10th at Weatherwatch Farm. There was a dramatic moment at the outset, when a squall roared through, sweeping tablecloths off the tables and overturning the flower vases, jeezum crow! All rallied to hang sidewalls around the tent, as quick as you could say “Jack Robinson.” Then sun came out, and the party began in earnest!

Inora Brass played for an extended happy hour while folks chatted with friends, strolled the grounds, bid on cool stuff in the silent auction, and bought raffle tickets for various gift cards. It did not take long for 100 bottles of wine to disappear in the wine pull. We dined well on smokey BBQ by Joe Lewis, with special treats provided by Louise Laplante, Josh Vaillancourt, Jerry Rambach, and Wayne LaPier. Steve Martin called the live auction during dessert. Finally, as dark descended, Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble came onstage to play, and we danced the night away……

Big heartfelt thanks go out to all who attended and participated in the fund-raising games, as well as to those who sent donations in lieu of attending. Deep appreciation, too, for the generosity of our sponsors. We had 100% participation by our board, plus numerous volunteers working the event. Together it all added up to a major success. Thank you all so very much!

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A Stunning Strand of Baroque Pearls!

“Perfectly imperfect.” Totally intriguing.” “Most luxuriant.” “The natural beauty of baroque pearls is derived from their superb luster and irregular, yet beautiful silhouettes. The unique, organic shapes of these exquisite pearls make them a constant marvel to behold, each jewel a conversation piece.”

The above description might also apply to the recent concert by Ensemble Caprice. At first glance the program might have seemed to be a list of familiar composers and a hodgepodge of short works strung together. But what a magnificent string of pearls! The program was actually conceived to tell a series of stories – rather intimate love stories – wherein each (there were eight) told about an aspect of or an event in the relationship of the composer and his lady-love or muse. And there was a common thread linking the stories – that of eternal love transcending time and space.

The eloquent spoken introductions of Matthias Maute and his poetic gestures with red roses set the stage for a most compelling musical drama, brought to life by Matthias Maute and Sophie Larivière on recorders, Susie Napper on baroque cello, and Ziya Tabassian on a variety of percussion instruments. Each artist a superb virtuoso soloist in his and her own right, playing together in a tight-knit ensemble and totally in the moment, proved that the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. And now we know firsthand why Ensemble Caprice is considered one of the pre-eminent early music ensembles of our time. It was an stunning performance!

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Sizzle and Spice with Ray Vega Latin Jazz Sextet

The joint was jumpin’ with two excellent shows Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. Ray Vega has assembled a first-rate ensemble with some of Vermont’s finest jazz musicians: Brian McCarthy on alto saxophone, Mike Hartigan on piano, Giovanni Rovetto on bass, Caleb Bronz on drums, Scott Dean on congas and percussion, and Vega himself on trumpet, flugelhorn, and percussion. The program was combination of standards and originals by Vega and members of the band.  Vega is a master of engaging banter, too. One standout moment, particularly poignant, was his remembrance of trombonist Rick Davies, a beloved friend, colleague, and member of the greater jazz community who passed two years ago, followed by a performance of one of Rick’s tunes.  Snowy roads kept a lot of folks from venturing out to Saranac, but the intrepid faithful who showed up were wildly enthusiastic and vocal. And yes, there was dancing in the aisles!

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Babineau-Chartrand Duo & Mélissandre: the Reel Deal

And a salute to the hearty North Country community for their pure grit! Snow and ice did not deter a good-sized enthusiastic crowd from coming out for two fabulous concerts by the French-Canadian traditional music duo of Alexis Chartrand and Nicolas Babineau. The musicians put a distinctly contemporary spin on the old tunes – an extravagant array of reels – they collected from Francophone communities in the far reaches of eastern Quebec and the maritime provinces of Canada. Both are virtuoso fiddlers, having started very young with rigorous classical training. Nicolas on guitar was alternately ethereally poetic and fiercely rhythmic, while Alexis tapped out complex driving rhythmic patterns with his feet from pianissimo to fortiss-iss-issimo! Just when you thought he must be exhausted and could do it no longer, Alexis ramped it up even more energetically with hidden reserves of power. Mélissandre Bourassa-Tremblay added a potent visual element with some dynamic step-dancing, heavily influenced by her ballet and modern dance training. Alexis and Nicolas also dared to play some very quiet and slow sustained songs – enticing and captivating the ear with calm and touching interludes – islands of peace in a high-energy kinetic sea.

The duo was with us for a week-long residency. During their first days they hunkered down to work on new arrangements of the repertoire they had recently collected. They are keen to record this new material, their first recording having been nominated “Best Traditional Album” at the Canadian Folk Music Awards. They also spent two days working in schools: with French language classes at the Saranac Middle and High Schools and with grade 4 and 5 music classes at the Saranac Elementary School. An intense busy week!

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The Quintessential Virtuoso Violin

This concert was rather unusual in that it was a traditional violin recital featuring standard repertoire. Outmoded? You must be kidding! Think retro. Think vintage. And like vinyl, cool again!  Arturo Delmoni delivered the quintessential virtuoso violin recital, partnered by the superb pianist Li-Pi Hsieh. It was utterly refreshing in that there were no gimmicks, no quotas to fill.  It was simply great music played with superlative technique and supreme expression. One of our friends commented that Arturo plays so naturally, it’s as if he was born holding a violin.

His program opened with Sonata in E Major by Pugnani and was followed by Beethoven’s beloved Violin Sonata No. 5 in F Major, “Spring.”  Then came Grieg’s lesser known Violin Sonata No. 2 in G Major, a stunningly beautiful work that drew the audience to its feet.  Following intermission came Hexapoda: Five Studies in Jitteroptera, a delightful suite of five jazzy pieces written by Robert Russell Bennett in 1940 sporting such titles as “Gut-Bucket Gus,” “Jim Jives,” and “___Till Dawn Sunday.” Of course, no proper virtuoso violin concert would be complete without a set favorite short works, and Arturo Delmoni did not disappoint. He chose Hungarian Dance in f minor (Brahms-Kreisler), Song Without Words, “Sweet Remembrance” (Mendelssohn-Heifetz), Legend of the Canyon (Cadman), Claire de Lune (Debussy), Mazurka, “Dudiarz” (Wieniawski), and Valse-Scherzo, Op. 34 (Tchaikovsky).  Naturally, an encore was demanded, and Arturo offered Prighiera of Heifetz, so touchingly played, we were nearly reduced   to tears.

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Stirring Performance by New York Polyphony

New York Polyphony’s concert “Faith and Reason” was all that we hoped for, and more!  Presenting them in Redford’s Church of the Assumption was spot-on.  The precious old stone church has cathedral-like resonance, and the voices rang out and floated in the air.  The vocal blend was miraculous, while each of the four singularly beautiful voices remained distinctive and strong throughout.  It is clear why New York Polyphony enjoys a reputation as one of the finest vocal chamber ensembles in the world.

The program’s juxtaposition of ancient music with contemporary composition was brilliant. Thomas Tallis’s 16th-century Mass for Four Voices was flanked by short works of Andrew Smith (b. 1970) and Gabriel Jackson (b. 1962), Kyrie and Ite Missa est, respectively, both composed especially for New York Polyphony. The second half was devoted to Gregory Brown’s Missa Charles Darwin, commissioned by New York Polyphony. Using the traditional structure of the Latin mass as framework, Brown set excerpts of Darwin’s writings. It is a very successful, thought-provoking work, not least because the texts, while beautiful and poetic in and of themselves, are very pertinent to our concerns today about the environment. The concert concluded with Three American Folk Hymns arranged by Gregory Brown.  We had a great turnout of 150 – ran out of programs and cookies;-)

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A Precious Gem on the Contemporary Chamber Music Scene

We were delighted to welcome Emerald Trio back for their second residency (the first having been in 2015, when they recorded Big Green Apple, their debut disc of all-new works composed especially for them, released last year to glowing reviews). This residency was all about breaking in a new pianist and work-shopping a new piece commissioned by Hill and Hollow Music for Emerald Trio. Composer-pianist James Sheppard wrote (pretty much on-site at Harvey House) a collection of five Adirondack-inspired miniatures that captured many moods and conjured many colorful images: “Adirondack Run,” “Saranac Shimmers,” “Alone Mountain,” “Farmers’ Duet,” and “Night Time Whiskey.” The premiere performance was enthusiastically received – the audience loved it!  We know that it will be programmed a lot on future Emerald Trio concerts.

Other works performed also deserve a mention. True to their mission, the Emeralds champion under-exposed worthy composers from the past. They played a beautiful suite by Mel (née Mélanie) Bonis (1858-1937), a little known contemporary of Ravel. A protégée of César Franck, Bonis published over 300 works as “Mel” Bonis because women composers were not taken seriously in that period.  The Trio also played works by T.O. Sterrett (b. 1953), Howard Cass (b. 1989), and Alessandro Annunziata (b. 1968), demonstrating their commitment to contemporary chamber music and building the repertoire for their ensemble’s instrumentation of flute, violin/viola, and piano.  It was a well-designed program, beautifully played, and thoroughly enjoyed!

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