Friday, June 14, 2019

Belvedere's 13th "Relatively New Music" Festival: Still Accessible, Still Free

Posted By on Fri, Jun 14, 2019 at 3:39 PM

click to enlarge Mark Volker, guitar and John McMurtery, flute, will perform at the 13th annual Belvedere Chamber Music Festival from June 19-22 at Grace-St. Luke's Episcopal Church.
  • Mark Volker, guitar and John McMurtery, flute, will perform at the 13th annual Belvedere Chamber Music Festival from June 19-22 at Grace-St. Luke's Episcopal Church.

One of the terrific cultural treasures in Memphis is happening again starting next week. The Belvedere Chamber Music Festival begins its 13th annual celebration of contemporary music next Wednesday, June 19th, offering six hour-long concerts over four days. And all are free.

“We’ve found a combination of programming that’s attractive to a lot of different people because it's not your typical new music festival in an academic setting,” says Patricia Gray, president of Luna Nova Music, the presenting organization.

And the format since the beginning has proved successful. There’s an opening reception Wednesday and then concerts at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, plus 3:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. “The concerts last an hour and there's no intermission,” Gray says. “So, people are not sitting through five hours of Faust anymore, like it was 1880. I've never had anybody say, ‘I wish this lasted two and a half hours and there was a 20-minute intermission.’” And for all 13 years of the festival, the host has been Grace-St. Luke's Episcopal Church at 1720 Peabody.

The festival has donors and angels to contribute funding to pay the musicians and cover some travel. “I’d rather spend money on musicians than anything,” Gray says. “I would so much rather have 100 people free than 10 people there who spent $20 a ticket.”

With that kind of attitude, Luna Nova can concentrate on the programming which, she says, she prefers to call “relatively new” music. “I think of it as 100-120 years back, something like that.” Gray is drawn to works between the wars and the early twentieth century, but close to half of the pieces are twenty-first century. But always, without fail, the festival opens with a single work by Johann Sebastian Bach. “I always think,” she says, “Bach is the mind of God, and it is the measure that everything else is matched against, so let's just remember who we are and think about Bach.”

What follows that Bach appetizer is well thought through. Often there are regional themes — it’s Latin American music this year — and most importantly, Gray hopes the works will connect with the listeners. “I like to have feedback from the audience that says, ‘I heard this, and it spoke to me some way.’” She wants pieces that have an emotional impact. “When I get in the car, is that still going through my mind? Do I want to go out and buy that track? You have to feel like you're listening to music that means something beyond that moment.”

Robert Patterson, who is married to Gray, has been with Luna Nova and the Belvedere festival since the beginning. He is a composer and performer (still playing French horn with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra) whose 2011 piece “Way of the River” will be presented Friday evening.

The six-part work — each based on a literary work — came about with the encouragement of bass clarinetist Nobuko Igarashi, a frequent performer at the festival, who wanted him to write something for her instrument and voice. Sara Teasdale’s poem “The River” got his attention: “I have to do something around this.”

As he was pulling together other texts and working on the composition, he was facing the illness of his mother and then the death of his father. “During that time is when I was working on this last one of these songs, the finale,” Patterson says, “and so it just got infused with all this parental loss, passing over the river to the next life. It's a very emotional piece for me for that reason. It started out just as a sort of a favor for a friend, but became this eulogy for my parents.”

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