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Friday, July 19, 2019

Festival opens next Wednesday

Kingston Chamber Music Festival marks Natalie Zhu’s 10th anniversary as artistic director
Grammy-winner Hilary Hahn to perform on closing weekend

Hilary Hahn
Violinist Hilary Hahn will perform Aug 2 and 4 at the
Kingston Chamber Music Festival in the
University of Rhode Island Fine Arts Center.
Photo courtesy of the Kingston Chamber Music Festival
Last year, the Kingston Chamber Music Festival celebrated its 30th anniversary with six special concerts, including the premiere of three commissioned compositions and a closing night that featured a 22-piece chamber orchestra.

This year, the festival, which opens July 24 in the University of Rhode Island’s Fine Arts Center concert hall, will celebrate pianist Natalie Zhu’s 10th anniversary as artistic director.

“It has been a fantastic experience to be able to do this wonderful job for as long as I have,” says Zhu, who has performed at Kingston since 2004 and took over as director from founder David Kim in 2009. 

“I’m blessed to have a team and community that supports our vision with passion and action.”

The highlight of this year’s festival may be the two performances by three-time Grammy Award-winner Hilary Hahn, who made her long-awaited Kingston debut last year. 

But she’s just one of many renowned musicians on the bill – including prolific composer and accomplished pianist Lera Auerbach, flutist Mimi Stillman, clarinetist Igor Begelman, violinists Juliette Kang and Noah Geller and the Curtis On Tour Ensemble from the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. See the full schedule and ticket information.

While the six subscription concerts – July 24, 26, 28 and 31 and Aug. 2 and 4, all in the Fine Arts’ concert hall – will showcase the music of such 18th and 19th century legends as Beethoven, Bach and Brahms, there will be numerous works by contemporary composers such as David Ludwig, Edgar Meyer and Aaron Copland, along with two co-commissioned pieces that will premiere at the festival.

In planning each year’s lineup, Zhu says she looks to mix favorite compositions with “wonderful works” that get lesser exposure, while also searching for new and interesting compositions.

“It’s always the music first. Mixing performers is also an art form by itself. I’m lucky to have someone at home who’s an excellent source of ideas when it comes to finding matching musicians, not just among themselves, but with music as well,” says Zhu, referring to her husband, violist Che-Hung Chen, a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The festival will again bring together Zhu and Hahn, products of the Curtis Institute who performed together for 10 years early in their careers and have continued to collaborate at festivals and on tours over the years. 

Hahn, 39, who earned a major recording contract by age 16 and was Time magazine’s top young classical musician at age 21, is in demand around the world and has released 25 recordings.

“There is no violinist in the world today quite like Hilary Hahn. She is widely regarded as one of the most daring and intense artists of our time,” said Zhu. “Last summer, we heard Hilary’s Bach violin concertos, which have been hailed as thrilling, incendiary and one of the wonders of the Western world. This summer, our audience in Kingston will get a rare chance to hear Hilary performing chamber music literatures.”

On Friday, Aug. 2, Hahn will perform Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings and Brahms’ Piano Trio in B Major. In the festival finale on Sunday, Aug. 4, she will perform Copland’s Appalachian Spring for 13 Players. 

The closing show will also showcase Hahn alongside pianist Lera Auerbach on Auerbach’s Sonata for Violin and Piano. Auerbach wrote the piece, co-commissioned by the Kingston festival and the Skaneateles Festival in New York, specifically for Hahn. (Both of the festival’s final two concerts have already sold out.)

Zhu, who will perform in each of the final four concerts, shares the stage with Hahn for the Brahms’ Piano Trio and Appalachian Spring.

“She is truly one of my closest and dearest friends,” said Zhu. “We grew up together and have been through so much. I really treasure the trust between us. I’m not bragging when I say that we could go on stage blindfolded and play perfectly together.”

On Sunday, July 28, the festival will also debut a co-commissioned piece by Jonathan Bailey Holland, an alumnus of the Curtis Institute. Holland’s String Quartet and Percussion will feature rising stars Garrett Arney and Mari Yoshinaga, percussionists who make up Arx Duo, and a string quartet.

“Holland’s idea was not to create a work that highlighted the two percussionists using the quartet as accompaniment, or vice versa, but as a work that integrates the two ensembles,” says Zhu. “This work is about the hybrid ensemble that is created by thinking of the combination of instruments as a single ensemble, expanding the concept of the quartet to something more than just four strings, just as the word orchestra can mean a range of possible instrumental combinations.”

The Kingston Chamber Music Festival runs from July 24-Aug. 4. Weekday shows start at 7:30 p.m. and the two Sunday shows start at 4 p.m. All shows are in the concert hall at the URI Fine Arts Center, 105 Upper College Road, Kingston. Tickets are $30, $15 for people under age 30 (ID required). For tickets and more information, visit the festival’s website or call the box office at (401) 308-3614.