From music critic Lindsay Koob:

[image-1]It’s just as much fun to talk to Dr. Charles Wadsworth – Spoleto’s long-time chamber music guru – as it is to hear him debunk his art’s stuffy image from the Dock Street stage. I found that out when I had a rambling telephone interview with him last week, when he shared some juicy tidbits – like the names of several of the works in store in the 100-part series: info that’s usually kept a deep, dark secret.

It seems the cloak of mystery surrounding the series’ various programs dates all the way back to festival founder Gian Carlo Menotti’s insistence that mum’s the word on each program until we hear it. Why give listeners the chance to cherry-pick what they think they’ll like?

Wadsworth spices almost every program with obscure music – much of it from those (gasp!) modern types: stuff that more conventionally-inclined folk tend to pass up in a heartbeat. And there are still quite a few Spoleto-goers who take a dim view of this policy. But just about everything Wadsworth dishes up – newfangled or not – has real, ear-opening appeal. It may be a moot point, given the fact that just about every program sells out. But still, you’d think we’d have learned to trust his judgement by now.

First, some people news. The word’s been out for some time out that the St. Lawrence String Quartet, the series’ resident ensemble, is losing one of its regular members this year. It seems that Barry Schiffman, the group’s second violin, is about to become a new daddy – and said baby is due smack-dab in the middle of the festival. Schiffman will also be leaving the quartet for good in September to direct the Banff Centre’s renowned music programs. But series stalwart Daniel Phillips (also a viola master) should fill his shoes very nicely. Quality-wise, we probably won’t notice much difference.

Wadsworth spoke at length about this year’s series composer-in-residence Kenji Bunch – an emerging young tunesmith who’s attracting global attention these days. I tried to get Dr. W to pin him down for me: “Who does he sound like? What musical ‘ism’ does he fit into?” While he would have none of such pat pigeonholing, Wadsworth did drop a few tantalizing hints. Bunch is the “eclectic” product of broad influences, and brings very distinctive colors and sonorities to his music. The zinger was that he’s even played country music. In Mozart’s natal year, look for Drift – a brand-new work from Bunch, scored for the same clarinet-viola-piano array found in the master’s famous Kegelstatt Trio (we’ll get to hear that one, too). Hmmm … Mozart meets Nashville?

That leads us into this year’s fresh players (you can read about the rest of them in my upcoming CP Concerto No. 6 preview). Figuring prominently in the Mozart trio will be violist Masumi Rostad, who seems destined for a big career, despite his instrument’s relative unglamorous reputation. Among other assignments, he’ll play lead viola in J. S. Bach’s ever-popular Brandenburg Concerto No. 6, a polyphonic marvel for the lower strings.

Then there’s the young Welsh harpist Catrin Finch. Already famous in Europe, she has a couple of stunning CDs under her belt, and serves as “royal harpist” to England’s Prince Charles. She’s a welcome novelty, as the harp isn’t heard much in mainstream chamber music. Wadsworth described her as an artist with a “strong musical message,” and spoke with reverence of two uncommon works she’ll be part of: Maurice Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro for Harp, Flute, Clarinet, and String Quartet (try saying that ten times fast) and Camille Saint-Saens’ Fantasie for Violin and Harp.

Remember, there’ll be something by Mozart in every program. In light of that, I suppose there’s no harm in spilling the beans about his part in the series opener (May 26 & 27): the String Quintet in G Minor, K. 516 – one of his greatest chamber works.

There’s one last thought worth sharing. The fabulous musicians of this series are some of the hardest-working in the entire festival. Aside from performing two demanding programs most days, there’s the considerable matter of rehearsing the dozens of chamber pieces spread across 11 programs – including many they’ve never seen before. And with names like these at work, one of Wadsworth’s eternal challenges is keeping his ship sailing smoothly, given the strong personalities and egos that go with the territory. Not all solo-grade musicians take kindly to the discipline chamber music demands. He seemed relieved to tell me that this year’s “team” is a particularly “compatible” lot. Does that mean we’ll get even better music from them this time around? We’ll see – but it sure can’t hurt.

So now you know of at least six among the wealth of works in store for you at America’s oldest theatre – but you still don’t know when. And frankly I wouldn’t tell you, even if I knew – because I agree with Menotti’s wise and well-proven method of teaching us how to be more adventurous listeners …. in spite of ourselves. –Lindsay Koob