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Live performances, including concerts by the Shanghai Quartet, return to Music Mountain. Photo by Sophie Zhai

Chamber Music, Jazz and The Thrill of a Shared Music Experience

Music

A year ago, many arts organizations in our region were staring into the abyss of a COVID year without live audiences or performances, and an uncertain future as a result. Many found creative ways to keep their audiences engaged through virtual means.

Music Mountain, for example, produced a dozen “Live from Music Mountain” livestreamed programs of music and interviews that found a ready audience. Somehow, it emerged stronger and even found the resources — with some help from local friends and businesses — to make some much-needed upgrades to Gordon Hall, its main concert venue.

Now entering its 92nd season, the Falls Village, Conn.-based summer chamber music festival is ready to welcome back live audiences and ensembles for an exciting and eagerly anticipated concert series. 

The shortened season will open on July 4 with the Shanghai Quartet, a perennial Music Mountain favorite, playing works by Beethoven, Smetana and Chinese composer Zhou Long. 

It concludes on Sept. 5 with the Cassatt String Quartet, joined by pianist Ursula Oppens, featuring works by two women composers, Amy Beach and Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (sister of Romantic-era composer Felix Mendelssohn), as well as a Mozart string quartet.

All of this is part of a season-long emphasis on diversifying the repertoire and combining the lesser known with the more familiar. Works by Florence Price, an African American woman, and William Grant Still, an African American man, will be heard; the Harlem String Quartet, another Music Mountain favorite, will perform a varied program including jazz-infused pieces by Billy Strayhorn, Wynton Marsalis and Dizzy Gillespie.

From the Western “canon,” some of the compelling pieces on tap include Janacek’s String Quartet #2, titled “Intimate Letters,” which, as its name implies, is achingly beautiful and intimate; Dvorak’s breezy “American Quartet,” composed while he was living in Iowa; and Ravel’s Impressionist masterpiece, his String Quartet in F Major, the only quartet he wrote.

This summer, Music Mountain will also be making audience safety its highest priority. While the rapidly evolving easing of restrictions may change the situation, for now plans are being made for limited, socially distanced seating in Gordon Hall, with quiet fans, open doors and other accommodations for extra ventilation. 

Outside, for the first time in its history, Music Mountain will formally offer lawn seating, with monitors and speakers. And concerts will continue to be available via livestream for those who feel at too great a risk being in a group.

A series of Saturday “Jazz and More” concerts is still in the planning stages. Announcements will be made on the Music Mountain website, www.MusicMountain.org.

For all of us, the prospect of enjoying live, in-person music again feels like emerging into the light after a long, dark journey.

Music Mountain’s chamber music series — 10 concerts from July 4 through Sept. 5 —will take place, as always, on Sunday afternoons at 3 p.m., in air-conditioned Gordon Hall, 225 Music Mountain Road, Falls Village. For tickets and schedules, go to www.MusicMountain.org or call 860- 824-7126.

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