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A New Day in the Sun For Music Mountain Summer Festival

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Even during the worst periods of COVID-19, the Music Mountain Summer Festival in Falls Village, Conn., never went “dark” — although the weekly concerts at the venerable hall on Music Mountain were held virtually for one season during the pandemic; and the live concerts were reduced in 2021, with social distancing required for audience members.

Light and life return this summer with a full season for Music Mountain of 16 weekends of concerts including 17 chamber music performances and 10 jazz concerts. The New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players also return this year, on July 16.

Oskar Espina-Ruiz has been at the helm of the beloved chamber music concert hall through all the difficult days of the pandemic. He first came to the mountain in 2016, shortly before longtime leader Nick Gordon (son of Music Mountain founder Jacques Gordon) died, in 2017.

Espina-Ruiz is a concert clarinetist who took an interest in chamber music and began organizing festivals around the U.S. He had worked extensively with Music Mountain favorites the Emerson String Quartet; and when the musicians heard there was an opening at the Falls Village venue, they encouraged Espina-Ruiz to interview for the position.

Espina-Ruiz is in an interesting position as the first non-family member to run Music Mountain. On the one hand, he wants to be respectful of traditions that have been in place since it was founded in 1930 (this will be the 93rd summer festival).

But the world continues to change and arts and culture need to reflect those changes; and Espina-Ruiz also wants to continue to attract new fans to the mountain, in addition to the venue’s many loyal longtime supporters.

And so in the 2022 season, the concerts honor chamber music traditions, with string quartets by beloved masters. A focus of the festival will be different interpretations and performances of Joseph Haydn’s “Sun” Quartets (known by that name, Espina-Ruiz said, because the music publisher put a sun on the cover of the first edition).

In addition, there will be music by “living” composers and an increased effort to make the performers and performances more diverse.

“I try very hard to mix the programs so we have our beloved seasoned artists and some younger artists that are already extremely accomplished and that I think will do a fantastic job at Music Mountain,” Espina-Ruiz said, noting that this mix of traditional with new was always the emphasis at Music Mountain in its early decades.

He is also trying to be more inclusive in terms of the performers.

“In the last few years we had the pandemic,” he said, “but we also had Black Lives Matter and that has really had an impact on classical music programmers; Music Mountain is not excluded from that. We are sensitive to the importance of including all cultures and ethnicities, in terms of composers and musicians.”

Jazz has long been a part of the summer schedule and continues to be this year (with a special performance in August by the popular local Jive by Five).

But holding it all together will be this year’s focus on the six
Sun Quartets.

“Anyone who enjoyed the Beethoven cycle that we did in 2018 should try this, too,” Espina-Ruiz said. “Some of the performances will include pre-concert talks by musicians and scholars.

“And one of the concerts, by the Cramer Quartet, will be performed on period instruments and gut strings, on Aug. 14. That is the season’s theme, the traditional repertoire, the original instruments. Now violins have metal strings; this performance will be on violins with gut strings; it’s a different sound.

“And then they will play a new work by a young composer named Alexandra du Bois, who studied all the Sun Quartets and composed this work in response to Haydn’s Opus 20.”

Du Bois will also give a talk about the composition onstage after the concert.

Anyone who drives around the Tristate region has also probably noticed the summer festival’s new logo and signs.

“The board for Music Mountain is more active than ever before,” Espina-Ruiz said. Dee Salomon, a former New York City publishing and marketing executive, is in charge of marketing for this festival.

“They did a rebranding and the new logo is part of that.”

 

To get a closer look at the old and the new and the harmonious way they come together, visit the Music Mountain Summer Festival website at www.musicmountain.org.

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