For those who haven’t been, classical music festivals often last for weeks at a time and offer something on the order of hundreds of performances. There are two going on presently in Arkansas: the Hot Springs Music Festival, which is nearing the end of its 17th Annual Season; and the KUAF/Fulbright Summer Chamber Music Festival in Fayetteville, which is in its Fifth Season.
This last Saturday evening, I attended “A Progressive Concert Down Historic Bathhouse Row” in Hot Springs. There were five short (and free) performances outside of various bathhouses along downtown Central Avenue, and a longer concert near the promenade with the Natural State Brass Band. The audience ‘progresses’ down the line from concert to concert until reaching the Brass Band. There, ticket holders had the option of three simultaneous indoor concerts.
Hundreds lined the Avenue to hear the music. The weather, at sunset and with a warm breeze, was perfect. The ever present motorcycles were no louder than usual, and did not drown out the largely brass selections at the first two stops.
Three trumpets shouted at one another from opposite ends of a building in music of Benjamin Britten, and then a trombone quartet got the audience hopping, humming and smiling at the next station with a rendition of Rossini’s ‘William Tell’ Overture.
There was humorous confusion before the start of the next selection (Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’), as people rushed towards the performers to express gratitude and others began moving ahead unaware there was another performance.
Shana Norton played two unfamiliar pieces on her amplified harp that consisted of pounding salsa rhythms and broken syncopated but lyrical treble lines. The mouths of many audience members went distinctly agape and eyes transfixed with mesmerized appreciation during the performance.
At the following station, six musicians delivered an intricate and fun performance of Steve Reich’s ‘Clapping Music.’ It’s a modern piece of music built around a series of slight changes in rhythm from one performer to the next.
I listened to the opening number from the Natural State Brass Band and then headed to my indoor concert of choice at the Ozark Bathhouse/Museum of Contemporary Art.
More progressive music was on the schedule: “Six Metamorphoses after Ovid” for solo oboe by Britten, and “Four Metamorphoses after Schubert for Oboe and Bassoon” by contemporary composer Dan Welcher. Sound reverberated in the large hall filled with brightly colored paintings and statues depicting flight. The performance was superb, and a stunning treat for both the ear and eye.
A string quartet followed with both a tumultuous and sensitive performance of Schubert’s String Quartet No. 9 in G Minor. Noteworthy also was the ability of the ensemble’s viola, which drove the nasal, snake-like quality of the music to a colorful peak.
The Hot Springs Music festival continues every night this week until Saturday, June 15. For tickets and information, visit http://hotmusic.org/
For tickets and information on the KUAF/Fulbright Summer Chamber Music Festival, visit http://www.fulbrightsummermusic.uark.edu/