FALLS VILLAGE — It is quite remarkable to consider that less than a year after the guns fell silent when World War I ended, Music Mountain in Falls Village began filling the air with sweet sounds for a country longing for a peaceful existence and to forget the horrors of “The War to End all Wars.”
And today, melodic sounds continue to drift into the air from Music Mountain during a time of political and social uncertainty. Perhaps we all need to head to “The Mountain” this summer and let the music and other arts there lull us into a reverie and take us far from reality, if only for a few hours.
Music Mountain began as the unique vision of Jacques Gordon, the Chicago Symphony concertmaster from 1921 to 1930 and the founding first violinist of the Gordon String Quartet, one of the leading quartets of its time. The 91st season of Music Mountain will be kicked off in grand fashion by “Benjamin Hochman and Friends” at a concert and reception tentatively scheduled for June 7 in Gordon Hall.
According to Music Mountain’s website, since his New York recital debut in 2006 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Hochman has established a “vibrant and venerated musical presence” in New York City through concerts with the New York Philharmonic and the American Symphony Orchestra, his Carnegie Hall debut with the Israel Philharmonic and a succession of prominent recital and chamber performances at 92nd Street Y.” Hochman has also performed internationally at major halls.
“This year we are going all out at our opening benefit concert and reception on June 7,” said Oskar Espina-Ruiz, artistic and executive director of the Music Mountain Festival. “Mr. Hochman’s program will honor the legacy of the late Peter Serkin, who was a good friend of Music Mountain and often opened our season.” An ensemble of nine, including a string quintet, two oboes and two horns will perform two Mozart concerti in their chamber music version with Hochman.
Hochman is ecstatic to be playing at Music Mountain in June. “I am thrilled and honored to play the opening concert of Music Mountain’s 91st season. It is such a unique and distinguished series, with a rich history and devoted audience. It is especially meaningful for me to open the season since the great pianist Peter Serkin often did so. We are mourning his recent passing, and therefore we will certainly be thinking of him.”
The pianist said the concert will prove special for fans because it bridges the gap between solo, chamber music, and orchestral music. “I will play two wonderful Mozart Concertos (K. 414 and 449) with an ensemble of nine outstanding musicians. These pieces are more often heard with a chamber orchestra or full orchestra. The beauty of playing them with a smaller ensemble is that it emphasizes the intimacy of the music, which paradoxically also magnifies the big moments. I will direct the ensemble from the keyboard.”
The program will open with a Bach Toccata (BWV 910) for solo piano. “Bach was one of Mozart’s favorite composers and an important influence (for example, one could hardly imagine the last movement of K. 449 without Bach’s existence).This will be a particularly festive concert.”
Audiences continue to praise the outstanding quality and consistency of the events at Music Mountain, the exceptional acoustics of air-conditioned Gordon Hall, and the beauty and peaceful serenity of Music Mountain’s mountaintop grounds. The centerpiece is Gordon Hall — one of the finest chamber music halls in the country. With seating for 348 and superb acoustics, Gordon Hall provides a remarkably clear sound, views of the gardens, grounds and hills from every seat, permitting listeners to savor music and nature as one. The addition of air conditioning and heating has allowed us to extend our season into the spring and fall.
Espina-Ruiz said Music Mountain has a faithful following. “We love what we do and it shows. The quality of the concerts is top notch, and we keep adding new programming to serve all in our community, such as the Music Mountain’s Adult Chamber Music Program, which welcomes adults of all ages to play under the guidance of the Arianna String Quartet from July 5 to 9, or the 3rd Annual Painting Music Event, which will take place on August 22, at 11:30 a.m., bringing together families, young artists and professionals to paint on the Music Mountain lawn with live music.”
Said Hochman, “If one can talk about an X-factor that leads to success in a musical organization, Music Mountain has it.” He pointed to the venue having “a beautiful hall with lovely acoustics, an idyllic setting in nature, a long tradition of distinguished performers, excellent staff and volunteers, and not least, a knowledgeable and devoted audience who truly love music.” He added that he finds it “especially satisfying” building relationships with audiences over time, creating “`musical homes where one can dream up projects and play some of the greatest music ever written. I am very much looking forward to this concert.”
The buildings at Music Mountain form a “community” in the Colonial Revival style. They were built by Sears, Roebuck & Company’s pre-fabricated housing division and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Gordon Hall was designed to be the “analogue of the violin,” with features mimicking the violin’s form and inner structure, “the sound is robust, full bodied and resonant,” said the venue’s website.
The mission of Music Mountain is to “bring together professionals, amateurs, adults and children by developing new audiences and by providing access to the experience of live music.” The mission is further enhanced through the broadcasts of the Music Mountain Chamber Music concerts, made possible by the support of Edward R. Hamilton, a bookseller in Falls Village. Starting with one station in 1937, the concerts are now heard on over 125 stations nationwide and, through the facilities of the European Broadcast Union, by listeners in over 35 other countries.
Said Espina-Ruiz, “Still, today there are people who tell us that they didn’t know we present jazz concerts. That was a significant addition to our Chamber Music Series, but it took place years ago. I hope more people get to know that we have an exciting Twilight Jazz Series on Saturdays at 7 p.m.
Since Espina-Ruiz came on board in 2016, every year the venue’s leadership has put forth a significant infrastructure project. “We want to recover the beauty of Music Mountain in full, including its gardens and trails. Many people don’t realize that Music Mountain extends far beyond Gordon Hall. We also have the four houses that hosted each of the members of the founding Gordon String Quartet, trails, and even a pond. Gradually we are reopening many of these spaces for our audience to enjoy.”
Ruiz believes Music Mountain’s “serenity, its beautiful mountaintop campus, the pristine acoustics of Gordon Hall and, above all, the consistency of our concerts,” make it special. “We are a scenic drive away for most people. Something that hasn’t changed since we started in 1930 is the excitement that all of us feel when we get the chance to go to the country to enjoy the outdoors and the great music at Music Mountain.”
Music Mountain will also host a unique “Birdsong Walk” with the Litchfield Audubon Society leading the way on June 14. Oliver Messiaen, the late ornithologist composer, will serve as inspiration for the 10 a.m. walk, lunch at the Falls Village Inn, a pre-concert lecture, and a 3 p.m. concert. The Twilight Jazz Series kicks off on June 13, and remains focused on traditional jazz, swing and the “American Songbook.”
Concerts are scheduled through September 20.
Chamber Music Series: Rediscovering Beethoven @ 250: With its unique season theme, “Rediscovering Beethoven @ 250,” Music Mountain aspires to shed new light on the titanic composer, who raised the string quartet to a level of artistry unmatched before or since. This summer, 11 of the 17 chamber music concerts will feature a master work by Beethoven within a diverse program, contrast being the catalyst to rediscovering Beethoven. In addition, like Brahms, who composed and discarded 20 string quartets before he felt ready to publish his first at age 40, many other composers fell under Beethoven’s spell, and their work will be generously represented.
Another 91st season highlight will be Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, the extraordinary hour-long monument to the transformative power of music, written while the composer was a World War II prisoner, featuring the Horszowski Trio and Music Mountain artistic director Oskar Espina-Ruiz on clarinet, June 14.
The season continues with 14 outstanding string quartets playing exceptional programs, including the American, Amernet, Arianna, Ariel, Cassatt, Daedalus, Harlem, Jupiter, Parker, Penderecki, Rolston, Shanghai, Ulysses, and Verona String Quartets. Eighteen stellar guest artists will perform this summer: pianists Tanya Bannister, Bernadene Blaha, Todd Crow, Misha Dichter, Simone Dinnerstein, Fei-Fei, Adam Golka, Judith Gordon, Benjamin Hochman, Pei-Shan Lee, Soyeon Kate Lee, and Victoria Schwartzman; violists Vivek Kamath, Maria Lambros, and Paul Neubauer; cellists Michael Kannen and Paul Katz; and clarinetist Oskar Espina-Ruiz.
The new and exciting works that will bring diversity to the programing in 2020 include Caroline Shaw’s “Blueprint” (Penderecki String Quartet, June 21), Corigliano’s “Snapshot—Circa 1909” (Arianna String Quartet, July 5), Jessie Montgomery’s “Strum” (Harlem Quartet, July 26), Paul Frucht’s “Rhapsody” for String Quartet, written in 2018 (Ulysses Quartet, August 16), Missy Mazzoli’s “Quartet for Queen Mab” (Daedalus Quartet, September 13), and Tan Dun’s “Eight Colors for String Quartet” (Ariel Quartet, September 20, concluding concert). Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s String Quartet in E Flat Major (Harlem Quartet, July 26) and William Grant Still’s Lyric Quartette (Musical Portraits of Three Friends) (Daedalus Quartet, September 13) further expand the diversity of this summer’s programming.
The piano chamber repertoire is extensive this summer, including the piano quintets by Brahms, Dohnanyi, Dvorak, Franck, Schnittke, Schumann, Shostakovich and piano quartets by Brahms (G Minor, Op. 25), Faure (C Minor, Op. 15), Mozart (G Minor, K. 478) and Schumann. The Opening Benefit Concert & Reception featuring pianist Benjamin Hochman includes the chamber music version of the Mozart Piano Concerti #12 in A Major, K. 414, and #14 in E Flat Major, K. 449.
Twilight Jazz Series: Lovers of traditional jazz, swing and the American Songbook, won’t want to miss Music Mountain’s Twilight Jazz Series featuring the great Swingtime Big Band on July 25. This summer seven jazz bands will fill up the wonderful acoustics of Gordon Hall on 12 Saturdays at sunset (at the new start time of 7 p.m.): Jive By Five, New Black Eagle Jazz Band, Swing Times Five with Debby Larkin, Riverboat Stompers Jazz Band, Swingtime Big Band, Wolverine Jazz Band, and Galvanized Jazz Band.
The Twilight Jazz Series continues with five outstanding shows: Peter & Will Anderson Quartet returns with a program that celebrates Irving Berlin, Barbara Fasano Trio Featuring Eric Comstock performs American Songbook Standards from Sondheim to Sting, Aaron Johnson Quintet debuts with a program commemorating Charlie Parker at 100, and New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players bring a “well paced and extremely entertaining” show (Talk Entertainment)!
Events, summer programs for all: Music Mountain is launching a free lecture series this summer, featuring performing artists and guest speakers, 1:30 p.m. June 14 and Aug. 16, right before the 3 p.m. concert, and Aug. 17, also at 1:30 p.m.
On June 14, Messiaen, the ornithologist composer, will serve as inspiration for a morning Birdsong Walk at Music Mountain, led by the Litchfield Audubon Society. Music lovers can purchase a day pass that includes the 10 a.m. birdsong walk, lunch at the Falls Village Inn, the pre-concert lecture and 3 p.m. concert.
The 3rd Annual Painting Music Event starts at 11:30 a.m. Aug. 22, bringing together families, young artists and professionals to paint on the Music Mountain lawn with live music. Materials are provided and the event is free, but signing up is required.
Music Mountain’s Adult Chamber Music Program welcomes adults of all ages to play under the guidance of the Arianna String Quartet from July 5-9. Space is limited and registration is required.
Summer education programs attract students from all over the country, who come to Music Mountain to immerse themselves in music-making with mentoring faculty. Those programs include the Music Mountain Academy, Next Festival of Emerging Artists, Lumino Festival, Lucarelli Oboe Master Class, Harlem Quartet Workshop and,starting in 2020, the Etchings Festival for emerging composers.
Music Mountain is located at 225 Music Mountain Road, in Falls Village, where a short scenic drive will bring you to Gordon Hall atop Music Mountain. Free parking and picnic facilities are available.
Ticket prices vary by concerts and series. Discounts apply through participating organizations. For a complete summer schedule, special ticket prices, and to download a ticket order form visit www.musicmountain.org or call 860-824-7126.