CAROGA LAKE – The 11th annual Caroga Lake Music Festival had its final classical orchestra concert Friday night before a packed crowd of fans. It was also the debut of composer/conductor Matthew Aucoin, who contributed four of his works to the program.
For those who haven’t been to the festival, this site is worth a visit. The location is the former Sherman’s Amusement Park, which opened in 1921 and for the next 50 or so years hosted big bands, a dance hall, a carousel and a Ferris wheel on the shores of Caroga Lake, which is within the Adirondack Park. The celebration began after 19-year-old cellist Kyle Barrett Price, at the home of the Cleveland Institute of Music, performed a few concerts with friends at his grandmother’s house.
The idea of developing an artist-led creative community and the Caroga Lake Music Festival was founded in 2012.
It has grown to more than 35 concerts over a five-week period and has expanded to other venues through the Caroga Lake Collective and includes all forms of music, theater and various symposiums. There are also dreams of a new amphitheater on the site and a year-round artist house on a nearby estate.
Before each of Sherman’s concerts, the carousel runs for two hours. It’s a magical ride on horses and amazing stained glass windows of animals around the interior of the ceiling created by Adirondack Glass. The ferris wheel doesn’t move but lights up at night.
The concert was held indoors, where the audience could watch the sunset through the open doors – a charming and serene addition to music that was anything but serene. The program included duets and solos with a 40-piece orchestra.
Aucoin, 32, is a 2018 MacArthur Grant Fellow and artist-in-residence at the Los Angeles Opera. The crowd heard his “duel” for cello/bass; “This Earth” for countertenor and piano; “Shaker Dance” for violin/cello and orchestra; and “Family Dinner” for two violins and orchestra. His style was evident in all of them: repeated fast, almost frenetic, same note motifs, some long lines exchanged between players, clashing rhythms, lots of unison, and pieces that ended abruptly. All musicians played with great commitment and energy. They included cellists Mitch Lyon and Price, bass Jonathan Borden, and violinists Keir Gogwilt and Andy Liang.
The group’s most influential piece was “This Earth”. Countertenor Nicholas Kelliher, who is a master’s degree candidate at the University of Cincinnati, sang in a marvelously well-regulated voice over Aucoin’s piano in a vocal line independent of the piano part’s spare and spatially open harmonies. Based on the opening lines of Dante’s “Purgatory,” Kelliher sang with convincing emotion in ancient Italian.
GoGwilt was the finale as a soloist with Aucoin conducting Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. He sets traditional tempos with the orchestra providing solid support. GoGwilt was technically fluent enough but a bit flat, which corrected itself midway through the first movement. But in the cadenza, instead of keeping to the Beethoven, he and the principal bassist engaged in some haphazard and extremely impromptu improvisation that not only destroyed the Beethoven’s beauty but was completely inappropriate. It’s one thing to perform a companion piece in a modern style with a masterwork like this Violin Concerto; It’s another thing to force the two styles together – an insult to composer and listener. The remaining two movements proceeded in the traditional manner.
Although the festival ends on Sunday, there are additional concerts with Alex Torres and His Latin Orchestra in the finale on September 30.
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