Every year, the Bank of America Chamber Music series brings together some of the finest classical musicians from around the world. The series has many returning performers — the St. Lawrence String Quartet, for example, has participated since 1995. But every season, players are added and subtracted, always spawning fresh arrangements and collaborations.
And the music itself is as diverse as it gets, spanning from the renaissance to world premieres. It's this mix of the old and the new that is essential to Geoff Nuttall, Bank of America Chamber Music series director.
"Eclecticism came from the fact that you need a mix in every show," says Nuttall. He's not one to make a program consisting of only 18th century pieces or strictly modern works. He likes the way the old can shine light on the new and vice versa. Which is why one program this season features a Vivaldi oboe concerto followed by a contemporary work entitled, "Juicy," which is a piece for piano and computer-controlled image and sound. "It's basically fruit getting smooshed and cut up on a video screen, but it's super cool," says Nuttall.
"Juicy" was written by this year's composer-in-residence, Jarosław Kapus´cin´ski, and it's the first time visuals have ever been incorporated into the chamber music series.
Nuttall describes Kapus´cin´ski as a piano player/composer/video artist. Three of Kapus´cin´ski's works will be included in this year's series, including a world premiere entitled, "Side Effects." "It's really simple and really beautiful," says Nuttall. "The images are totally connected to what he's playing on the piano, so it's not random."
And keeping with the theme of eclecticism, that piece will be followed by a Robert Shuman work from the first half of the 19th century. "I think hearing Shuman's Piano Trio in D minor after this really evocative, beautiful video piece is going to make Shuman sound even better."
Another special guest to the Dock Street stage will be countertenor Anthony Roth Constanzo. "He's one of the great musicians on the planet," says Nutall, "and he agreed to sing on three programs for us."
A countertenor, in case you were wondering, is a male voice whose vocal range is equivalent to that of a female mezzo-soprano. Needless to say these are some high notes for a fella to hit. Constanzo will sing two works by Vivaldi and — oddly enough in a classical program — a song by Roy Orbison.
Other first timers at this year's chamber music series include the Rolston String Quartet. They're young by typical string quartet standards — each player in their twenties. "I'm happy to introduce a new generation of string quartets to our audience at Spoleto," says Nuttall. "And we get to play Mendelsohn."
He's referring to Mendelsohn's "Octet in E-flat Major," a piece written for two string quartets. So that means Nuttall's own group, the St. Lawrence String Quartet, will join the Rolston Quartet on stage.
There are 11 different one-hour programs (FYI: there are three performances of each program), so there is almost too much music to cover in this little preview. But rest assured, it runs the gamut. From a Haydn string quartet to a Strauss waltz to contemporary pieces for solo percussion — expect the unexpected.
And being that this is chamber music, all the ensembles are relatively small, and there's nothing quite like observing a small classical ensemble move together. Like they're one entity, almost amoebic.
What also makes the Bank of America Chamber Music series special is its host: Geoff Nuttall. He personally introduces each piece, engaging the audience. "You want people to feel like they're in the game, so to speak," he says. "So that initial connection of cracking a dumb joke or the telling of some cool thing about the piece or pointing something out in the music to listen for, all these things just simply engage the audience in a way which invites and encourages active participation, active listening."
The series runs the length of Spoleto with performances at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. most days. Be thankful you get the chance to see some of the best musicians in the world up close and personal. And Nuttall and his colleagues may be just as thankful for you. "What makes these concerts at Dock Street so magical is that everybody's into it," says Nuttall. "They're there because they want to know what's coming next and they're really participating."