They're at it again.C. Scott Hagler and Kasia Sokol apparently have recharged their musical batteries. Now that the academic year and concert season are over and we're drifting in the wake of another shoulder season, why not put on a little chamber music series? When the snow disappears, skiers have their doldrums. Well, so do musicians. And it's still two months before Music in the Mountains thunders into town with its welcome musical avalanche.
"It takes a special person to come up with new ideas for concerts and the persistence to make them happen," Sokol said in an interview earlier this week.
Violinist, assistant professor of music at Fort Lewis College, concertmaster of the San Juan Symphony, and director of the Durango Youth Orchestra, Sokol may have the longest string of titles in town, but she's content to simply be called a musician. She's part of a sparkling web of area professionals, along with Hagler, music director at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, who have offered a bouquet of recitals and festivals all year long.
"Scott creates and organizes so many different events," Sokol said. "He's a big-idea guy."
More than a year ago, Sokol said, Hagler approached her about a chamber music festival.
"He asked me right after the Bach Festival in March 2008," she said. "Scott told me he had been dreaming about a late May chamber series and asked me to be artistic director. Right away, he gave me three dates, so I knew he was serious. And here we are."
The festival opens tonight with a program about the beginnings of chamber music. It continues May 22, with music of the 20th century, "approachable," as Sokol promises. And on May 29, the festival concludes with "All Things Romantic."
Sokol is known for her high energy and lively lecture recitals, so she plans to introduce each concert and talk briefly about the music to be performed.
"It's one thing to read about a Beethoven string quartet. It's another to hear a violinist or a cellist talk about it," she said. "In the first concert, I want to show the audience what chamber music meant in different eras. Most people know something about chamber music. We'll start with a Mozart sonata and a Boccherini quintet. Then we'll play a Haydn string quartet (Op. 74, No. 1). Haydn, of course, is the father of string quartets. And we'll close with a Beethoven Quartet (Op. 59, No. 1) Beethoven wouldn't have composed so much chamber music had it not been for Haydn."
Other musicians also will comment, Sokol said, among them FLC percussion professor Jonathan Latta, his wife, pianist Melissa Latta, violinist Kay Newnam from Los Alamos, Taos cellist Sally Gunther and San Diego pianist Karen Follingstad. The group also will perform the Mendelssohn Trio on May 29.
The list also includes Hagler and a virtual varsity team from the Fort Lewis College music faculty - cellist Katherine Jetter, clarinetist Mark Walters and pianist Lisa Campi-Walters. In addition, San Juan Symphony players will be on hand: violinist Tennille Taylor, violist Julie Barton and cellist James Jon Bader.
On May 22, Sokol said she will demonstrate that 20th century music is often "beautiful, tuneful and memorable. We'll open the contemporary program with a chamber work new to everyone. Jonathan (Latta) brought it to me. It combines vibraphone, piano, cello and clarinet - unusual."
The Red Shoe Piano Trio (Sokol, Jetter and Campi-Walters) will play a favorite Shostakovich work, Sokol said.
"And we're including two other pieces people may have heard earlier this year: Paul Schoenfield's 'Café Music' and Bartok's Violin Duets. Two guest performers will join Sokol for the Shoenfield work. The well-regarded pianist Marilyn Garst, who runs a chamber series of her own at the Unitarian Fellowship, and her sister, cellist Bonny Mangold, will join Sokol for this light, dance-like work, Sokol said. Mangold will travel from Utah where she recently retired from the Utah Symphony.
"The Bartok? If you came to the grand opening of the new library, you would have heard my violin students playing this piece, a collection of duets," she said. "It will be different this time. Teresa Lundgren and I will perform as the Bartok was intended - just two violins, not 12."
The biggest surprise of the evening, however, may be a saxophone quartet.
"We're so lucky to have four talented saxophone players here in town" she said. "They graduated from college and have stayed on to play Caryl Florio's 'Quartette' for us. It's a really unusual piece."
The final program, "All Things Romantic," will serve up big helpings of musical comfort food: works by Mendelssohn, Brahms and Schubert. And the festival will close with the only piece featuring a vocalist: soprano Gemma Kavanagh. She will sing Schubert's song cycle "Shepherd on the Rock," with Rochelle Mann on flute and Hagler on piano weaving together the work's achingly lovely lines.
"Musicians love to perform in St. Mark's," Sokol said. "It's beautiful, acoustically perfect, and intimate. Like so many of the concerts Scott plans, we'll have a reception after each with wine and good things to eat. It's really a little party, a musical soiree. You can listen to wonderful music, meet your friends and meet the musicians afterward."
Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic.