Aug. 15--From the perspective of Santa Fe, which is richly served by cultural offerings the whole year through and fairly drowns in them during the summer, the village of Angel Fire seems a bucolic backwater when it comes to artsy stuff. Located a circuitous two-hour drive to the northeast and boasting a population hardly exceeding 1,200, its principal allure for outsiders is as a ski destination. Visitors in the warm season (which is somewhat telescoped, since its elevation begins at about 8,400 feet) may think of it as a place to mountain-bike, zip-line, or, for more sedate types, play a decent round of golf. Culture? Not so much.
But wait! The scene changes in August, when, every year since 1984, Music From Angel Fire has roused its community with a barrage of chamber music. The festival's 31st season, which opens on Friday evening, Aug. 15, and runs through Aug. 31, promises the accustomed mix of musical activities that have coalesced as the organization's formula over the years. At its heart are formal concerts at the Angel Fire Community Center or the United Church of Angel Fire, often spotlighting acclaimed eminences in the field of chamber music and sometimes bringing them together with more junior practitioners. The schedule also includes two Musical Conversations, in which the program is preceded by a lecture-chat with violinist Ida Kavafian; two Closer Encounters, which are open rehearsals formatted to allow considerable dialogue with the audience; an annual Salon Concert, in which violist Toby Appel serves as an entertaining emcee; two Youth and Family Concerts, tailored to pique the interest of the aesthetically unbiased young; many daytime presentations in the region's schools; and some social and fundraising events.
Although Angel Fire is at the center of the action, the enterprise also offers concerts in several other communities in the general vicinity: Taos, Eagle Nest, Las Vegas, and Raton. One of the festival's highlights, in fact, is the annual concert in Raton, which provides a rare opportunity for audiences to hear music in the historic Shuler Theater, a handsome relic of the vaudeville era that will celebrate its centenary next April. This year, the Raton concert takes place on Tuesday, Aug. 19 -- and it's free.
Kavafian is very much the hub of the festival and has been since she became its artistic director in its second year, which is to say 30 seasons ago. The performing roster is dependably buttressed by members of her family (her husband, the violist Steven Tenenbom, and also her sister, Ani, a violinist), colleagues in her self-standing ensemble Opus One (pianist Anne-Marie McDermott and cellist Peter Wiley, plus Tenenbom), musical friends with whom she has worked regularly over the years (especially in her capacity as a pillar of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center), and promising students from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, which is one of the schools where she teaches. This year, the festival's mix includes two established ensembles, Opus One (playing Brahms' A-major Piano Quartet on Wednesday, Aug. 20, in Angel Fire) and the Donald Sinta Saxophone Quartet.
As is the norm at modern festivals, there's also a composer in residence -- Bright Sheng this season. Five of his pieces are programmed, including the premiere of a festival commission titled "Angel Fire Duo," which Kavafian and Tenenbom unveil on Wednesday, Aug. 20, in Angel Fire. The festival also has a Young Artist composer in residence, 20-year-old Andrew Hsu, who is currently pursuing an artist's diploma at Curtis. He will be represented by three works, including the first performances of his String Quartet No. 1, commissioned by the festival. Hsu is also a highly accomplished pianist, having been given a Young Artist award by The Gilmore, the pianocentric foundation in Kalamazoo, Michigan. A happy intersection of the two featured composers comes on Thursday, Aug. 21, at the Ilfeld Auditorium of New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, when Hsu performs Sheng's 2007 solo-piano composition, "My Other Song."
Music From Angel Fire tends toward a solidly traditional approach in its concert presentations, but on Aug. 23, at the Taos Center for the Arts, it is going to try something a little different by presenting a concert in which three of the eight pieces programmed will include a choreographed interpretation featuring ballerina Dona Wiley, daughter of Opus One cellist Peter Wiley. Although those are the only two Wileys appearing on that day, the concert offers a glimpse into a larger enterprise called CelloPointe, a New York-based cello-plus-choreography incentive that also involves Peter's son (a cellist) and wife (another cellist, but she serves as the group's administrator), along with other dancers.
Family ties play a big role in the world of chamber music. On Aug. 30, also in Taos, Music From Angel Fire presents a recital, appropriately titled Family Strings, that includes in its lineup two spousal dyads: Kavafian and Tenenbom plus violinist Cathy Meng Robinson and cellist Keith Robinson (both of the Miami String Quartet). But that's just the half of it. The program also includes the "Ah! Vous dirai-je, Maman" Variations for three violins and viola, by the 19th-century French composer Charles Dancla, which will be played by a fully familial foursome: the violinist Kerry McDermott (sister of pianist Anne-Marie); her husband, the distinguished violist Paul Neubauer; and their violin-playing progeny, Oliver and Clara Neubauer. They should be pretty well attuned to each other.
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