(Above) The festival held its final 2021 performance on the rear lawn of Happy Retreat in Charles Town, with patrons enjoying the concert on lawn chairs and blankets. Photo: B. Christopher
Last summer, a new music festival landed in Harpers Ferry, bringing a relevant and approachable experience of classical music. The Appalachian Chamber Music Festival is now back for its second season with a two-week schedule of performances celebrating the history, nature, and culture of Jefferson County and the surrounding region.
Festival founder and Artistic Director Katie Tertell relates, “I’ve been on a mission, I would say, for my entire adult life to introduce people to this great genre of chamber music. It is simply music to be played in a small space, in a chamber, so really it can define such a vast range of music. I think the most important thing about it is that the music is presented with a certain level of intimacy where the audience is really experiencing what it means to play these acoustic instruments that we have in a space where they connect with the performers in a very intimate way.”
Celtic & Scots-Irish Traditions
This year’s programs explore influences of folk music traditions within classical music compositions, centering around a theme of Celtic and Scots-Irish tradition and influence in the Appalachian region. Tertell’s own travels and experiences have lent to the development of programs this season. “I lived in Ireland for five years, and I spend a lot of time now in northern England close to Scotland. The Scots-Irish tradition has had a massive influence in the music of this region.”
Tertell notes, “Excitingly, we have an Irish composer, Judith Ring, who has intensely studied the connection between Irish traditional music and Appalachian music, and she has written a new string quartet for us that really celebrates those ties.” Two additional world premieres will be presented during the festival, works by Mark Boden and Ciaran Farrell, as part of an international cross-disciplinary project curated by Tertell.
The festival finale, “Celtic Heritage in the Appalachian Region,” is scheduled for Sunday, August 28, and will feature an opening set with the Furnace Mountain Band, followed by a lecture by guest speaker Dr. Sylvia Shurbutt, Director of the Center for Appalachian Studies and Communities at Shepherd University and Coordinator for the university’s Appalachian Graduate Studies program. This event will conclude with chamber music performances by the festival artists.
A Composer in Residence
The festival will host Steve Snowden as a composer-in-residence. A native of the Ozarks countryside, Steve’s work often focuses on underground American history and how past events relate to modern society. While his musical influences are deeply rooted in bluegrass, folk, and rock, he utilizes non-traditional techniques and processes to compose works that don’t squarely align with any single genre or style.
As composer-in-residence, Snowden will be participating in concert talks and will work with students in the festival’s seminar and strings camp. He will also be a set of trusted ears for the artists during rehearsals and sound checks, and assist with interpretation especially in other new works to be performed (including a new commission by composer Judith Ring, and works by other living composers including Simmy Singh, Mark Boden and Sarah Gibson). Steve will be available to chat with audience members before and after events.
Snowden’s composition for string quartet “Bird Catching from Above” (2016) will be performed on several occasions in the second week of the festival, with his wife and ACMF 2022 artist, Lauren Nelson playing viola for these performances.
An American Classic In Original Format
The 2022 festival will also feature a performance of the American composer Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring.” This work was originally composed as a ballet for the American choreographer Martha Graham’s ballet troupe and was scored for 13 musicians. The more commonly performed version of this work is the shorter orchestral arrangement titled “Appalachian Spring Suite” (published in 1945). The festival will present the original format with 13 musicians performing on the stage of the Frank Arts Center at Shepherd University.
The ballet follows the story of a young farm couple as they prepare for marriage and set out to build their life on the frontier. “Appalachian Spring” features the Shaker folk tune of “Simple Gifts,” which dates back to 1848. It was used for the part of the ballet which depicted scenes of the married couple going about their daily activities. Graham was a pioneer in her own right; she and Copland formed a friendship and artistic partnership that brought this work to life. The ballet was first performed in 1944 at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., with Graham playing the lead role. Copland was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1945 for this work.
Copland sought to create a musical style and sound that was uniquely American, which can be heard in his works such as “Rodeo,” “Lincoln Portrait,” and “Fanfare for the Common Man.” Of Graham, Copland noted “…there’s something prim and restrained, simple yet strong about her which one tends to think of as American.” You can hear this dichotomy in his works, which meld the simplicity of folk music with soaring melodies and driving rhythms. Copland filled a need for American music which helped popularize his work, and this success led to Copland’s composition of scores for radio and motion pictures throughout the 1930s and 40s, in addition to his ballets and orchestral works.
An Affordable Introduction To Chamber Music
The festival has also received community support for this year’s season. Notably, the festival recently announced it has received a grant from the Eastern West Virginia Community Foundation’s Detlev and Mary Ellen Preissler Fund for the Arts, Music, Design, and Nature to support the Appalachian Chamber Music Festival concerts. As a non-profit organization, grants and sponsorships support the festival’s mission to bring chamber music experiences to audiences in an accessible way by helping keep ticket prices low. The price range for most tickets is between $20 and $25. Tickets for the festival finale, hosted at Happy Retreat in Charles Town, are $10 for adults and free for ages 15 and under. The festival will also host four free events over the two week period.
The Appalachian Chamber Music Festival will take place August 15 through 28 and includes 14 concerts in various venues in Jefferson, Clarke, and Loudoun counties. Other activities include a Bluegrass Workshop with local legend Dave Asti and educational programs for both teens and adults. The full schedule of events and ticket purchase links are available at AppalachianChamber.org.By Staff Contributor