National Music Festival in Chestertown, MD

The National Music Festival at Washington College at Chestertown, MD is clearly one of the best kept secrets on the eastern coast. Thanks to a gracious invitation from our friends, the Reynolds of Maiden Lot Farm, Sheila and I were able to attend this delightful cultural adventure and rub elbows with people who make melodious sounds.

Talented musicians from around the world gather in this bucolic setting for two weeks to train and THEN entertain an appreciate audience with music that ranges from small duets playing music from 18th century composers to Japanese folk songs “reinterpreted” by a classical guitarist to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with 3 choral groups.

Some 120 young classically trained artists are competitively selected to attend a two-week bootcamp with roughly 70 hand-picked mentors and then pushed hard to perform in a series of public small ensembles and a full orchestra. Learning Beethoven’s 9th in a week is no easy feat, but we were treated to a nearly perfect and riveting performance. The musicians looked exhausted, but enthusiastically embraced the challenge.

Kurt Weill

While nearly everything comes off without a hitch, I was drafted into the orchestra at the last moment (see image above) to replace a sick guitarist in Kurt Weill’s “The Seven Deadly Sins.”  Fortunately, it was a small part, but I had an opportunity after the performance to “jam” with my new found banjo buddy Don Vappie, who was playing beside me.

I was a little rusty on the guitar, but after a few drinks I was able to keep up with Don and the rest of his Creole crew.

Actually, it was the talented Brazilian guitarist Camilo Carrara who performed in Kurt Weill’s symphony – NOT ME!

As far as “jamming” with Don Vappie is concerned, Sheila and I attended a lovely evening of music which featured a selection of Creole jazz with several young musicians who have never played this genre of music before. Nevertheless, they seemed to grow in confidence during the performance. I was particularly impressed by a shy clarinet player.

Mr. Vappie is a charming and helpful mentor to these young artists and kindly talked the audience through the history of Creole music and its influence on Jazz and improvisation. It was an evening that I will not soon forget.

While every performance has its own special elements, my favorite was a concert performed at the Mainstay in Rock Hall by Camilo Carrara and Friends. For those unfamiliar with the Mainstay, it was a favorite venue of acclaimed jazz guitarist Charlie Byrd who first introduced Bossa Nova into the U.S. in the 1950s.

Camilo, seen in the video above, kicked off an eclectic mix of music that ranged from Japanese lullabies adapted for the guitar, to a quintet playing Boccherini and even Bluegrass music where Camilo starred with the Lions of Bluegrass.

My favorite piece was a lovely duet with talented flutist, Jennifer Parker-Harley. Jennifer is a mentor from the University of South Carolina. She accompanied Camilo in a moving piece, Sicilienne by Maria Theresa von Paradis. Maria Theresa was blind at the age of 5, but that didn’t prevent her from becoming an accomplished composer in 18th century Vienna. Jennifer informed me that that Jacqueline du Pré often performed the Sicilienne as an encore.

If you want to get involved to support this wonderful event, CLICK HERE so we can continue to encourage these fine young musicians.  Let’s keep the music alive.

If Music Be The Food of Love, Play On

Last weekend Sheila and I were invited down to see our dear friends, Blyth “Lord Cheseline of Maiden Lot” and MaryAnne Reynolds in Chestertown, Maryland. While one needs no special occasion to visit friends, it just so happened that our visit coincided with the 3rd annual National Music Festival in Chestertown.

All I can say is “Wow!” Sitting on the banks of the Chester River watching the Osprey look after their eggs, the fireflies light up the fields of green, and a flock of Canada Geese (here illegally) fertilize the lawn, is almost as good as it gets.

The only things missing were a stiff jolt of Vitamin V (I prefer Tito’s) and the sounds of a guitar. I am delighted to report that Lord Cheseline provided both with Camilo Carrara from Brazil playing his variations of Japanese bedtime melodies from the late 19th and early 20 century: Sheer poetry! (Editor’s Note: You can sample a few of these songs on iTunes by clicking here. I love Sakura and Haru Ga Kita from his Songs from Japan album).

Now Camilo is one of the few mentors invited to the National Music Festival and he has become somewhat of a “rock star.” Both young and old alike will queue to attend one of his concerts or ring at all hours of the day and night to schedule a training with him. It was a pleasure to be around this young man with great talent and even greater sensitivity. His knowledge of music is prodigious and he treated us to a brief history of the origins of the Samba in Brazil on his guitar.

Lest you think that the two-week long Chestertown Festival is simply a collection of Chamber Music “happenings,” you would be seriously mistaken. We were treated to a lovely concert of Beethoven (his 5th) and Brahms (concerto for Violin and Violoncello) and a superb rendition of Verdi’s Requiem.

All-in-all it was a memorable weekend surrounded by good friends, great music and delicious food. Life doesn’t be much better than this.