36th annual Telluride Chamber Music Fest begins Friday, August 7

36th annual Telluride Chamber Music Fest begins Friday, August 7

[click “Play” for Roy Malan’s comments on Chamber Music Festival]

Malan Johannes Brahms is the alpha and omega of the 36th annual Telluride Chamber Music Festival. The event opens on Friday, August 7, with Brahms closing the first big evening. The final concert, Saturday, August 15, is dominated by Brahms. In between, the venerable Festival, among the three oldest on Telluride’s cultural calendar, celebrates two big birthdays: Felix Mendelssohn was born February 3, 1809, just a few days before Abraham Lincoln.

Born to a poor but musical family in the slums of Hamburg, Germany, Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897), studied music as best he could, supporting himself by playing piano at bars and brothels and by turning out arrangements of light music. Eventually Brahms grew to become the brick of classicism in his country. His compositions showed no traces of extraneous – nonmusical – allusions, yet they resonated with strong personal statements. In chamber music circles, Brahms is the go-to guy if you really want to test your mettle and strut your stuff: often just a smattering of notes conveys a universe of emotion. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

TCMF Poster '09 Final Mendelssohn was arguably the most amazing child prodigy in musical history, according to the German philosopher Goethe, far better than Mozart, whom everyone knows exhaled perfect chords as a boy. In Goethe’s widely repeated quote: the young Mendelssohn bore “the same relation to the little Mozart that the perfect speech of a grown man does to the prattle of a child.”

Mendelssohn began composing at age ten and went on writing music until he suffered a fatal series of strokes at age 38. However, by that time, Mendelssohn the man was reviled by German nationalists such as Richard Wagner, in part on ethnic grounds (Mendelssohn was born a Jew but converted), and in part because critics considered his work too refined and therefore lacking in the unbridled emotions they regarded as essential to high German art. Today, however, Mendelssohn remains an important part of the German musical heritage.

Lincoln enters the picture through the back door. Last year, Eric Sawyer wrote a musical homage to our legendary 16th president and the Amherst College associate professor of music was honored for the composition by the Ravinia Festival, the oldest music festival in North America. Sawyer is in town for the performance on Saturday August 8, of “Honest Abe,” his piano trio.

For more on the history of Telluride Chamber Music Festival and this year’s program, click the “play” button and listen to Festival founder/director, violinist Roy Malan’s podcast.

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