French horn players spicing up summer chamber music festival
If it weren’t for a couple of French horn players, this year’s Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival might have taken a different turn.
It started with horn player Eva Conti.
“Last summer when she was playing with us, she dropped the bombshell that she’s also a professional flamenco dancer and guitar player,” said bassoonist Michael Ellert, one of the festival’s three musician founders.
Conti has danced with several orchestras and chamber music groups, sometimes leaving her place in the ensemble to shed a black cloak and reveal herself in brightly colored flamenco splendor.
Conti, whose grandmother was born in Spain, has studied flamenco dancing for many years.
“People who love flamenco get taken with its rhythmic complexity,” she said. She’s also attracted to the strong lines, proud carriage and flamboyant costumes of flamenco dancers.
Conti’s dance talents inspired Ellert and fellow founders flutist Karen Fuller and clarinetist Michael Forte to shape a Spanish music program around her.
Conti will dance to Astor Piazzolla’s Libertango and three dances from Manuel de Falla’s The Three-Cornered Hat in the second week of the four-weekend festival. She will play the French horn in programs three and four.
The festival, now in its 27th year, opens Friday and will run through July 29 at Helen K. Persson Recital Hall at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, First Presbyterian Church in North Palm Beach and the Crest Theatre at Old School Square in Delray Beach.
Ellert, Fuller and Forte, who perform with the Palm Beach Opera Orchestra, Miami City Ballet’s Opus One Orchestra, the Symphonia Boca Raton and other groups during the season, aim to provide a variety of musical styles, instrumentations and periods with every festival.
The programs also blend staples with lesser-known music.
Anchor works include Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G major in program one, Antonin Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 12 in F major (“American”) in program three and Franz Schubert’s Quintet in A major (“Trout”) in program four.
Audiences might not be as familiar with 19th century flute virtuoso Albert Franz Doppler’s Paraphrase on Gaetano Donizetti’s opera La Sonnambula for two flutes and piano in program one or Juan Crisostomo de Arriaga’s String Quartet No. 1 in D minor in program two. Arriaga, who died in 1826 at 19, is often referred to as the “Spanish Mozart.”
Audience members certainly have never heard Andrew Lewinter’s Nonet, a piece he wrote for the festival that will be premiered in program three.
Lewinter was the principal horn player for the now-disbanded Florida Philharmonic Orchestra from 1988 to 2001. He’s now an employment attorney in Oregon and a longtime friend of festival co-founder Fuller.
Lewinter experimented with composing in high school, then set it aside for the French horn. He picked it up again a couple of years ago.
“I missed making music,” he said.
In its structure and harmonic language, the nonet is “not much different from what could have been written in 1900,” he said. The composer will introduce the piece at each concert.
Once the festival committed to the nonet, program three evolved into From Sea to Shining Sea, an all-American program.
In fact, thanks to Conti and Lewinter, all the programs have titles. That’s a departure from past years, as themes tend to complicate programming, the founders said. But it’s enough to call this the year of the French horn.
French horn player and flamenco dancer Eva Conti, pictured here with members of the Stamford Symphony, will dance in the second week of the four-weekend Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival, which starts Friday.