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The SANTA FE CHAMBER MUSIC FESTIVAL
An interview with Executive Director STEVEN OVITSKY
It's known that the legendary Pablo Casals was the honorary president of the
Festival's inaugural season. But could you tell us more about its origins? Was
there an individual or a nucleus group who had the inspiration to celebrate
chamber music in this most enchanting city? Who provided the leadership for
the Festival in its early years?
OVITSKY: The Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival was founded to present and celebrate the incredible art of chamber music. Santa Fe’s incredible beauty, cultural strength and location was a natural choice to compliment the focus of a summer music festival.
PABLO CASALS was the honorary president of the Festival’s inaugural season in 1973, with ALICIA SCHACTER the Music Director from 1973—1991, followed by HEIICHIRO OHYAMA from 1992 – 1997. For the past eleven years, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival has been led by music director and composer MARC NEIKRUG, who has not only contributed to the Festival’s growth and reputation as a presenter of great chamber works, which was begun by the Festival's founders, but also as a champion and consistent contributor to contemporary chamber music repertoire, a tradition the festival began in 1980. Marc has brought the number of commissions to an incredible 47, more than any other chamber music festival today.
The Festival, now in its 36th season, prides itself on the range of chamber works and the various contemporary composers that have contributed to the Festival over the years, ranging from AARON COPLAND, to NED ROREM, to LEE HOIBY, to this year’s composers, KAIJA SAARIAHO, ROBERTO SIERRA, HUANG RUO and JOAN TOWER.
FanFaire: Did the founders find encouragement in the phenomenal success of Santa Fe Opera? And with Santa Fe Opera having set the stage, so to speak, was there immediate community support for the Festival? Does the Festival have a relationship with Santa Fe Opera?
OVITSKY: The success of the Santa Fe Opera reinforced, I’m sure, the Festival founders’ selection of Santa Fe. The community is an extremely culturally oriented and knowledgable one, and there was strong early support for the Festival. The festival, in its early years, had a history of threatening financial issues, which I’m delighted to say is no longer.
Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival is a financially stable organization with a
strong endowment, generous annual support and solid ticket sales. This past
fall, the Festival celebrated the culmination of the 2007 season with the successful
completion of our 35th Anniversary Endowment Campaign, which surpassed its $5
million goal by $1.7 million.
We are proud of our close relationship with the Santa Fe Opera. We regularly engage some of the Opera orchestra musicians and singers. This year, for example, baritone LAURENT NAOURI, the Opera’s Falstaff, will sing Schumann’s "Dichterliebe", mezzo-soprano ISABEL LEONARD who sings Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro for the Opera, will sing Handel’s La Lucrezia for the Festival, and mezzo-soprano MONICA GROOP, who appears in the title role of Adriana Mater will also sing the US premiere of LANCINO’s "Onxa for Mezzo-soprano, Cello & Strings."
FanFaire: Could you give us a cross-section picture of the Festival audience? Surely you must have a big subscriber base. Do your subscribers come from far and wide? And are you able to build on this, say, from the thousands of tourists that come to Santa Fe? Do you have audience members who come for the entire season?
OVITSKY: The Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival attracts audience from across the United States and abroad who love the high level of music making and varied programming and the wide variety of national and international guest artists the Festival presents each season. We have non-local patrons who come to Santa Fe for one or two concerts and those that come for the entire Festival season. That said, about 40% of our ticket sales are to visitors, and 60% to full and part-time Santa Fe residents.
FanFaire: What is the Festival's primary mission? Commissioned works have been among the Festival highlights for many years - this season, for example, you will premiere four co-commissions (in addition to the world premiere of other new significant works, e.g., by the Festival's Artistic Directo, MARC NEIKRUG). Is the commissioning of new works one of the Festival's primary missions - as perhaps one of the the best ways of expanding the chamber music repertoire?
OVITSKY: The Festival’s primary mission is to present and promote chamber music of the highest quality in all its forms by the world’s finest musicians, and to build a broad and knowledgeable audience of all ages. Its mission also is to provide diverse educational opportunities and to enhance the cultural environment of Santa Fe and New Mexico.
The Festival seeks to serve as a model chamber music festival, and has transformed the chamber music festival model by extending its musical hallmark, that of a presenter of great masterpieces and champion and contributor to the contemporary repertoire, to include works of fine art by local artists, underscoring the relationship music has with other art forms.
FanFaire: The Festival also has a wide array of guest performing artists - this season they range from super stars (such as PINCHAS ZUKERMAN) to the up-and-coming (such as ISABEL LEONARD and the ESCHER STRING QUARTET who not only will perform in concert but, interestingly, will also be taught a masterclass by their "seniors" in the field - the ORION STRING QUARTET). Could you walk us as well through the process of selecting up-and-coming artists as well as programming for the Festival? Is this type of masterclass a regular feature of the Festival?
OVITSKY: Master classes are a regular part of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival season. The Festival’s music director, MARC NEIKRUG, is always on the look-out for the most talented young musicians, and hears from colleagues around the world about young talent. Each year four young musicians are selected; often a violinist, violist, cellist and pianist. They perform as a piano quartet and also with some of the more established festival musicians. We then hold a series of master classes with each of the young musicians. This year, the Festival invited the ESCHER STRING QUARTET as our young musicians. They will have a master class taught by DANIEL PHILIPS of the renowned Orion String Quartet.
FanFaire: The Festival's long-standing success must owe a lot to an exemplary partnership between you as Executive Director and the versatile and dynamic composer-pianist-conductor MARC NEIKRUG as Artistic Director. How long have you been working together and how would you characterize this partnership? What would you cite as MARC NEIKRUG's unique contributions to the Festival? And what particular challenges confront you as the Executive Director?
OVITSKY: Thank you. Marc and I have been working together since 2004. Marc brings not just his skills as a musician (he’s an accomplished pianist) and music director to the table, but also his talent as a composer. This unique combination of skills allows him to create interesting and well balanced programs of chamber masterpieces and contemporary works, to have the Festival present commissioned premieres by the world’s best contemporary composers and also to seek out and engage the up-and-coming artists of tomorrow for Festival audiences each season.
As the Festival’s executive director, I am continually working on finding new avenues through which to help the Festival continue to grow. One example of this is the wonderful relationship the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival has with The WFMT Radio Network (since 2005) and the United Kingdom’s BBC Radio 3 (since 2007). I’m proud to say that the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival is one of very few chamber music festival to be broadcast nationwide – since 2005 the Festival’s 13-week, hour-long radio serried has been produced and nationally distributed by The WFMT Radio Network, and since 2007, the Festival’s series has been aired on BBC Radio 3’s Lunchtime Concert Series.
FanFaire: It seems to us that Santa Fe is a city in which ALL the arts prosper. How would you characterize the relationship between the city's various art establishments - does rivalry coexist with, say, a spirit of community? Do they support one another, and if so, in what ways?
OVITSKY: Santa Fe is an incredible city, where indeed, all the arts do prosper. All the various arts establishments support each other in the spirit of a cultural community. As I mentioned, we have a close relationship with the Santa Fe Opera; we find that many of our concert-goers also attend the opera, sometimes even on the same day. We also have strong ties with businesses throughout the community as a result of our annual presentation of art by local artists, throughout the Festival season. The arts, I think, in and of themselves, foster a sense of community.
FanFaire: We notice that Festival's activities are not limited to Santa Fe. You also hold events in nearby Albuquerque and occasionally also in Arizona. How do these fit in with the Festival's avowed missions? Do your activities begin and end with the summer Festival or do you hold other noteworthy events at other times of the year?
OVITSKY: Arizona was actually a tour concert some years ago. While the Festival’s base is and will continue to be Santa Fe, and the majority of our presentations take place at St Francis Auditorium and the Lensic, the Festival does seek, as part of its mission to educate audiences about and to promote chamber music to the broadest audiences possible, to present concerts in other states and locations. The Festival’s Albuquerque concerts are part of a new partnership with KHFM, Albuquerque’s commercial classical music radio station. We are thrilled to be working with KHFM in their new live concert series, inaugurated earlier this year.
FanFaire: What in your opinion sets this Festival season apart from past seasons?
OVITSKY: Each season is unique, due to the variety of programming and guest artists on the season’s roster, not to mention the new commissions by composers around the world. MARC NEIKRUG programs fresh and compelling programs each season. It’s so difficult to pick just one or two things to mention about this incredible season, but I would say that the variety of premieres that we have this season – 4 Festival commissioned premieres that include KAIJA SAARIAHO’s Serenatas; ROBERTO SIERRA’s Concierto de Camera, HUANG RUO’s Real Loud and JOAN TOWER’s A Gift, the world premiere of MARC NEIKRUG’s new work, Piece for Pro Piano Hamburg Steinway Model D & Marimba One, and the US premiere of LANCINO’s Onxa for Mezzo-soprano, Cello & Strings plus the completion of the second installment of the Beethoven String Quartets by one of the world’s renowned interpreters of the works, the ORION STRING QUARTET, is definitely exciting.
Through a grant from the NEA, we’ll have a special American Composers Residency program that will feature Roberto, Joan and Marc this season, providing opportunities for audiences, musicians and students to interact with the composers and talk to them about their works.
Also new this season is our first collaboration with the famed Sibelius Academy of Helsinki’s new Santa Fe Composer’s Workshop. Finnish and American composers and performance students will work under the supervision of KAIJA SAARIAHO and cellist ANSSI KARTTUNEN. They will then be featured at a free concert in August.
Our program book program cover this season is “Morning Song” an original painting especially for the Festival by the acclaimed Navajo artist, EMMI WHITEHORSE.
FanFaire: That you have been able for many years now to sustain a 6-week long festival devoted solely to chamber music is an eloquent testament to your and MARC NEIKRUG's leadership. It not only speaks volumes about the state of chamber music but also bodes very well for the future of classical music in America. Are you confident that classical music has a bright future in America and that the reports of its certain upcoming demise are premature and, quoting Mark Twain, "greatly exaggerated"?
OVITSKY: For 36 years, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival has continued to grow and expand its presence in the classical chamber music world, which certainly couldn’t happen if there wasn’t great interest in the music from audiences. This year, for example, we’re seeing an interest in attending festival concerts from a group of younger listeners who are also planning some fun social events after the performances. Classical music, in all its forms, is a part of our cultural heritage, as are all the arts, and it seems to be doing just fine.
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