Wineries up and down the Napa Valley will open for twilight chamber music concerts, all as part of Music in the Vineyards’ 21st annual festival, on Friday, July 31, through Aug. 23.
The 2015 season features 42 musicians who will settle in the valley for one-week residencies and numerous performances, each including one work by composer Franz Schubert.
Music in the Vineyards, which offers complimentary wine at intermission, is held in barrel rooms, caves, museums and private event rooms of wineries up and down the valley, allowing audiences an up-close and personal concert experience.
The festival kicks off on July 31 at Frog’s Leap Winery, where nine musicians will perform in the winery’s tank-filled red barn. Tchaikovsky’s “Souvenir de Florence” sextet will anchor the evening, as well as a lyrical Schubert sonata performed by cellist Zlatomir Fung, winner of the 2014 Irving M. Klein International String Competition.
Along with Fung, cellist Joshua Roman returns to the festival for his fourth season and is looking forward to performing the Tchaikovsky sextet on opening night.
“It’s the quintessential Tchaikovsky chamber work, filled with passion, and features enough artists to pull off its symphonic style,” said Roman. “It’s fun to perform, because every voice has its own moment.”
While the wine-centric culture of the Napa Valley was his initial draw to Music in the Vineyards, Roman credits the festival’s work ethic for its success and recognition in the close-knit musical community.
“Music in the Vineyards is one of my favorite festivals to tell people about,” said Roman. “Not only is it Napa Valley in the summer, but it’s also a work hard, play hard mentality, which gives us musicians the motivation to come completely prepared and ready for the beauty of quick collaboration.”
The season continues on Saturday, Aug. 1, with Sommerfest, a Viennese-inspired benefit gala at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena. The festivities begin with a terrace reception accompanied by the Joe Bajuk Tyrolean Trio. The evening continues with a formal indoor Schubertiade concert featuring three of his works including the Wanderer Fantasy, Nocturne and the Trout Quintet for piano and strings.
“These days, we think of music as being either classical or popular, with the concert and dance hall as two separate realms, but Schubert thought differently,” said Anne Evans, vice president of the organization and chairwoman of the gala. “Like a good Viennese, he loved dances — waltzes and ländler in particular — and composed many, performing them on the piano at these Schubertiades.”
Tickets to Sommerfest ($275) include a three-course dinner and wine in the barrel room, as well as a live auction featuring trips and cultural experiences in Bavaria, Santa Fe and private wineries. The night concludes with professional Bavarian music and dancing with full costuming, and even guests are welcomed to wear 19th century Austrian attire.
On Wednesday, Aug. 5, the festival welcomes the up-and-coming Verona Quartet for their Music in the Vineyards debut at Beringer Vineyards. Members of the quartet can also be heard collaborating with others during the second week of concerts, including Saturday, Aug. 8, at Clos Pegase in the winery’s acoustically dramatic Cave Theater. The program features Arnold Schoenberg’s romantic poem “Transfigured Night,” controversial in its time for explicit references to sexual themes.
“There are so many parts of Transfigured Night that give me goose bumps — even if I listen to them 10 times in a row,” said cellist Warren Hagerty of the Verona Quartet. “I can’t think of many other pieces of music that move me as much as this one does.”
On Saturday, Aug. 15, Inglenook will host 11 artists including acclaimed violinists Hye-Jin Kim and Ara Gregorian, who plan to marry this summer after the festival. The concert will feature a Schubert sonatina for violin and piano, an expressive Fauré quartet inspired by heartbreak, and a charming sextet by Russian nationalist composer Mikhail Glinka.
“I have never played the Glinka sextet before, it’s off the beaten path for festival repertoire, and I’m looking forward to exploring it,” said Gregorian. “It’s exciting to perform a piece without any preconceived notions and to see how the relationships between musicians, as well as the piece itself, develop over the rehearsal periods leading up to the concert.”
At Music in the Vineyards, the goal is to create an atmosphere of accessibility to the music and to foster interaction. With witty and informative commentary given on each piece, the experience becomes more like storytelling, where the music, the surroundings, the artists, and the audience all play a crucial role.
“Oftentimes we are only a few feet away from the audience, and to see and feel the energy between us is an experience you can’t beat,” said Gregorian. “It’s like nothing else — everyone really gets to be a part of the music.
Tickets for Music in the Vineyards concerts cost $60 and are now on sale. Tickets for the Sommerfest gala are $275 and are highly limited. The festival also offers free open rehearsals on Thursday afternoons in partnership with Napa Valley College, open rehearsals at The Meadows retirement community, and a closing night celebration ($145) at Meadowood Napa Valley on Aug. 23. For information call 707-258-5559, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit MusicInTheVineyards.org.