Music in the Vineyards - Chamber Music Festival - Wine Country, Napa Valley
napa valley
chamber music
festival
August 2 - 23, 2020
apprentice
string quartet
program
kitchens
in the vineyards
Vienna & Prague
Tour 2021

Music in the Vineyards Owes Success to Its Faithful Audience

Music in the Vineyards, now in its 21st season, has become one of the most successful local classical music festivals. With another 10 days to go, nearly all the performances are sold out.  And you wonder how that’s possible at a time when audiences often seem so fickle and in such short supply.  

Know Thy Audience

The festival is lead by Michael Adams, a violist with the Minnesota Orchestra, and his wife Daria, a violinist with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.  Festival events are played at many of the local wineries in the Napa Valley, with seating ranging from 80 to 150. The theme this year is the music of Franz Schubert.

“Every year,” Adams told us the other day, “we’re in the black and we keep growing. We’ve been careful not to foster too many grandiose ideas about what the festival might become. The focus has been on being solvent.”

“And when it comes to programming our motto has always been, ‘know thy audience.’ We’ve gotten to know that the audience here is not terribly interested in contemporary music. They prefer a more meat and potatoes repertoire. And that’s what we’ve attempted to provide. We’ve also realized that we have a lot of repeat concert-goers and many are local. We once did some data mining and found that 80 percent of our audience were comprised of a core of 200 families in the valley.”

Adams added, “You can look back at Mozart’s day when audiences always expected to hear something new, and weren’t expecting to hear a piece twice in a lifetime, whereas today the opposite is true. People want the comfortable and the familiar; they don’t want to take the risk of spending $50 on a program that’s not in their wheelhouse. As a result, presenters of string quartets and the like don’t want to take those risks either, so they program on the safe side.

“We try to introduce an unknown element in most concerts, an unknown work or a little-known composer, but we do it very carefully, using musical airbags around these works. And now audiences trust us a lot. No matter what we program, they’ll probably like it or at least be glad they heard it.” “And when it comes to programming our motto has always been, ‘know thy audience.’ We’ve gotten to know that the audience here is not terribly interested in contemporary music.” — Michael Adams

One other reason for the festival’s success is Adams’ approach to audience engagement.  His pre-concert talks have become a signature of the festival: “I do all the program notes from the stage, and then take a sliver of an idea and blow it up into a 30-minute talk.”  

Earlier this summer he gave a talk on the effect of competitions on musicians, and specifically how they can hinder a career, “particularly if one is saddled with the reputation of always being second” The talks often lead to discussions with audience members; and from time to time include interviews with musicians about to play.

In sum, Adams told us, “ trust is the one commodity that’s extremely important in understanding the relationship between Daria and myself and our audience.”

Last Concerts at the Festival

The last concert of this year’s festival on Sunday, August 23, is sold out; although there is a wait list. Still, there are a handful of concerts in the meantime, particularly ones coming up this weekend and the following week.

On Saturday, August 15 at 5:00 p.m., in the Inglenook winery in Rutherford, the program includes Schubert’s Sonatina No. 1 for violin and piano; Gabriel Fauré’s Piano Quartet; and Mikhail Glinka’s Grand Sextet for piano, string quartet and bass.

On Sunday evening there will be two concerts going on simultaneously. At 5:30 p.m., a concert at the Whitehall Lane Vineyards in St. Helena will feature John Dowland’s  Lachrimae;   Pavanes; Schubert’s String Trio in B-flat Major; Bach’s Five Fugues (arr. Mozart) for String Quartet; and Mozart’s Quintet for strings in C, K. 515.

The same evening, at the Napa Valley Museum in Yountville, the program includes Shostakovich’s Prelude, Gavotte and Waltz for two violins and piano; Schubert’s Fantasy for piano 4-hands, D. 940; Paul Juon’s Suite for piano trio; and Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio no. 1.  

On Wednesday, August 19, the Pacifica Quartet will play at the Markham Vineyards in St. Helena. A pre-concert talk by Adams will begin at 6:30 p.m. followed by the concert at 7:30 p.m. The Pacifica Quartet, based on Bloomington, Indiana, first took the stage in 1994 and won a Grammy in 2009 for best Best Chamber Music Performance. They are a festival favorite year after year. The program includes, Giacomo Puccini’s Chrysanthemums; Shulamit Ran’s Glitter, Doom, Shards, Memory; Astor Piazzolla’s Four for Tango; and Mendelssohn’s Quartet in F minor, Op. 80

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“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 info@musicinthevineyards.org, or visit MusicInTheVineyards.org.