Earlier this year, amid coronavirus concerns, Taos School of Music made the decision to postpone its chamber music summer school until 2021, but to continue its annual chamber music festival through a virtual format.
The festival began on June 21 and has included concerts by faculty and young artists and seminars by faculty. This was made possible because the school has kept an extensive educational archive of video and audio recordings of past performances.
Artistic director Robert McDonald and executive director Elizabeth Baker worked together to select performances from the archives, mixed in with some recent recordings by young artists and faculty which were made during the past several months. The concerts have been hosted live by Baker and guests.
The virtual festival finishes the season with two young artists concerts on Saturday (Aug. 8) and Sunday (Aug. 9). Both concerts begin at 7 p.m. and are viewable online at taosschoolofmusic.com, and on the school's Facebook page and YouTube channel. The concerts are free to attend, with donations appreciated.
I caught up with Baker to find out how the season has been received, and what is planned for the final two concerts.
How do you feel about how the virtual season has gone? How has it been received?
From all the comments we have received this virtual season has been a complete success. We have all been isolated in a variety of ways for a very long time now. Music brings us solace, comfort, companionship and inspiration. It renews us, giving us strength to meet another day.
Additionally, our nation is experiencing a multitude of challenges. We need music in our lives. It touches our common humanity and has the power to heal and connect.
The primary goal of undertaking this project was to keep our promise to those who look forward to attending our concerts every year. I believe that we met that goal, and then some. Our alumni have attended our virtual concerts from all over the country and, in a few instances, the world. They were reminded of the transformational experience that the Taos School of Music gave them. Our audience expanded nationwide through cross posts from Performance Today and Your Classical.
For anyone who may be joining in these concerts for the first time, can you describe what they can expect from a Young Artist concert? What is the skill level of these musicians?
Our students (Young Artists) come from the top music schools and conservatories. They are chosen through rigorous audition so only the best are admitted to the school. Most go on to successful careers within a few years of leaving Taos.
They are already playing at a professional level when they come to Taos and are totally committed to their studies. Their performances reflect this commitment and our audiences are blown away by the amazing performances that these young virtuosi present every two weeks.
What can you tell me about the two programs on Aug. 8 and 9? Was there a theme you were working with in selecting the programs
The goal of programming all eight of our Young Artist programs was to find exceptional live recordings from our archives and put them together in a cohesive and complimentary fashion. The range of years from which all the concerts were curated was 2008 to 2019.
Aug. 8 starts with a very early work of Arnold Schoenberg called "Verklaerte Nacht" or Transfigured Night, based on a poem of Dehmel that tells a story of a couple walking in the night having a difficult discussion that turns out well in the end. It is a sextet for two violins, two violas and two cellos. The performance is from 2017.
The next offering is a performance of two movements from J. S. Bach's "C Major Sonata for Solo Violin" performed by a 2021 cohort who will be joining us next summer. This program was recorded in 2019. The program ends with a very early work of William Walton, his "Piano Quartet," but revised during his later years. This performance was recorded in 2019.
Aug. 9, our final program, starts with the final two movements from Anton Arensky's "Piano Trio No. 1" featuring another one of our 2021 cohorts, a cellist, performing with his Yale colleagues. The performance was recorded in the spring of this year.
It is followed by Brahms's "String Quintet No.2," a very late work by Brahms. This performance was recorded in 2019.
The final performance is Maurice Ravel's "Piano Trio" performed at the Hotel St. Bernard, the home of the Taos School of Music and a fitting finale to our eight-week journey into the Virtual World. It was recorded in 2013.
For more information, visit taosschoolofmusic.com.