On Friday, a concert of music by Mozart, Brahms and Mendelssohn kicked off the 32nd season of the Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival at the Martin-Lipscomb Performing Arts Center in Highlands, North Carolina. The annual summer event, which will run through August 11, is within reasonable driving distance of Atlanta for an overnight getaway. It’s no secret that social connections between Atlanta and Highlands are longstanding, and some Atlantans were spotted in the audience.
The musicians of the evening were, notably, from diverse locations but with strong Atlanta backgrounds: violinist William Preucil, concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra and a former concertmaster of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra; violinist Alexandra Preucil, his daughter, who is assistant concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra; violists Jennifer Stumm, an Atlanta native whose career includes chairing viola studies at the Royal College of Music in London, and Paul Murphy, associate principal viola of the ASO, who coached Stumm when she was a promising member of the ASO’s youth orchestra; cellist Charae Krueger, principal cellist for the orchestras of the Atlanta Opera and Atlanta Ballet; and pianist William Ransom, the festival’s artistic director and the director of piano studies at Emory University.
Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G minor, K. 478, was first on tap, performed by William Preucil, Stumm, Kreuger and Ransom. From the opening notes, there was a unity of ensemble as if these musicians had been playing together for years. It proved a persuasive beginning to the concert.
Stumm and Ransom returned to the stage to perform Brahms’ Sonata in E-flat major, Op. 120, No. 2. Though this sonata was originally for clarinet and piano, Brahms himself transcribed it for viola and piano. Stumm brought forth from her instrument an impressive contralto singing quality that exuded rich and passionate expression. Ransom underscored with well-balanced collaborative piano playing.
After an intermission, the concert concluded with the String Quintet No. 2 by Mendelssohn, performed by the Preucils, Stumm, Murphy and Kreuger. They gave it an exciting, energetic reading that brought the audience to its feet.
The modest hall itself did justice to the music with an acoustic response that was clear and immediate, surprisingly rich in spectrum and detail for a simple, flat-floored rectangular room with a raised stage and movable seating. Happily, it did well in delivery of power and energy from the chamber-sized performing forces.
The one unfortunate shortcoming is that no audio recording was made, as this would have been a likely shoo-in for broadcast on the nationally syndicated radio program “Performance Today.”
Except for its final concert on August 11, the festival’s formal concerts will all be performed in Highlands on Fridays at 6 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. at the Martin-Lipscomb Performing Arts Center and in nearby Cashiers at 5 p.m. Saturdays and Mondays at the Albert Carlton Library. They are paired, so the opening concert was repeated Saturday in Cashiers, with a recital by William Preucil and Ransom likewise paired for Sunday and Monday.
The festival will skip this coming weekend because of Independence Day, then continue for five more weekends.
The July 12-15 concerts will feature the Eroica Trio: violinist Sara Parkins, cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio and pianist Erika Nickrenz. They will be joined by violinist Margeaux Maloney and violist Miles Hoffman for the Sunday-Monday pair of concerts.
German flutist Anthony Reiss and Belgian clarinetist Roeland Hendrikx will make their festival debuts July 19-20, performing with harpist Valerie Von Pechy Whitcup; then Hendrikx will be joined by Ransom and the Vega Quartet on July 21-22.
“The Joy of Sax,” on July 28-29, will have saxophonists Leo Saguiguit and Gary Motley and pianists Elena Cholakova and Dwight Andrews, offering up both classical and jazz selections. Ransom will perform a solo piano recital July 26-27.
August 2-5 will feature the Grammy Award-winning Parker Quartet: violinists Daniel Chong and Karen Kim, violist Jessica Bodner and cellist Kee-Hyum Kim. Ransom will join them for the Sunday and Monday concerts. “Sibling Rivalry” will be the theme for August 9-10, with brother-sister violin and piano duos David and Julie Coucheron and Kate and William Ransom sharing the stage.
The Gala Finale concert will take place in Highlands at the Martin-Lipscomb Center on Sunday, August 11, with a dinner afterward at the Wildcat Cliffs Country Club. It will feature the Festival Chamber Orchestra with soloists Eugene Izotov, principal oboe of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; ASO Concertmaster David Coucheron; and violist Yinzi Kong of the Vega Quartet.