CAROGA LAKE — The 11th annual Caroga Lake Music Festival had its final classical orchestra concert Friday night before a packed crowd of adoring fans. It was also the debut of composer/conductor Matthew Aucoin, who provided four of his own works on the program.
For those who have not visited this festival, the site is worth a look. The location is the former Sherman’s Amusement Park, which opened in 1921 and for the next 50 or so years hosted big bands, a dance hall, a carousel and a Ferris wheel on the shores of Caroga Lake, which is just inside the Adirondack Park. The festival all started when a 19-year-old cellist, Kyle Barrett Price, home from the Cleveland Institute of Music, held some concerts with friends at his grandmother’s house.
The idea to develop an artist-led creative community formed and in 2012 the Caroga Lake Music Festival was founded.
It’s since grown to more than 35 concerts over a five-week span and expanded further to other venues through the Caroga Lake Collective and includes all types of music, theater and various symposiums. There is also a dream to build a new amphitheater on-site and a year-round artist home at a nearby estate.
Prior to each concert at Sherman’s, the carousel runs for two hours. It’s a magical ride on the horses and to view the marvelous stained glass windows of animals around the ceiling’s interior that Adirondack Glass created. The Ferris wheel doesn’t run but is lit at night.
The concert was held indoors, where the audience could view the sunset through the open doors – a charming and serene addition to music that was anything but calming. The program included duets and solos with the 40-piece orchestra.
Aucoin, 32, is a 2018 MacArthur Grant Fellow and the artist-in-residence at the Los Angeles Opera. The crowd heard his “Dual” for cello/bass; “This Earth” for countertenor and piano; “Shaker Dance” for violin/cello and orchestra; and “Family Dinner” for two violins and orchestra. His style was apparent in all of them: repeated fast, almost frenetic, same note motifs, some long lines exchanges between players, percussive rhythms, a lot of unison, and pieces that ended suddenly. All the musicians played with great commitment and energy. They included cellists Mitch Lyon and Price, bass Jonathan Borden, and violinists Keir GoGwilt and Andy Liang.
The most effective piece of this group was “This Earth.” Countertenor Nicholas Kelliher, who is a master’s degree candidate at the University of Cinncinati, sang with a wonderfully well regulated voice to Aucoin’s piano in a vocal line independent of the piano part’s spare and spatially open harmonies. Based on the opening lines of Dante’s “Purgatory,” Kelliher sang in archaic Italian with convincing emotion.
The finale was GoGwilt as soloist in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with Aucoin conducting. He set traditional tempos with an orchestra that provided solid support. GoGwilt was fluent enough technically but a bit flat, which corrected itself midway through the first movement. But at the cadenza, instead of keeping to Beethoven, he and the principal bassist indulged in some disorganized and very impromptu improvising that not only destroyed the beauty of the Beethoven but was entirely inappropriate. It’s one thing to present a companion piece in modern style with a masterwork, such as this violin concerto; it’s another thing to impose the two styles together – an insult to the composer and to the audience. The remaining two movements went off traditionally.
Although the festival ends on Sunday, there are additional concerts on site with Alex Torres & His Latin Orchestra the finale on Sept. 30.