Classical, done modern: Mostly Modern Festival to kick off in Saratoga

Three singers pose

The Neave Trio 

New music lovers won’t want to miss this year’s Mostly Modern Festival at Skidmore College’s Zankel Music Center. Starting today with a kickoff concert at Caffe Lena, the festival runs for almost three weeks.

“It’s now one of the largest festivals focused on contemporary music worldwide,” said founder and composer Robert Paterson, who runs the festival with his wife Victoria, who handles the day-to-day operations. “It’s a special festival. Every day there is a world premiere. It’s so exciting. Each summer we have more than 30 composers and they’re all here. Hundreds apply but only 30 are taken, and they’re between 18 and in their 60s, and many are from Asia and Australia. Most you’ve never heard of, but all have turned out excellent.”

Paterson said the idea for a festival actually came from one of his record producers.

“He suggested I start a festival,” Paterson said. “My goal was to have everyone hang out together.”

Saratoga Springs was immediately considered. As a Buffalo native, graduate of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester and a former guest at Yaddo — the artist colony outside Saratoga Springs — Paterson said he loved the town’s vibe, the restaurants and all the parks, as well as Skidmore’s wonderful Zankel Music Center.

“It was ideal,” he said.

It took two or three years to coordinate, but in 2018 a two-week festival began and quickly expanded to three weeks the following year. Two years were skipped because of the pandemic. This is the festival’s fourth year, and it will hosting more than 100 young professionals — many still in conservatories — who make up the large chamber-size orchestras. This also includes several conducting students and vocalists who will present world premieres of mini-operas for the festival’s first Modern Vocal Project. Paterson said many are international visitors coming from New Zealand, Australia, England, Mexico and Canada. Most stay on Skidmore’s campus.

The internationally known pros include the Neave Trio (a piano trio) and the Atlantic Brass Quintet (Boston University and the Tanglewood Institute); and three professional conductors — Aram Demirjian of the Knoxville (Tennessee) Symphony Orchestra, David Amado of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra and JoAnn Falletta, longtime music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic.

“I’d conducted Rob’s ‘Dark Mountain’ and fell in love with it. He also was telling me about his festival,” Falletta said. “I was curious.”

That was in 2018. Last year, Falletta came to the festival to conduct one of the final concerts.

“I enjoyed it so much. I’d never been to the hall, loved the orchestra, the whole event,” she said. “It was a beautifully curated festival. There was a good spirit of the musicians and playing American music.”

While every concert has at least one world premiere and some have as many as 10, the works of other composers such as Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland and Kurt Weill are still in the mix. That gives listeners a perspective that even affects those who play the music. Musicians who play music by living composers rather than focusing on the classics of Mozart and Beethoven have a special affinity for it.

“They’re passionate about it,” Paterson said.

For Falletta, mixing the older American music with the current was especially attractive.

“Rob let me choose my program,” she said. “The whole program is related to nature.”

She’ll start with Copland’s suite from his opera “Tender Land” (1954).

“It’s such a classic about farms, the promise of living; life is beautiful — helping others, you help yourself. Copland was very much like that,” she said.

Walter Piston’s orchestral suite from his ballet “The Incredible Flutist” (1939) is another classic about a magical flutist who comes to town with a circus and whose playing heals the town. Falletta wanted to perform a work by a woman and chose Elinor Remick Warren’s “Crystal Lake” (1946), which she said was “a fantastic nature study.”

Paterson’s own Triple Concerto with the Neave Trio will be world premiered.

“I’m still waiting for the score,” Falletta said laughing. “But it’s very exciting. He’s a neo-Romantic, very lyrical, communicative and has a warm approach. It will be seven short movements evocative of nature. You’ll hear a sunrise, an overcast sky. It’s very visual. I can’t wait to do it.”

While Paterson will have several of his works premiered this season, he’s looking to the future.

“We don’t want to be a giant festival,” he said. “We hope to have no more than 200, including faculty. But I am looking to do satellite festivals and had one in the Netherlands in April. But the epicenter will be Saratoga Springs. I guess I’m becoming an international organizer.”

An all-season pass for $175 includes all concerts, entry to backstage, meet-and-greets and dress rehearsals.

Mostly Modern Festival

KICKOFF 7 p.m. Thursday, Caffe Lena; $22.50

WHEN: June 9, 10, 15, 16, 17, 21, 22, 23 at 7:30 p.m.; June 11, 18 at 3 p.m.

WHERE: Zankel Music Center, Skidmore College

HOW MUCH: $12-$20


Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts, Saratoga Springs

Leave a Reply