As the artistic director for the Saratoga Chamber Music Festival, which opens Tuesday, Chantal Juillet never lets an opportunity go by to find the artists she invites. Even if she finds them in unlikely places.
Last October, Juillet visited London and attended a concert of the London Philharmonia that Charles Dutoit was conducting. She wanted to go backstage at intermission but security was too tight — so she went for a walk outside.
“Suddenly, a fire scare occurred and I found the whole orchestra outside with the orchestra manager and I was able to talk to Nicolai Lugansky.”
Local audiences may remember Lugansky’s fantastic piano playing with the Russian National Orchestra last March at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.
Saratoga Chamber Music Festival
WHERE: Spa Little Theatre, Saratoga Spa State Park, routes 9 and 50, Saratoga Springs
WHEN: Aug. 5, 10, 11, 12, 18, 19, 24
HOW MUCH: $41.50, $36.50
MORE INFO: 584-3330 or visit www.spac.org
Juillet always works with Dutoit on what artists to bring to the summer festival. Because the pianist had never been to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, when Juillet finally found Dutoit, she suggested to him that Lugansky would be a good choice. Dutoit agreed. And Lugansky, who is violinist Vadim Repin’s regular accompanist, suggested they also ask Repin, who has been to SPAC before.
The result: Lugansky plays with the Philadelphia Orchestra on Aug. 20, Repin plays on Aug. 21; and both play at the chamber festival on Aug. 19 in a program of Bartok, Beethoven (“Kreutzer”) and Debussy.
On another trip, this time to Italy, where Juillet was visiting friends, she was backstage before a concert and heard some fabulous piano playing coming from one of the practice rooms. It was Yuja Wang.
Saratoga Chamber Music Festival performances are in the Spa Little Theatre at the Saratoga Spa State Park.
Aug. 5, 8 p.m. — Mozart, Barber, Franck. Pianist Andre Watts
Aug. 10, 2:15 p.m. — Stravinsky, Schubert. Pianist Emanuel Ax, members of the Hudson Shad and the Philadelphia Orchestra, conductor Charles Dutoit
Aug. 11, 8 p.m. — Schumann, Shostakovich. Capucon brothers, pianist Martha Argerich
Aug. 12, 8 p.m. — Mozart, Messiaen. Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet
Aug. 18, 8 p.m. — Dohnanyi, Liszt, Brahms. Pianist Yuja Wang
Aug. 19, 8 p.m. — Bartok, Debussy, Beethoven. Pianist Nicolai Lugansky, violinist Vadim Repin
Aug. 24, 2:15 p.m. — Time for Three
“I was blown away,” Juillet said. “I’d heard of her through Gary Graffman. She was his student, and he raved about her and she’d replaced Martha Argerich in Boston. She was learning the Liszt sonata.”
Wang, too, had never been to SPAC. The result: Wang will play the Liszt and a Brahms Horn Trio that she loves on Aug. 18 at the chamber festival in a program that also includes the Dohnanyi String Trio. She will play Aug. 22 with the orchestra in Prokofiev’s first piano concerto.
Not all the artists are new this season to the chamber festival. Some old favorites are returning, including pianists Andre Watts on Tuesday, Emanuel Ax on Aug. 10, Jean-Yves Thibaudet on Aug. 12 and Time for Three, the bluegrass/jazz/pop/country trio who made such a splash last season that Juillet asked them back for Aug. 24.
“I suggested some works but Andre and Manny are so busy, they can’t learn something new. So it’s a discussion,” Juillet said. “We tried to find something that’s not been played recently or would work with other pieces.”
On Tuesday, the program is Mozart piano and wind quintets, Barber’s “Summer Music” for wind quintet, and the Franck Piano Quintet. On Aug. 10, besides Igor Stravinsky’s “The Fox” and his Octet for winds, Ax will play Schubert’s Piano Sonata No. 5 and Two Impromptus. On Aug. 12, there will be a Mozart String Quintet in G minor and Thibaudet will play in Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time.”
The Capucon brothers of violinist Renaud and cellist Gautier, who have become great audience favorites since their debut a couple of seasons ago, will return for an evening with pianist Martha Argerich on Aug. 11 in a program of Schumann and Shostakovich.
Among the usual duets and quintets, however, will be a performance of Stravinsky’s less often heard burlesque opera-ballet, “The Fox,” on Aug. 10. The work, which is only about 15 minutes long and written in 1916, calls for an ensemble of 15 players and four male singers, who in this case will be from the group Hudson Shad, an a cappella ensemble inspired by the pre-World War II Comedian Harmonists of Germany.
“The Stravinsky is too small for an orchestra and it’s too big for chamber music and I’m always reluctant to put on anything with voice,” Juillet said. “But Dutoit has been talking about this for 18 years. It’s a big stretch but it’s unusual.”
It was also helpful that those members of the Philadelphia Orchestra who will be involved were intrigued by the opera.
“The orchestra is always up for something new,” she said. “They thought it quite fun.”
The moralistic tale involves a cat, a ram, a rooster and a fox and is based on Russian folk stories. Stravinsky wrote the libretto in French but this production will be sung in English. There will be no costumes or dancing.
This past season has also been a different one for Juillet. For the first time in many years, she took a six-month sabbatical just to take it easy, she said.
It also helped that the Chinese Academy, which usually takes up almost two months of Juillet’s summertime, was canceled. In its place, she did festivals in Japan and Switzerland, both with Dutoit. She also played a few concerts in Italy and France.
Although the 2008 SCMF season, Juillet’s 18th, was to be the last one under her contract with SPAC, she recently heard that executive director Marcia White is expected to renew her contract.
“It would be difficult to replace this festival for me, although there is always a possibility to take over another festival,” Juillet said.
“But my heart is with this festival because I started it. I have a great time doing it and it’s so easy now administratively — it’s very straightforward to plan and to communicate.”
To celebrate either way, Juillet decided to invite as many friends to play this season as possible.
“It will be like a family gathering,” she said.