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Mostly Modern Festival blends entertainment, education

Mostly Modern Festival blends entertainment, education

Opens its three-week schedule of concerts Monday
Mostly Modern Festival blends entertainment, education
Robert Paterson, left, and The Euclid String Quartet.
Photographer: photos provided

Not many composers set out to start a music festival, but Robert Paterson and his violinist wife, Victoria, have done just that. The Mostly Modern Festival, which had its inaugural season last year, will open its three-week schedule of concerts on Monday.

The festival is not just chamber music and orchestral concerts, but also a series of recitals that include vocal, piano and brass quintet. A combined total of 150 faculty and students are involved to include an educational component combined with premiere performances for some of the many composers and instrumentalists. It’s a highly ambitious endeavor — one that reaffirms the couple’s belief that they made the right move.

“I grew up in Buffalo, lived in Rochester, Ithaca, went to the Eastman School of Music and then was living in New York City. I had the lay of the land there,” Paterson said. “I’d been to Yaddo as a composer [2009], attended concerts at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and had done a commission for the Albany Symphony Orchestra’s Dogs of Desire [2013]. We’d been to music festivals like Aspen, but we wanted to do a festival that combined education with entertainment. I’d had the success of running the 25-piece American Modern Ensemble for 16 years and thought with that kind of success, what kind of leap would it be to do a festival?”

On a visit to Saratoga Springs about five years ago, a friend suggested Skidmore College as a possible site. Zankel Music Center had been built, and the college was amenable to his ideas.

“It took two or three years of planning and research before taking the plunge,” Paterson said. “Then it took a year to build. Last year, our first, nothing went wrong.”

He credits not only the college’s fabulous performance spaces, but its housing and food; the beauty of the area; and the liveliness of downtown. Being tech savvy proved essential to handle video and digital applications. But mostly, it was timing.

“[The area] was ripe for a festival,” Paterson said.

The festival’s focus is on the work of living composers, with a few nods to those no longer living, such as Igor Stravinsky, Erich Korngold, Bohuslav Martinu and Claude Debussy. So names such as Joshua Baerwald, Anne Lebaron, Mark Applebaum and Keith Fitch might be unfamiliar.

Paterson’s own work will also be performed along with several world premieres, some chosen from the student participants.

Among the performers are the Atlantic Brass Quintet (resident quintet at Boston University and the Tanglewood Institute); the Euclid String Quartet (resident quartet at Indiana University); the much-awarded Akropolis Reed Quintet of oboe, clarinet, saxophone, bassoon and bass clarinet (celebrating its 10th season); piano virtuosi Chantal Balestri, Nicole Brancato, Lesi Mei, Geoffrey Burleson; tenor Alok Kumar (Metropolitan Opera, Royal Opera House Covent Garden); soprano Rachel Schutz (Ithaca College faculty); baritone Christopher Dylan Herbert (Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center); and conductors Ruth Reinhardt (Dallas Symphony Orchestra), David Amado (Delaware Symphony Orchestra) and Ward Stare (Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra). Paterson’s own American Modern Ensemble will also perform.

All this is pretty exciting, so much so that the Patersons now own a house in Saratoga Springs. Victoria still gets to New York City to work Broadway pit orchestras and handles the festival’s administrative end. Paterson makes all artistic choices.

“We pride ourselves on having a warm, friendly environment here,” he said. “We wanted the participants to mingle with the faculty over dinner or downtown or hanging out. That’s important to us.”

So far, enough money has been raised to award scholarships, and Paterson hopes if all goes well over the next five to 10 years there will be an endowment.

Mostly Modern Festival

All concerts at Zankel Music Center, Skidmore College, at 7:30 p.m. except for two Sundays at 3 p.m.
June 10: 20th C. Vocal Music
June 14: American Modern Ensemble
June 15: Vocal Arias and Art Songs
June 16: American Modern Orchestra, Ruth Reinhardt
June 19: Atlantic Brass Quintet 
June 21: American Modern Ensemble
June 22: Vocal Arias and Art Songs
June 23: American Modern Orchestra, David Amado 
June 24: Piano Virtuosi 
June 25: Euclid String Quartet 
June 26: Chamber Hits with Alok Kumar 
June 27: Akropolis Reed Quintet 
June 28: American Modern Orchestra, David Ware 
HOW MUCH: $20, $10, students; $215, pass
MORE INFO: 518-580-5321;
www.mostlymodernfestival.org

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