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Live Music for a Silent Classic

Mon, 08/07/2023 - 17:17
A scene from last year's Hamptons Festival of Music, with a concert led by Michael Palmer as conductor.
Barry Gordin

After an inaugural pilot season last year, the Hamptons Festival of Music will be back this month and next with a variety of programs, led by the renowned conductor Michael Palmer and the associate conductor Logan Souther. The five orchestral events include some of the great classical masterworks by Piazzolla, Wagner, Mendelssohn, Copland, Beethoven, and others, to be performed in distinctive locations.

First up, however, is an outdoor family-friendly event featuring a 1918 Charlie Chaplin silent movie. The classic film, 'A Dog's Life‚" will be screened under a tent in Herrick Park in East Hampton on Monday night. 

Silent films are typically experienced with a recorded soundtrack or live piano or organ accompaniment, but this one will have an unusual feature: the special treat of live, onstage music, played by the Salon Orchestra, conducted by Mr. Souther. The orchestra is made up of about 12 musicians from the greater New York City area, and the score is by Chaplin himself, as arranged by Timothy Brock. The program will begin with the overture from Rossini's "The Barber of Seville." The 8:30 p.m. starting time is to allow for darkness for better viewing, but with families and children in mind, it will not be a long evening. 

The event, presented in partnership with the Hamptons International Film Festival, is offered free to the community, made possible largely by a donation from an anonymous local family in memory of their mother, who loved to share music with all, especially children.

Mr. Souther is the founding artistic director of the Gainesville (Ga.) Sinfonietta, the assistant conductor of the Sarasota Opera, and the conductor of the Atlanta Music Project, which operates in under-resourced communities to provide music training and performance opportunities for youth.

The Hamptons Festival of Music will continue at 5 p.m. on Aug. 19 with Astor Piazzolla's "Four Seasons of Buenos Aires," at LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton. The tango-inspired work will feature Annie Chalex-Boyle as violin soloist, with Mr. Palmer conducting, again with the Salon Orchestra. The "Spring" movement from Vivaldi's "Four Seasons‚" will also be heard; some of this music is quoted in the Piazzolla work. The setting for this program is LongHouse's glassed-in pavilion, surrounded by nature and art.

Mr. Palmer distinguished himself early on, in 1967, as assistant conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, under the celebrated Robert Shaw. Among his many credits, he later was named music director of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra and the American Sinfonietta. In 1993, he became the founder and artistic director of the Bellingham Festival of Music, a celebrated summer event in the Pacific Northwest, and is now its conductor laureate. This new music festival is his artistic brainchild, and in some ways is modeled after the Bellingham Festival.

Michael Yip, the festival's executive director, speaking along with Mr. Palmer from their house in Springs, said they bought it in 2017 when they were "looking for a place to hang our hat," and found East Hampton to be "the ideal place to not only have a home but to build a community around us to evolve and develop this festival concept. We are building this with our community, together."

The music returns in early September, this time to LTV Studios in Wainscott, with three orchestral concerts in one week. "One of our goals is to present orchestral music in nontraditional spaces," said Mr. Palmer, "especially to be able to bring the audience into a more intimate experience. So many of our orchestra halls are not really so well suited to the music that we play. If you think about the rooms in which Beethoven's symphonies were first heard, and Haydn's and Mozart's, they were nowhere near the size of our modern-day concert halls. So it's quite a wonderful experience for the audience to hear these great works in a more efficacious room." 

In many halls, he said, the orchestra and the audience seem to be in two different rooms. The LTV studio, on the other hand, "lends itself beautifully for our concept, and we were delighted in our first rehearsal there last year to find what a wonderful acoustic it has for orchestral playing."

The concerts will feature the New American Sinfonietta under the baton of the maestro. The sinfonietta is a 41-member orchestra made up of world-class musicians, invited by Mr. Palmer, from orchestras in Montreal, Chicago, New York City, St. Louis, and Atlanta, among others.

On Sept. 3 at 4 p.m., Mendelssohn's Symphony no. 4, known as the Italian Symphony, will be featured, along with music by Haydn and Wagner. The world premiere of "Wayfaring‚" by the composer and guitarist David Leisner, will also be presented, with the internationally acclaimed guitarist Pepe Romero as soloist.

A concert on Sept. 8 highlights Bizet's "Au Jeux d'Enfants‚" a suite of 12 short pieces; Copland's beloved "Appalachian Spring" in its original version, and Mozart's Symphony No. 41, nicknamed "Jupiter" for its energy and large scale.

And then, on Sept. 10 at 4 p.m., Dvorak's "Symphony for Winds" and Beethoven's enduring masterpiece, Symphony No. 3, the Eroica, will mark the finale of the Hamptons Festival of Music's first full season.

Tickets for events other than the silent film program are $150, or $400 for the three September events. More information is available on the website or by calling 631-204-3131.

This article has been modified to correct the day of the film screening. 

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