North Shore Chamber Fest lines up a varied feast for its seventh season

Mon Jun 05, 2017 at 4:26 pm

By Hannah Edgar

Vadim Gluzman and Angela Yoffe will open the seventh season of their North Shore Chamber Music Festival Wednesday night in Northbrook. Photo: Marco Borggreve

Vadim Gluzman and Angela Yoffe will open the seventh season of their North Shore Chamber Music Festival Wednesday night in Northbrook. Photo: Marco Borggreve

Violinist Vadim Gluzman and pianist Angela Yoffe were driving around Chicago’s North Shore in 2010 on a mission: find a venue for a brand-new music festival, featuring performances by themselves and musician friends.

Their search brought them to the Village Presbyterian Church in Northbrook. While marveling at the acoustics, to her surprise, Yoffe spotted Donald Chen, a colleague at Roosevelt University who happened to be the church’s musical director.

“I saw him and I asked him, ‘What are you doing here?,’ and he asked me, ‘What, Angela, are you doing here?,’” Yoffe recalled with a laugh.

After the two explained their plans for the festival, Chen’s reply was immediate: “You’ve got it.”

It was an auspicious beginning, and affirmation of what Gluzman and Yoffe hoped for from their nascent festival. “The theme was always friendship, from the very beginning,” Yoffe said.

Now in its seventh season, the North Shore Chamber Music Festival is more than a reality: it’s on its way to becoming a local institution. Performers and friends of the husband-wife team—who have previously included the likes of the Pacifica Quartet and Anne Akiko Meyers—gladly travel to Northbrook to perform in the 400-seat suburban venue. The festival’s first season sold out, and the festival continues to fill seats, its wide-reaching programming drawn from a “combination of curiosity, chance, and daring,” according to Gluzman.

For Gluzman and Yoffe, the fact that the three-day festival is set in their hometown of 15 years is just an additional perk.

“I enjoy the opportunity to not only sleep in my own bed after I perform—which I don’t get to do very often—but I love to perform for people whom I meet in grocers or at the local mall,” Gluzman said. “I think it’s a wonderful way to connect with the community.”

Though its name may connote a regional element, as the festival has grown, recognition has expanded well beyond the northern suburbs. Yoffe estimates that 60 to 70 percent of the festival’s audience comes from downtown.

A few of this year’s artists will be familiar to annual attendees. Ilya Shterenberg, the principal clarinetist of the San Antonio Symphony, returns this year to play the Brahms Clarinet Quintet, and globe-trotting violist Paul Neubauer will bring his “Gypsy Band” for a post-concert treat after the Brahms-themed second program.

Most notably, pianist and composer Adam Neiman will offer the festival’s first-ever commission, a clarinet trio, as part of the same program. Coincidentally, it was Brahms that indirectly kickstarted Gluzman and Yoffe’s long-standing friendship with Neiman, which began when they were students at Juilliard in 1995.

“We heard [someone] playing the Brahms Intermezzo Op. 118 in a practice room and thought, ‘This is gorgeous playing,’” Gluzman recalls. “So we peeked into the room and saw this young guy.

“It’s funny that twenty years later, he’s coming back to play Brahms.”

However, this year also brings new faces to the festival. The celebrated Escher Quartet, season artists at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, open the first concert with Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 1, Op. 18. They share the program with Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du soldat, performed by what Gluzman calls an “all-star” lineup: CSO principal players, members of Canadian Brass, and Gluzman perform under conductor Daniel Danzmayr, with Chicago Fire’s Ray Frewen and arts administrator extraordinaire Henry Fogel (who also serves on the festival’s advisory committee) serving as actor and narrator, respectively.

Danzmayr returns to lead Saturday’s mostly Mozart finale, which will feature, for the first time at the North Shore Chamber Music Festival, an orchestra: his ProMusica Chamber Orchestra, a Columbus-based ensemble with which Gluzman enjoys a long-standing rapport.

True to the festival’s predilection for uniting the familiar and unfamiliar, however, the program also features a curveball: Czech composer Vilém Tauský’s Coventry: A Meditation for Strings.

“I had never heard of [Tauský] or this piece until David brought it to one of his programs in Columbus, and it’s an absolutely incredible work,” Gluzman said.

It’s also festival tradition to spotlight young talent. The Rondo for Violin and Orchestra in C Major, K.373 will feature the winner of the annual Arkady Fomin Scholarship Fund, named after Gluzman’s late teacher: 17-year-old Joshua Brown, who is also the recipient of the Haag/Galvin Young Artist Award. The young violinist has already performed with the ProMusica and Cleveland Orchestras, was featured on NPR’s From the Top, and is the youngest-ever member of the Stradivarius Society.

Though Yoffe and Gluzman pride themselves on their blockbuster line-up, they’ve shied away from projecting blockbuster ambitions on the festival.

“We arrived in this country in ’93 in Texas, so we learned English in Texas. There, there’s a very typical saying: ‘Don’t fix something that ain’t broken,’” Gluzman joked. “We’ll never say never, but I think for now we’ve found the right balance. While I don’t see the festival growing in size, per se, I do hope it grows stronger.”

Yoffe agreed that nothing is worth compromising the intimacy of the festival.

“When I was sending subscriptions for the concerts, someone started calling a week before I sent out the brochures saying, ‘Angela, where is it? I’m waiting for the festival. Can you tell me the dates? I need to decide when we’re going on vacation and I want to block off that week.’ That is what makes my heart melt.”

The North Shore Chamber Music Festival offers performances June 7, 9, and 10 at the Village Presbyterian Church in Northbrook.  For a full list of performances and events, see nscmf.org.

Also Vadim Gluzman opens the Grant Park Music Festival with Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto 6:30 p.m. June 14, at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. 

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