by Daniel Hautzinger

Patrick CastilloChamber music is an intimate experience, for musicians and audience alike (you can only fit so many people into a “chamber”). And what’s more intimate than a living room as a practice space? According to ChamberFest Speaker Patrick Castillo, “the primary rehearsal space for ChamberFest Cleveland is Frank Cohen’s living room, which already creates this sense of homey-ness. It’s a very warm experience for all the artists involved and myself, and hopefully for the audience as well.”

ChamberFest, launched in 2012 by Cleveland Orchestra principal clarinet Cohen and his daughter, Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra concertmaster Diana Cohen, is a series of ten chamber music recitals in diverse venues across Cleveland. It begins on June 19 in the Cleveland Institute of Music’s Mixon Hall and continues through June 29 (see our concert listings page or the ChamberFest website for concert details). The Cohens serve as Artistic Directors of ChamberFest.

In his third ChamberFest official Speaker, Castillo presents “preludes” and “postludes” to concerts, in which he draws connections between pieces, discusses composers, and sketches in the basic background of the music. His talks are just another way to deepen the intimacy of ChamberFest. “There’s something communal about classical music,” he said. “The act of creating it and the experience of sharing and exchanging it, is something you can’t replicate at home. Everyone involved in ChamberFest is so eager to share this music that is very dear to us with as many people as possible.”

In engaging ChamberFest audiences, Castillo has to find the middle ground between the informative and the pedantic. “I kind of view this role as serving as a double agent between the listener and the repertoire, trying to bring each side closer to the other on its own terms.” One way of doing this is through the “humanization” of the music. Castillo asks “who is this composer and why did they write this piece? Biography and artistic content don’t always correlate. But we can try to understand what the composer was trying to say or express.”

Such humanization is especially interesting in a program like ChamberFest’s “Love Triangle” concert, which brings together the music of Brahms and Robert and Clara Schumann. “Brahms and the Schumanns had a very complicated relationship. And with each of them, we do have a case where biography directly influences artistic output, to the point where both Robert Schumann and Brahms are spelling Clara’s name with melodies in their music.”

Other ChamberFest concerts have more subtle themes. “Mélange à Trois!” features, amongst other pieces, a Haydn piano trio and a Paul Schoenfield clarinet trio that are separated by two hundred years of history. “What those pieces have to talk about is not obviously articulable, but how I approach a program like that is sharing with the audience ‘here’s why these pieces of music would get along if they were strangers at a bar,’” Castillo explained. “When there is a resonance in the artistic sensibilities, that’s interesting.”

“The Harmony of Numbers” explores another surprising artistic resonance, between the twentieth century Greek composer Iannis Xenakis’s Kottos for solo cello and J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations in an arrangement for string trio. “Pairing those composers is a stroke of genius because they’re both interested in proportion, shape and architecture, so I think those pieces will shed light on each other.”

But the thoughtfulness of ChamberFest’s programming is most evident to Castillo in the final concert, “3X.” “This is a quintessential ‘how do you think about a program’ for me. None of these three pieces, Osvaldo Golijov’s Last Round, Beethoven’s ‘Ghost’ trio, and Tchaikovsky’s ‘Souvenir de Florence’ sextet, are in my top ten desert island pieces, but the whole of the program is greater than the sum of its parts. This is an evening that you can’t replicate by putting a couple of discs in the CD player. It’s really exciting.

Published on ClevelandClassical.com June 16, 2014.

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