Music for Montauk Hits the Mark
On a perfect, warm summer late afternoon, in a pastoral outdoor setting overlooking Fort Pond, Music for Montauk’s program “Inspired by Shakespeare” delighted concertgoers. The program on Aug. 17 was the second of five events in a summer series that took place over seven days, and it was the first concert to be held at the newly renovated Fort Pond House in Montauk.
The theme of the evening was especially appropriate since the Hamptons Shakespeare Festival used the same location prior to the closing of the Fort Pond House in 2010, when town officials deemed it unsafe.
The music had a wide range, from composers who lived at the time of Shakespeare (John Dowland and Claudio Monteverdi) and the slightly later Henry Purcell, to the 20th century with Marcel Tournier and Benjamin Britten, and two living composers, the singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright and Jessica Meyer.
The performers were Kristi Shade on harp, Jessica Fishenfeld and Lilah Gosman, sopranos, Philip Stoddard, baritone, Annaliesa Place and Adda Kridler on violin, Ms. Meyer on viola, Diego Garcia on cello, and Milos Repicky on piano.
As varied as the selections were, they all had a charmingly nuanced and understated quality that drew the listeners in. There were crisp and vigorous rhythms, romantic and sensual texts, ornate vocal passages, and superb, refined instrumental timbres. All of the performers had technique to spare, but there was never a show of virtuosity beyond what was demanded by the art of the music or the moment.
Mr. Stoddard was exceptional in his musicality and presence. His voice was very well modulated throughout its range, with clear, liquid tones and fine diction. Heengaged the audience with facial and eye expressions and gestures. He is the first student in the history of the Juilliard School to be accepted in two divisions, as he earned a bachelor’s degree in vocal arts and is now pursuing a master’s in acting.
An extended harp solo by Ms. Shade was enchanting and showed the scope of the instrument’s pitch, expression, and colors, replete with the characteristic glissandos.
Two numbers from Mr. Wainwright’s album “Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets,” released this spring, were a refreshing touch with their recast arrangements.
The two closing pieces, which were written by Ms. Meyer for this concert, featured Mr. Stoddard narrating Shakespeare texts while Ms. Meyer played the viola with a loop pedal. A loop pedal is a device that records short passages and plays them back, in increasing layers, giving the effect of starting as a solo instrument, then a duet, then a trio, until there is a full ensemble playing. The pieces were colorful, and the contemporary twists of music with Shakespeare’s words showed their timelessness. The program ended with one of the Bard’s traits: some fun, sophisticated bawdiness.
All of this musicality was amplified by the bucolic waterside setting. While the instrumentalists were positioned on the lawn, the singers made good use of the willow tree, the porch and steps of the rustic house, and the aisles on the lawn as they staged their entrances and subtle acting with some of the songs.
And, speaking of amplification in quite another sense, one unfortunate circumstance was that music from the Surf Lodge, clear across on the opposite side of the sizable pond, was quite audible during the concert, was occasionally distracting, and several times covered up an ethereal moment. Though it was obviously beyond the control of the event planners, Mr. Repicky, the artistic co-director of Music for Montauk, gracefully mentioned the situation, to the relief and chuckles of the audience: “I love the fact that we have two concerts happening — Charles Ives would have loved it. The point is that it’s not too formal.”
And the informal setting was a good feature. A fair number of the 60 or 70 people who turned out (a fine attendance for a Wednesday afternoon) were at picnic tables or on blankets on the lawn. It was advertised as a family-friendly event, and families were in evidence, and people had also been invited to take a picnic. In additon, the event was free as most of Music for Montauk’s events are.
Music for Montauk was relaunched under the direction of Ms. Gosman and Mr. Repicky in the spring of 2015 after a brief hiatus. Its vision statement says, “A fresh and dynamic approach to classical music for everyone.” They hit the mark with this one. Watch for more next spring and summer.
Meanwhile, Music for Montauk will present the American String Quartet on Oct. 1 at 5 p.m. at the Montauk School, featuring a world premiere of a new work by Robert Sirota. More information is at musicformontauk.org.