The Music@Menlo Chamber Music Festival and Institute has announced its summer season, running from July 18 to Aug. 10. This is a world-class festival that regularly attracts outstanding artists, both famous and upcoming. Its regular venues, the Menlo School and the Center for the Performing Arts at Menlo-Atherton High School, are conveniently located for local listeners.
Each Menlo season customarily has a theme. This year’s is “From Bach.” Most of the major programs begin with a short work by Bach and continue with later works that have something in common with it. Ideally, the programs should show how the later composers found their roots or inspiration in Bach.
These concerts strike off in various directions. There’s a program of preludes and fugues on July 27, of French music (beginning with one of Bach’s French Suites) on Aug. 2 and 3, and of concertos on Aug. 9 and 10. These are all for a variety of ensembles. Mozart, Schubert and Mendelssohn on the concertos program, Debussy and Franck, among others, for French music, and a raft of composers from Haydn to Gershwin for preludes and fugues, will also be featured.
Other concerts are focused more on particular performers. A concert of trios for piano and strings on July 31 and Aug. 1, starting with a Bach trio sonata with harpsichord, features Jeffrey Kahane, keyboards, with Joseph Swensen, violin, and Carter Brey, cello. The other works on this program include the delightful Café Music by the contemporary American Paul Schoenfield.
Bach’s renowned sonatas and suites for solo violin and for solo cello, unaccompanied by any keyboard instrument, will also be the focus of concerts. Colin Carr on July 28 and Laurence Lesser on Aug. 4 will each play two of the cello suites along with modern music for solo cello. Soovin Kim offers a similar program for violin on July 21.
A few programs are a little more unusual. How about Bach as the taking-off point for an all-percussion concert? Three percussionists will begin the July 20 program with transcriptions of some Bach works and go on to challenge the listener to find the Bach inspiration in modern percussion works by composers like Toru Takemitsu and Steve Reich.
The most challenging of all is the one all-Bach program, on Aug. 6 and 7, a complete performance of Bach’s last, unfinished work, The Art of the Fugue. This collection of short pieces isn’t designated for particular instruments, so any performance is an arrangement. This concert will feature the Orion String Quartet and a wind quintet including the familiar local name of Nicole Cash, associate principal horn of the San Francisco Symphony.
Many of the performers at these and other concerts, such as Jeffrey Kahane and Laurence Lesser, are old favorites from previous Menlo festivals. Others, including Soovin Kim and Nicole Cash, are new to the festival. Menlo’s artistic directors, David Finckel, recently retired as cellist of the Emerson Quartet, and his wife, pianist Wu Han, will make appearances among the clutch of performers at some of the more populated concerts. They’ve also both been known occasionally to act as substitutes for players unable to attend at the last minute, so keep an eye out for them.
There’s much more to the Menlo Festival than the big concerts, and the best part is, much of it is free. Most of the main programs are preceded by “Prelude Performances,” hour-long concerts by young professionals that are often as good as the paid events that follow. Admission for these may be reserved on the Menlo website starting the morning before the concert. There are also free concerts by the children of the Young Performers Program, ages ranging from 18 down to 5. These are charming and also often astonishingly good. There’s master classes, also free, and a variety of talks and lectures, some paid and some free.
Details and schedule are at www.musicatmenlo.org. Concerts at the intimate Stent Family Hall on the Menlo School campus are likely to sell out soon. Some of those at the CPA may remain available until much close to the concert date. Subscriber priority ticketing is available until Monday, May 6.