CAPE COD TIMES – The Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival returns Aug. 3 after a one-year absence, with nine performances, a new executive director, and an optimistic outlook on returning to live music.
Paul Schwendener has taken over administration of the 42-year festival, replacing the retired Elaine Lipton. Clarinetist Jon Manasse and pianist Jon Nakamatsu return as co-artistic directors, positions they have held since 2006.
Forced to make plans in early spring, uncertain about what would be allowed to happen in the summer, the festival focused on two traditional venues: the Cotuit Center of the Arts, and Wellfleet’s First Congregational Church. The Aug. 3-13 schedule offers two programs, at 5 and 7:30 p.m., on four nights — two at each location.
A free outdoor concert is also planned for Aug. 12, at the Cape Cod National Seashore Visitor’s Center Amphitheater in Eastham.
This year’s festival features the Escher Quartet and Imani Winds. Manasse and Nakamatsu will also perform, as well as a former artistic director, pianist Brian Zeger.
‘Goal is to return to our beloved venues’
It’s an abbreviated schedule — the festival normally runs four weeks — but Schwendener said he senses a return to normal.
“I get the impression that everybody is understanding of the situation,” he says. “This year, we felt glad to be able to work it out with venues in Cotuit and Wellfleet. We had to schedule back in April. When we were planning, so much was still closed.”
Regarding future festivals, Schwendener says: “The goal is to return to our beloved venues.” In addition to Cotuit and Wellfleet, in past years the festival has regularly performed in Orleans, Chatham, Dennis, Provincetown and on the Islands.
“It looks possible to return to a four-week festival next year, as traditional,” he says.
“Each concert has its own ecosystem,” he notes. “The audience has embraced a mix of classics and diverse explorations for 40 years, and embracing that for the next 40 years feels very possible.
“I hope to keep this hidden treasure going,” he says, “and make it a well-known hidden treasure.”
Paul Schwendener takes over administration of the festival
Schwendener comes to the chamber music festival after a long classical music career. Trained at the Eastman School of Music, and at Vienna’s Hochschule für Musik, he worked for Philips Classics and the esteemed Milken Archive of Jewish Music for decades. He was most recently the executive director of the All-Star Orchestra, an Emmy Award–winning ensemble that has performed for years on PBS.
“I collaborated with Jon Manasse in the All-Star Orchestra,” he says. “When this position opened, I had a wonderful feeling.”
His first year with the festival involves some adjustments. This summer’s concerts, for example, will have restricted attendance, though tickets have been selling well.
“We are following (Massachusetts) protocols, and local ordinances,” he says. “Things are constantly changing. We’re limiting Cotuit to 150 per concert — it was 180 before. Wellfleet is currently planned for 175 per concert, half the regular capacity. Both Cotuit and Wellfleet have excellent air-filtration systems. The free concert will have 200 seats — and an excellent view of the Nauset marshes.”
Appropriately, the festival begins with a look back on the lost year. The opening night program, performed by “the Jons,” as the longtime artistic directors have become known, includes music of Brahms, Finzi, Chopin and Weber.
“The first Cotuit concert is unique,” Schwendener says. “The Brahms sonata especially. Brahms retired, but then he returned to composing after he heard a great clarinetist. We’re coming back as well.
“It’s a celebration of the audience, and a personal statement, performed in memory of our past year. A reawakening, and a sense of mourning for what has been lost.”
If you go
What: The Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival
When and where: 5 and 7 p.m. Aug. 3 and 10 at Cotuit Center for the Arts, 4404 Route 28; 5 and 7 p.m. Aug. 6 and 13 at First Congregational Church, 200 Main St., Wellfleet; 5 p.m. Aug. 12, Cape Cod National Seashore Visitor Center Amphitheater, 50 Nauset Road, Eastham
Reservations and information: capecodchambermusic.org or 508-247-9400
By Keith Powers