CAROGA LAKE – The 11th annual Caroga Lake Music Festival had its final classical orchestra concert Friday night to a packed crowd of fans. It was also the debut of composer and conductor Matthew Aucoin, who contributed four of his own works to the program.
For those who have not visited this festival, the site is worth checking out. The location is the former Sherman’s Amusement Park, which opened in 1921 and for the next 50 years hosted big bands, a ballroom, a carousel and a Ferris wheel on the shores of Lake Caroga, which is right inside Adirondack Park. The festival began when a 19-year-old cellist, Kyle Barrett Price, at the Cleveland Institute of Music, played concerts with friends at his grandmother’s house.
The idea of developing an artist-led creative community took shape and in 2012 the Caroga Lake Music Festival was founded.
Since then, it has grown to more than 35 concerts in a five-week period and has expanded to other venues through the Caroga Lake Collective and includes all kinds of music, theater and various symposia. There is also a dream to build a new amphitheater on the site and a year-round artist house on a nearby estate.
Before each concert at Sherman’s, the carousel runs for two hours. It’s a magical ride on the horses and seeing the wonderful animal stained glass around the interior of the ceiling created by Adirondack Glass. The Ferris wheel does not work but is lit at night.
The concert was held indoors, where the audience could watch the sunset through the open doors, a lovely and serene addition to the music that was anything but soothing. The program included duets and solos with the 40-piece orchestra.
Aucoin, 32, is a 2018 MacArthur Grant recipient and artist-in-residence at the Los Angeles Opera. The audience heard his “Dual” for cello/bass; “This Earth” for countertenor and piano; “Shaker Dance” for violin/cello and orchestra; and “Family Dinner” for two violins and orchestra. His style was evident in all of them: fast, almost frenetic repetitions, motifs of the same notes, some exchanges of long lines between players, percussive rhythms, a lot of unison and pieces that ended abruptly. All the musicians played with great commitment and energy. They include cellists Mitch Lyon and Price, bassist Jonathan Borden, and violinists Keir GoGwilt and Andy Liang.
The most effective piece of this group was “Aquesta Terra”. Countertenor Nicholas Kelliher, who is a master’s candidate at the University of Cincinnati, sang in a wonderfully well-tuned voice to Aucoin’s piano in a vocal line independent of the free and spatially open harmonies of the piano part. Based on the opening lines of Dante’s “Purgatory,” Kelliher sang in archaic Italian with compelling emotion.
The finale was GoGwilt as soloist in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with Aucoin conducting. He set the traditional tempos with an orchestra that gave him solid support. GoGwilt was technically fluid enough, but a little flat, which was corrected halfway through the first movement. But in the cadenza, instead of staying with Beethoven, he and the lead bassist indulged in a disorganized and highly improvised improvisation that not only destroyed the beauty of the Beethoven but was totally inappropriate. It’s one thing to present a modern-style companion piece to a masterpiece, such as this violin concerto; It is another thing to impose the two styles together: an insult to the composer and the audience. The remaining two movements were traditional.
Although the festival ends on Sunday, there are additional concerts at the venue with Alex Torres and his Latin Orchestra on September 30.