Classical Music Festival Adapts to Changes
With the changing times, many organizations and musicians have cancelled events. The pandemic prevents these large gatherings and makes people rethink these receptions. Rather than postponing to next year, the annual Chamber Music by the Sea Festival will feature talented musicians virtually through video conference. Elena Urioste started these series of concerts in Worcester County in hopes of showing classical music in a new light. The festival has expanded across Berlin, Assateague, Snow Hill, and now will extend to the computers of the audience members that listen.
Sponsored by the Worcester County Education Foundation and supported by the Worcester County Arts Council, the festival will feature world-renowned musicians from August 18th-22nd, 2020 on Zoom. Bringing passion of music through performance and yoga, Elena discusses the exciting new additions and adaptations of the 2020 festival. For the official announcement, click here.
Synopsis of the Festival
Elena: As a concert violinist with a serious case of wanderlust, I had always dreamed of starting a chamber music festival. I wanted to assemble some friends in an exotic, beachy location, make music together, and share it with the community. A few years ago, a cellist friend said to me, “But your parents live in such a beautiful place — why not just do something there?” Berlin, where my parents have lived part-time since 2006 and now reside full-time, has always had such a vibrant visual arts scene. I suspected that it might respond as enthusiastically to classical music. The concerts bring top-notch chamber music (classical music on a more intimate scale — literally “music to be played in one’s chambers”) directly to the people of Berlin and Snow Hill. Places that are such bustling centers for so much inspiring activity and interaction.
The mission of Chamber Music by the Sea has always been to bring world-class chamber music to Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It is offered by musicians who are engaging, kind, and generous in spirit. There are so many stigmas surrounding classical music — that it’s boring, stuffy, or laden with rules and constraints. I hope to blast those stereotypes into oblivion. Then, I urge to do this by bringing musicians together who aren’t afraid to communicate with our audiences on multiple levels. We hope for all manner of people to attend our events from avid classical music-lovers to first-time concert-goers. We always hope to see children of all ages and experiences. Overall, we hope for there to be real interaction between the performers and listeners.
This Year’s Adaptations
This year’s Chamber Music by the Sea, adapted to respect COVID-19 safety measures, will take place from August 18th-22nd, 2020 over multiple online platforms. This summer will mark the festival’s 5th anniversary. We are hoping that we can turn the lemons of having to switch to a virtual format into celebratory, geographically far-reaching lemonade! From August 18-22, we will be streaming three evening concerts over Zoom, filmed at a stunning private South Point home and the gorgeous, acoustically excellent All Hallows Episcopal Church in Snow Hill, as well as a free, live-streamed family concert on Facebook and YouTube. Hopefully, we’ll be able to make some smaller pop-up appearances throughout the community during those dates as well. Keep your eyes peeled!
How has the pandemic affected the festival?
Elena: Because the performing arts rely on large groups of people assembling to take in an experience, so many art-related organizations have suffered immeasurably from the pandemic. When the Chamber Music by the Sea team realized that it simply wouldn’t be safe to cram up to 250 people into one room to listen to live music, we found a creative solution. Festivals around the world have been cancelling their events altogether due to challenges posed by the COVID pandemic. However, it was important to me that Chamber Music by the Sea remains committed to inspiring the community, enriching lives. In conclusion, we work to bring people together through the universal language of music. Extraordinary times call for creative approaches. Chamber Music by the Sea has been and will remain more than up to the task!
With the virtual platform, what changes will be made? What will stay the same?
Elena: With the safety of our musicians, generous hosts, and other community members as our first priority, we have shortened this year’s festival to include three evening concert events and one family concert. All will be streamed from spacious indoor venues with no live audience. Although it certainly feels strange “performing” to a microphone or camera rather than a group of living, breathing human beings, we love the idea of being able to explore this new medium with a community that has been so trusting and supportive of us over the years.
How successful do you believe the virtual festival will be?
Elena: My hope is that without logistical challenges like travel and scheduling, audience members from all over the world tune in, enjoy top-notch chamber music from the comfort of their own homes. Perhaps, the concerts will inspire some to visit Maryland’s Eastern Shore to take in a future Chamber Music by the Sea festival in-person!
Who is a part of the lineup this year and how will they contribute?
Elena: I am unbelievably excited about this year’s crop of musicians, which includes several returning festival favorites: violist Milena Pajaro-Van de Stadt, cellist Brook Speltz, and pianist Tom Poster. New to the festival this year are violinist Grace Park and double bassist Xavier Foley. This extraordinary group of artists includes recipients of the Avery Fisher Career Grant, Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Award, Sphinx Medal of Excellence, and BBC New Generation Artists.
What is the theme for this year, and how are you trying to convey this?
Elena: There’s no theme, but we wanted this summer’s program to offer as diverse a musical menu as possible. We’ll have beloved classics from composers like Schubert and Dvorak. We will also perform largely overlooked works like Fanny Mendelssohn’s exhilarating Piano Trio. We are excited to showcase newer compositions from Berlin’s own Lila Wildy Quillin and festival double bassist Xavier Foley. Lastly, we will present a personal favorite piece of mine, George Walker’s gorgeous ‘Lyric for Strings’.
What does this festival benefit?
Elena: Under the sponsorship of the Worcester County Education Foundation, Chamber Music by the Sea proudly supports year-round arts initiatives in Worcester County Public Schools. The festival ticket sales help support this effort. Thanks to a generous grant from the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation, the upcoming academic year will also include an exciting new initiative, Virtual Visiting Artists. This will enable acclaimed musicians to interact directly with students in live virtual sessions.
How does Chamber Music by the Sea show the amazing community in this area?
Elena: My hope is that the festival and events have proven that chamber music can be for everyone. Throughout the year, we also do intimate house concerts, outreach programs in schools, etc. Audience members state that the one thing they’ve missed by moving to the Eastern Shore was the regular concert experience. Chamber Music by the Sea has become one of the highlights of their year. Some people either bring a friend or come on a whim. Now, they look forward to the festival throughout the year. Children are the most telling of all — they almost always respond to music enthusiastically.
Chamber Music by the Sea has also formed some amazing artistic connections over the years: the incredible artist Patrick Henry has been inspired to sketch and paint Chamber Music by the Sea musicians in performance (you can see these works at www.chambermusicbythesea.com/musicians), and also on the theme of visual arts, some of the festival musicians have paid visits to Buckingham Elementary School, performing while the children drew pictures to illustrate how the music made them feel.
What have been some obstacles with the festival, and how are you overcoming them?
Elena: There are just so many unanswered questions: what will a chamber music festival feel like in a virtual format. Can we pull this off? Will the Wi-Fi behave!? However, we are keeping a collectively open mind and feel immensely excited about this undertaking. We are hopeful that our music will have a broader reach than ever.
What are you hoping to see for the 2021 festival? Any expectations for the 2020 concerts?
Elena: So many classical music organizations complain of dwindling audiences. We feel that this pandemic has actually been the perfect opportunity to reimagine the concert experience. Festivals like ours are finding new ways of connecting with listeners. Our greatest wish would be to see some new faces in 2021. Hopefully, we see those of people who will have joined us online for our August 2020 festival!
What should people expect with the concerts this year, and what are you excited about?
Elena: I think people should expect concerts that are exhilarating and engaging as ever, but with (hopefully) comfier seats! I love the idea of being able to listen to world-class chamber music with the same immediacy as an in-person event but without any travel or time restrictions. Also, I am excited to communicate and raise a glass in real time with audience members not only from the Eastern Shore but hopefully also from around the world. I want to be able to show off our gorgeous corner of the country!
Where can people purchase a ticket, find more information, and donate?
Elena: All information about the festival can be found at www.chambermusicbythesea.com. Those interested can also follow us on Instagram (@chambermusicbythesea) and Facebook (Chamber Music by the Sea). If someone would like to get involved more personally, one can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets can also be purchased at www.wced.foundation.
Elena: One of my favorite elements of Chamber Music by the Sea is its symbiotic nature. The musicians love to enjoy not only the music-making but the beach, the charming towns, the warmth of the people, and the local food. The audiences adore the inspiring yet down-to-earth characters that come to play. It’s always a treat to watch my musician friends and the people I’ve met here in Maryland over the past decade and a half. Everyone meets, mingles, and forges new friendships. Chamber Music by the Sea, right from the coziness of your own home, is the place to be August 18th-22nd. We can’t wait to “see” you there!