Students are back in class, and the looming Labor Day weekend may mark the unofficial end of summer. However, for classical music aficionados in Northern New Mexico, it’s the beginning of something special: the return of the Music from Angel Fire Festival.
For the 34th year, Music from Angel Fire (MFAF) will spend the waning days of the summer season entertaining audiences across Angel Fire, Taos, Eagle Nest, Ratón and Las Vegas over the course of three weeks. There’s a schedule of almost daily concerts and special events.
In addition to the world-class entertainment, MFAF will also be continuing its traditions of commissioning new works and educating classrooms of enthusiastic youngsters while, for the first time, providing interning opportunities for our local youths.
“From this small village of 1,400 residents, we have maintained a festival over several decades that has had a profound and positive impact upon the entire region,” said recently appointed Executive Director Mary Kay Robinson. “We’ve made music accessible, not elitist.”
For the 2017 season, Ida Kavafian, artistic director of MFAF, invites all to take a trip “Around the World,” this year’s theme. Kavafian said, “Our festival theme this year features concerts that revolve around individual countries of significance in the history of chamber music. The music spans four centuries and will take us from Europe to Russia and to the Americas.” Baroque, Renaissance, classical and contemporary composers will be highlighted.
Performances kick off Friday (Aug. 18) at 5 p.m. with a free performance by The Brass Project at Frontier Park, Angel Fire. According to its website, The Brass Project is a “flexible brass ensemble that was formed by leading players from the Curtis Institute … [giving] innovative and creative performances designed for a diverse demographic.”
In other words, it’s going to be a really fun and festive performance for all ages.
And, at 7 p.m., the festival’s opening concert featuring the music of French composers Joseph Maurice Ravel, Gabriel Faure and Francis Poulenc will be held at the Angel Fire Community Center, located at 71 Valley Road. Performing the masters’ works are the internationally renowned ensembles Opus One and Imani Winds. “A truly stellar opening,” noted Robinson.
On Saturday (Aug.19), The Brass Project will once again give a free performance at 5 p.m., this time at Taos Plaza. It’s a prelude to the 7 p.m. opening concert at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. MFAF’s entire roster of artists, including the Young Artists, will delight audiences with performances of works by English composers Gustav Holst and Edward Elgar. Ensemble Imani Winds will also perform.
Concerts and events continue throughout this week and up until the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, Sept. 3.
Tickets for the above are available at the venue doors, as is the case for all performances during the festival (based upon availability); at the MFAF office, located at 3465 Mountain View Blvd., Suite 1; by phone at (575) 377-3233; or online at musicfromangelfire.org. A full schedule and ticket pricing information can be found on the same website.
This season’s composer-in-residence is violist Kenji Bunch, a Juilliard School graduate whose works have been performed across six continents and have been recorded on 18 different record labels. “He is truly the rock star of violists,” said Robinson, “and we’re thrilled to have him.”
Notably, in 2016, the festival’s composer-in-residence program received recognition from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York City, one of the most esteemed performance venues in the world and which eagerly options the new compositions.
With such a wealth of international talent pouring into the region for MFAF, Robinson appears most energized by the organization’s Young Artists program, which, she said, has a twofold benefit.
“Each year, Ida [Kavafian] selects 14 extremely talented students from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — with which we have an exclusive partnership — to participate in our residency program. During the three weeks of the festival, these students are being mentored by the world’s most accomplished musicians and building life skills and relationships that will help them achieve success as their own careers blossom,” she explained.
But, in addition to their personal growth through mentorship and public performances, the resident students travel throughout the region, visiting schools and offering interactive classroom programs to students throughout Northern New Mexico.
“It’s such an amazing opportunity for our rural students, who don’t have the same access to classical music as big-city kids do,” Robinson continued. In Taos alone, the residents will be visiting Taos Academy, Anansi Charter School, Arroyos del Norte Elementary School, Ranchos Elementary School, Taos Charter School, Taos High School, Taos Integrated School of the Arts, Taos Middle School and Taos Pueblo Day School.
This year’s Young Artists include two string ensembles and a brass sextet. A Young Artist composer-in-residence, Nick DiBerardino, is also in attendance.
Robinson said, “Most people don’t realize these students travel here and remain here completely cost free, thanks to the incredible generosity of our sponsors, our donors and with the support of the MFAF Guild.” Karen Garrett, president of the guild, noted that in addition to dues, the guild’s members volunteer to provide office and performance support, plan events for the musicians and sell merchandise for additional fundraising for the organization.
MFAF is an ambitious nonprofit that naturally relies heavily upon fundraising. Robinson was pleased to announce that two donors have joined together to match up to $25,000 in new donations to the organization. Assisting with that challenge is the featured artist in MFAF’s third annual cover artist competition.
Angel Fire artist Loretta LaMothe submitted the winning piece, appropriately entitled “Summer’s Grand Finale,” and evocatively capturing Angel Fire Ski Mountain against a late-season Moreno Valley. The original piece will travel to the festival’s many venues and is available for purchase. LaMothe will also be hanging many other of her works at the Angel Fire Community Center, with 20 percent of all proceeds being donated directly to MFAF.
“It’s just another example of how this village comes together in support of a festival that puts us on the world’s map of elite musical festivals,” said Robinson.
MFAF will also be holding a fundraising benefit at Old Martina’s Hall on Tuesday (Aug. 22) and beginning at 5:30 p.m. Dinner, silent auction and a performance are included in the ticket price of $110; $45 will get you in for the performance and auction.
Lastly, Robinson wished to draw attention to a collaboration with True Kids 1. “In this partnership, we are offering internships to local students, where they will engage with professionals in videography, radio, social media and backstage work during the festival,” she said. “How amazing is it that a kid from Taos can learn sound from a professional at NPR? True Kids 1 is doing some wonderful things, and we are so proud to be partnering with them in this endeavor.”
Music from Angel Fire has always embraced gratitude for a supportive community, expressing that thanks through free performances, lectures and open rehearsals. However, perhaps we in Northern New Mexico should be grateful to them for their lesson to us all: It takes a village.
For further information, call (575) 377-3233, or visit musicfromangelfire.org.