Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra's Rivermusik Takes on Bluegrass

As part of its annual Summermusik festival, the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra is bringing together Bluegrass duo The Pedigos and soprano Shareese Johnson for an upcoming concert that will unfold by the riverfront

click to enlarge The Pedigos - Courtesy of Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra
Courtesy of Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra
The Pedigos

The Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra is certainly known for its robust collaboration, especially during its annual Summermusik programming. With the festival in the midst of its fifth season, one concert that quickly turned heads from the get-go was Rivermusik, which adds Bluegrass to the mix.

The performance was curated by CCO assistant concertmaster Sujean Kim. Soprano Shareese Johnson will be featured alongside Brown County Bluegrass duo The Pedigos, who will pluck out harmonies with banjos in hand. The event will be held at downtown’s Theodore M. Berry International Friendship Park. Cincinnati Parks Naturalist Michael George will also be on hand to share related history and anecdotes about how the Ohio River helped shape the Queen City into what it is today.

Kim says Rivermusik was quickly embraced when she first pitched the concept to be a part of Summermusik’s Chamber Crawl series — intimate evenings that spotlight diverse music in unique venues and are curated by CCO musicians. 

“A lot of Classical music groups across the globe are reaching out to audiences, doing crossover (collaborations), multimedia with a visual presentation of some sort, or dance — mixing up what you’re experiencing,” Kim says. “Everyone is really excited about how (Summermusik is) going to be a mix of things. I like variety in my day-to-day, so hopefully this will be a good combination as well.”

After the initial announcement, Rivermusik’s 7:30 p.m. performance quickly sold out. To accommodate interest, they added a second concert at 9:15 p.m. The early sellout and need to schedule an encore presentation proved to be a good sign. 

click to enlarge Sujean Kim - Courtesy of CCO
Courtesy of CCO
Sujean Kim

“In the history of these crawls with this organization, many have sold out over the years, and many have had a second concert added on to accommodate the demand,” Kim says. “So I was told of that possibility. But it happened early on, and the response to all of these crawls has been really positive.”

The concert material will include both Bluegrass and Classical works with water and river-based themes. George, who joined Cincinnati Parks in 1999, makes note of his organization’s mission “to celebrate not only our region’s natural history, but our cultural history as well.”

Our own geographical region, George says, has changed from being just a few outposts on the river “when the hills were wild” to later becoming “the industrial heart” of Cincinnati. The river itself functions historically as our connection to civilization, which he says is still reflected today in the parks that line our riverfront.

Rivermusik is just one part of a noteworthy season; celebrating its 45th anniversary, the CCO will welcome guest soloists from around the world for a number of performances, including guitar legend Pepe Romero and the Silver-Garburg Piano Duo. 

“I’m thrilled that (Rivermusik) happens to be during a milestone season,” Kim says. “I’m glad to be a part of it, and there’s certainly a bang-up lineup.” 

Aside from the more casual chamber crawls, which are held at spots like bars and restaurants — and, in the case of Rivermusik, a park — Summermusik will also deliver four chamber orchestra performances at the School for Creative and Performing Arts and “A Little Afternoon Musik” concerts. 

All in all, according to a CCO press release, the festival — which spans three weeks — will cover 500 years of music history “from the heavenly music of the Renaissance to the wild virtuoso percussion solos of our time.” 

Concerts like Rivermusik have helped the festival earn a reputation of innovation and creativity. 

“I think having new juxtaposition — whether it’s different genres of music being performed and experienced in the same evening and putting that out of context, no longer onstage and in more of an intimate reception area close to the river — all of those new combinations of senses can serve to create a memorable experience, hopefully a good one,” Kim says.

“Maybe everybody takes away something different. They can place the context of music history, with what was going on here in Ohio. I’m hoping for a serendipitous connection for everyone.”

Rivermusik takes place at Theodore M. Berry International Friendship Park Pavilion 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 13. Because the first performance sold out, you can still catch an encore concert at 9:15 p.m. Summermusik 2019 runs through Aug. 24. More info:

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