Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra’s Summermusik festival is back to liven August’s dog days with a packed schedule of events. After a canceled 2020 season and abbreviated season performed outdoors in 2021, CCO’s music director Eckart Preu shares every artistic director’s eagerness to return to normal.
“I wanted a grand return to our indoor season,” Preu tells CityBeat, speaking from his home in New York. “Some of the pieces scheduled are familiar, arranged for chamber orchestra or completely re-imagined. And we’re also working with exciting new venues for our afternoon series and pub crawls.”
Beyond classic works by Gustav Mahler, Hector Berlioz, Claude Debussy, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Preu has selected music by women, Asian, Latino and Black composers, extending over four weekends. With just one exception, every piece is a CCO premiere.
The season is a sampler of world music ranging from sensuous tango, water percussion and Bossa Nova to a battle of the bands. Each weekend series includes a full orchestral concert at the School for Creative and Performing Arts, a Sunday afternoon concert and evening pub crawls, with many events already sold out.
The sounds of Argentina and Peru open the season on Aug. 6, featuring Grammy Award-winning musician and composer Héctor del Curto who performs Astor Piazzolo’s vibrant concerto for bandoneon, Aconcagua. Tony winner Fernanda Ghi and her partner Silvio Grand take the stage, dancing to three tangos by Piazzola. On Aug. 7, Del Curto, Ghi and Grand join a quintet of CCO musicians at Mount Notre Dame Academy in Park Hills, Kentucky, for tango in a more intimate setting.
Harpist Ina Zdorovetchi headlines a weekend of music on Aug. 13 and 14 that pushes the harp and the orchestra out of the celestial spheres. She performs Arturo Marquez’s Concerto for Harp (Mascaras) and Gyorgy Liegeti’s Concerto Romanesc.
“This is not your average harp concerto,” Preu says. “Mascaras is very difficult and calls for a virtuoso, which Ina is. Audiences are amazed at what the harp and this harpist can do.”
That may not be the only music to amaze audiences. The CCO will perform Berlioz’s classic drug dream Symphonie Fantastique that Preu calls a funky reimagination arranged by French composer Arthur Lavandier on Aug. 13. The show will take place at the School for Creative & Performing Arts’ Corbett Theatre downtown.
“With a smaller orchestra, the sound world opens up and you can hear more of the orchestral textures,” Preu explains. “Lavandier includes a synthesizer, an electric guitar, an amateur wind band joining the orchestra onstage and an alpine horn.”
“The electric guitar solo fits in beautifully, as does the synthesizer. We’re bringing in a [University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music] alum living in Chicago to do the alpine horn solo. It’s complicated but a lot of fun,” he adds.
Harp wizardry continues during “A Little Afternoon Musik” series with selections inspired by works in the CAM’s collection.
The Power of the Muse, performed at the School for Creative & Performing Arts’ Corbett Theatre on Aug. 20, explores music written and inspired by women. “There are such powerful stories associated with the muses we’re featuring, and it’s important to share these stories,” Preu says.
“Lili Boulanger is one of music’s great losses—she died at 24 with so much music in her. Clara Schumann maintained an astounding career as a pianist and her music is finally being heard,” he continues. “Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, too, is recognized as an outstanding performer and composer. And Alma Mahler is probably the most famous of musical muses.”
Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor will be performed by acclaimed pianist Vijay Venkatesh. Soprano Victoria Okafor is the soloist for a chamber arrangement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. Both soloists appear for a performance on Aug. 21 at Pleasant Ridge Presbyterian Church.
Leading up to the Muse weekend is a screening and discussion of the 2000 film Chocolat that features a critically-praised score by Rachel Portman. The lively discussion will take place at Esquire Theatre in Clifton on Aug. 18.
Water is the final weekend’s theme. Strauss’s The Blue Danube and Debussy’s La mer are joined by Chinese American composer Tan Dun’s Water Concerto and percussionist Yuri Yamashita.
Yamashita also happens to sing bossa nova, a style of samba developed in Brazil. She headlines the final pub crawl at the Redmoor on Aug. 26. The popular series ventures to new venues including the Newport Aquarium, New Riff Distilling and Fretboard Brewing Company. As of press time, the Aquarium and New Riff shows are sold out; check for availability.
Preu is confident that CCO’s musicians will be on point for the return to a packed month of performances. Aside from the high level of professionalism, there’s the vibe of a welcome family reunion, he says.
Preu admits that last year’s outdoor experiences lacked the connection he wants for the orchestra, for audiences and for himself
“We’re not all the way back to normal, not yet, but the feeling of togetherness is one of the great special things about this orchestra. I’m really looking forward to that,” Preu says.
CCO’s Summermusik festival takes place from Aug. 6-27 at various locations throughout the Greater Cincinnati area. Complete schedule and ticket information: www.ccocincinnati.org.