Last fall, as the economy continued its downward spiral and arts organizations laid off staff, Tatiana Berman started to map out plans for a new arts festival in Cincinnati, and this week — defying the odds — the Constella Festival of Music and Fine Arts debuts, aligning an impressive array of artists with the city’s major performing ensembles and arts venues.
“Constella is Italian for constellation,” Berman says, “Collaborative artistic energy and ideas, coming together to form a complete festival constellation.”
Berman hopes Constella will become comparable to festivals in Santa Fe, N.M., Aspen, Colo., and Charleston, S.C., but her vision goes beyond a chamber music festival. Her goal is to showcase Cincinnati’s musical and artistic life and to foster collaborations between top performing artists and major arts institutions. It’s a huge risk and an even bigger opportunity for Cincinnati. There’s nothing comparable in the Midwest.
Between Constella, the Chamber Music Cincinnati, the CSO’s Chamber players and the Chamber Orchestra, the next three weekends are packed with unique combinations of music, dance, visual arts and more music.
Berman could pass for a waif, but don’t let the wide eyes fool you. Working with Tyler Roe and Kameron Schlachter, she received a grant from ArtsWave and support from individuals to underwrite major performers and commissions. Festival manager LeAnne Anklan is the only paid staff member. Local design firm LPK contributed graphic design, and Cloudred created the website. “Artistically, it all came together exactly as planned and more,” Berman says.
She calls the stellar lineup “friends, colleagues whom I’ve known for a while and who I admire.” An accomplished violinist herself, Berman trained in her hometown of St. Petersburg, Russia, and went on to study at the Yehudi Menuhin School and the Royal Academy of Music in London. Her contacts with the music world expanded when she married former CSO maestro Paavo Jarvi in 2004. Although the couple divorced in 2010, Jarvi serves as one of Constella’s artistic advisors.
Acclaimed violinist Hilary Hahn welcomes the addition of a new chamber festival.
“Cincinnati already has so much to offer, and a festival is always greater than the sum of its parts,” Hahn says.
The parts include chamber performances offered by the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, the Linton Music Series, the Vocal Arts Ensemble and the Cincinnati Ballet, along with art exhibitions at the Weston Art Gallery and at Memorial Hall.
Hahn kicks off Constella with Bach and Beethoven violin sonatas, accompanied by Valentina Lisitsa. The program includes premieres from her commissioned series “In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores.” Taking inspiration from Hahn’s commissions, artists Sandra Gross and Lisa Merida-Paytes have created new work that will be exhibited at a reception following the concert.
New York Philharmonic principal oboist and former CSO principal Liang Wang returns Friday for a “candlelit” chamber concert at the Aronoff’s Fifth Third Bank Theater, performing with area musicians including Berman, flutist Jasmine Choi, violist Yael Senamaud-Cohen and CSO principal oboist Dwight Parry.
On Saturday, members of the Cincinnati Ballet perform works choreographed by local artists, including Heather Britt, who is collaborating with Jimmy Cunningham and Stephen Jacobsen to re-create a forgotten ballet with music by Prokofiev, performed by the innovative concert:nova. The original choreographers argued about the story line, “so we decided to tell our own version of the story, using the creative tension within our story line,” Britt says.
Sunday’s action moves to the best new venue in town, SCPA’s Corbett Theater, for a recital by piano virtuoso Alexander Toradze and Nikita Abromisov, winner of the 2011 World Piano Competition. Artists from 5th Street Gallery will exhibit recent work at a reception following the concert.
Local chamber organizations take over the following week, with Chamber Music Cincinnati presenting the acclaimed St. Laurence String Quartet at CCM’s Werner Hall; the CSO’s Chamber Players at SCPA’s intimate Mayerson Theater; the superb Vocal Arts Ensemble in a program of works by American composers Samuel Barber and Gian Carlo Menotti; and, Oct. 16, Linton Music Series offers an afternoon of piano quartets featuring legendary pianist Menahem Pressler. Classical Revolution at Northside Tavern caps the weekend.
As October winds down, the early music ensemble Catacoustic Consort performs Baroque arias sung by countertenor Michael Maniaci, a CCM alum who performs in major venues throughout the world.
On Oct. 29, Jazz saxophonist and composer Ted Nash takes over the Blue Wisp to premiere a commissioned piece “Suite Ivette,” featuring string quartet, piano, bass, sax, drums and vibraphone and performed by local musicians, along with selections from his Rhymes and Reasons album.
“I not only cross aspects of Classical and Jazz music, but South American as well,” Nash says. “A tango and habanera are mixed in and I even have the musicians playing percussion during the third movement.”
Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra winds up the weekend back at SCPA with music of Mozart and Charles Ives, featuring Canadian violinist Phillipe Quint.
The festival closes Nov. 8 on the ultimate high note with superstar violinist Joshua Bell. With over 36 recordings and mild notoriety for busking in the Washington, D.C., Metro for oblivious commuters, Bell has a soft spot for Cincinnati, “one of the first places to bring me in as a soloist.”
Like most of the featured performers, Bell is an old friend who played chamber music with Berman.
“I envy her taking this on,” Bell says, momentarily forgetting that he’s the recently appointed music director of The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. “Any city that wants to have a lively arts scene needs a chamber music presence. It’s the epitome of music making.”
THE CONSTELLA FESTIVAL runs Thursday through Nov. 8. For a complete schedule and ticketing options, visit www.constellafestival.org .