Now in its fifth season, Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra’s August Summermusik Festival has silenced doubts about viability with performances hosted in both standard and surprising venues, many of which have sold-out well in advance.
Much of that credit should go to music director Eckart Preu, who uses “joy” as a frequent descriptor and conveys a palpable sense of delight in his work with the CCO, both on and off stage.
This season marks Preu’s third with the CCO; and this year the Summermusik schedule features top-tier musicians, dancers, actors and visual artists who will perform new works along with beloved classics. Preu insists that their formula for success is simple.
“You can grow your audience just by offering high-quality concerts that are interesting and entertaining,” he says, speaking from his home in Spokane, Washington. “(Cincinnati) is open to new things and that’s what I’ve always liked about the cultural landscape.”
Also in the lineup are shorter pieces that “allow for more programming diversity,” Preu says.
CCO’s two previous Summermusik seasons amply demonstrated that their audience is eager for new music experiences as well as hearing more familiar works. This season follows suit.
Other than presenting the intersections of creative and performing arts in innovative ways, there is no overarching theme. The fest kicks off Aug. 3 with “Visions of da Vinci,” which commemorates the 500th anniversary of famed artist Leonardo da Vinci’s death. The featured soloist is Serbian-German percussionist and composer Nebojša Jovan Živković, who will perform the third movement of his second marimba concerto, called “Rondo da Vinci, excerpts from Vivaldi’s Concerto for Flautino in C Major,” arranged by renowned British percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie.
“Nebojša is one of the world’s best,” says Preu, citing his ability to bring a vocalism to percussion instruments.
He’ll also perform the world premiere of a work by Preu’s brother, Hans-Peter, which is based on the alleged “hidden melodies” in da Vinci’s masterpiece, “The Last Supper.” The program includes excerpts from Michael Nyman’s score for the film Prospero’s Books, a concerto grosso by Giuseppi Torelli, and concludes with selections from Handel’s Water Music.
Liquid Video Solutions will project images of da Vinci’s most famous artworks on the theater’s walls to create an immersive visual experience. Although Preu is excited about the multimedia aspects, he’s working with Liquid Video’s artists to ensure that the music isn’t overpowered by the images.
“This isn’t Lumenocity,” Preu says. “The idea is to make it a holistic experience, painting the whole room and not drawing attention to it.”
The following weekend on Aug. 10, Israeli duo-pianists Sivan Silver and Gil Garburg will celebrate works performed by Mozart and Mendelssohn and their equally talented but lesser-known sisters. If Nannerl Mozart composed music, nothing survived of it. Thus, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s music will receive more attention; the CCO will perform her Overture in C Major.
“It was important for me to get her out of the shadows, and this piece was a real discovery for me,” Preu says, adding that Fanny was acknowledged as the superior talent in the family.
Preu describes the Silver-Garburg duo as “one brain with four hands, sharing extraordinary telepathic communication.” They’ll perform an early Mozart piano concerto — just as the composer and his sister originally did — as well as Bach’s concerto for two keyboards in C Major.
Letters from the composers to their siblings will be read by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company actors, which will provide insights into the extremely close relationships that remained strong even as the men achieved greater recognition than the women.
The sensuous rhythms and sounds of flamenco heat up an already sultry summer with “España” on Aug. 17 with renowned guitarist Pepe Romero, flamenco dancer Arleen Hurtado and palmero and vocal artist Gabriel Osuna.
“Flamenco is such an integral part of Spanish music, so powerful and emotional,” Preu says. “Pepe is playing a concerto by his father that echoes that tradition and both Arleen and Gabriel are phenomenal artists.”
Hurtado will dance to Manuel de Falla’s famous scores El Sombrero de Tres Picos and “Ritual Fire Dance” from El Amor Brujo.
The final weekend concludes with “Blissful Mozart” on Aug. 24, a celebration of Mozart, his colleagues and some strange instruments for a Classical concert.
“You can’t have too much Mozart,” Preu says, “and I’m really interested in finding out more about his contemporaries who were more famous and who are now virtually forgotten.”
The concert features works by Josef Myslivećek; Joseph Boulogne; Mozart’s father, Leopold; and Mozart’s great rival, Antonio Salieri. British clarinet phenom Julian Bliss will perform Mozart’s delightful clarinet concerto, and bagpiper Karen May and hurdy gurdy player Tomás Lozano will highlight Leopold’s Sinfonia for Bagpipe and Hurdy Gurdy in D Major.
There’s even more to celebrate: The concert marks Preu’s 50th birthday. “I’ve had rehearsals on my birthday but never done a concert. So it’s going to be special,” he says.
CCO administration hinted that something celebratory is in the offing but wouldn’t share details.
Summermusik’s season includes afternoon concerts, pub crawls and other intimate experiences, most of which are sold out. At publication, there was availability for all concerts at the School for Creative and Performing Arts’ Corbett Theater; the Aug. 11 Afternoon Musik performance featuring the Silver-Garburg duo; the 9:15 p.m. session of the Rivermusik Pub Crawl on Aug. 13; and a screening of Amadeus with commentary by Preu on Aug. 22 at the Esquire Theatre.
Preu notes that he and the guest artists curate the Afternoon Musik series while CCO musicians oversee the Chamber Crawls.
“If you look at the repertoire, it’s standard stuff,” he says. “It’s more the spirit, the feel of the shows that’s important. And there’s a feeling of intimacy, even at the SCPA concerts, which seats 750.”
Once again, it’s all about making a joyful noise.
“When I come here, I feel a certain exuberance and joy that reminds me of why I went into this business in the first place,” Preu says.
Summermusik runs August 3-24. For tickets/more info: ccocincinnati.org.