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Communique: Beethoven & The Greats + World Music Sensibility From Port City Music Festival

Port City Music Festival
A few of the musicians of Port City Music Festival 2018

The Port City Music Festival performs in various locations this week, and the advice from one Cellist is to adjust your schedule accordingly. The musicians, many from Camerata Philadelphia, are celebrating 10 years of bringing free, high-quality concerts to Wilmington. 

Listen to Cellist and Music Director Stephen Framil above and see our extended conversation below. See full descriptions and schedule here; this is a short version:

Monday, 6/4: Windemere Presbyterian @ 7:30pm. Beethoven, Schubert and Music of China

Tuesday, 6/5: B'Nai Israel @ 7:30pm. Beethoven, Brahms, and the American Songbook

Thursday, 6/7:  Cameron Art Museum @ 7:00pm. Beethoven, Mahler, and Music of Latin America

Friday, 6/8: WHQR @ Noon-Festival Sampler

Friday, 6/8: Beckwith Recital Hall @ 7:30pm. Beethoven, Shoenberg, and Letters from Iraq 

Saturday, 5/9: Union Station (CFCC) @ 2:00pm. Masterclass at Union Station 

Saturday, 5/9: Union Station (CFCC) @ 5:00pm. Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Dvorak, Popper, Franck

Sunday, 6/10: 1st Presbyterian (3rd Street) @ 5:00pm. Mendelssohn and the Italian Aria

All concerts are free

Gina Gambony:      How did this get started?

Stephen Framil:      Okay, well, the Port City Music Festival seeds were planted back, I would say in 2008 when I had come out to do a performance over at the Kenan Chapel in Landfall. Christine Farley, at the time, was on the Kenan Chapel concert committee and had invited me. She and I had met a year or so before that at a vocational cello workshop. After coming out and doing the performance, what struck me was just the reception that the audience gave in terms of their love of music. For performing artists, being able to make that connection with any audience is really the best when you can bring a lot of joy to your audience through your music.

                     So, that kind of got the conversation going. I believe this was in 2008. In 2009, we did our homework and found a time appropriate in early June 2009 and decided, "Well, let's do a pilot, and let's see how it goes."

                     So, we raised a little bit of money, and we had three concerts on three consecutive nights - three different programs. We found a three partner venues, including the Cannon Chapel. I believe that first year it was First Presbyterian and Wrightsville Methodist. It was fantastic. A great audience reception. We said, "Okay - well, let's just try it again next year." And then after about year five, it actually really clicked. It blossomed from there. We added additional concerts - four days, five days, and then it became a week. I think we've been at eight days, Sunday to Sunday, for quite some time now.

                     So, we started this course in 2009, right in the middle of the recession, and we kept going from year to year while trying to be very responsible in our growth model. We have been very fortunate to get the support from the audiences as well as foundations to make this happen. I should say that, from the beginning, what we do is to provide free concerts of world class performances for the public at large. And we still continue that model today and will continue in the future. I'm very delighted to be able to bring this great musical offering to the Greater Wilmington area.

Gina:             Yeah, it's pretty awesome. I'll say simply, it's pretty awesome, Stephen.

Stephen:        When one thinks back, it goes along with that idea of don't be afraid to dream and try something and grow with it - let it evolve. And here we are today. Ten years later.

Gina:             You all are coming from Pennsylvania?

Stephen:        Yes - except we've got an artist coming from New Mexico, a couple from New Jersey, most of us are from Pennsylvania, some from Maryland, Baltimore area. The core of the group is coming from the Greater Philadelphia area. Of course, The Port City Music Festival is a program of CAMERATA PHILADELPHIA in terms of its 501(c)(3) structure. CAMERATA PHILADELPHIA, of course, is a professional chamber orchestra ensemble. We've got a core group of musicians that are part of the ensemble. Several of those folks are coming down there. Of course, these are familiar faces over the last several years already. So, that includes the Pianist Daniel Lau, Mezzo Soprano Kyle Engler, Violinist Luigi Mazzocchi, and others. We've got some great guest artists coming in as well.

Gina:             I also see another Framil in the lineup.

Stephen:        Yes, you do.

Gina:             Raya?

Stephen:        Raya Framil, yes.

Gina:             Is that your daughter? Is that your wife? Who is it?

Stephen:        That is my daughter. That is my 10-year-old daughter.

Stephen:        Festival … 10 years.

Gina:             Oh! And daughter!

Stephen:        Yeah!

Gina:             Oh, look at that. Oh, this is great.

Stephen:        There's so many threads in this year's program. When you have a 10th year, the programming has to be really, really something special.  The challenge has been every year - at least the feedback - was like, "Hey, this is another great programming schematic." Every year you have to do yourself do better than you did the year before.

Gina:             [laughs] That's the challenge.

Stephen:        The 11th year really takes the cake.

Gina:             I think that that is not true though. I think that we always think we have to continue to grow or continue to outdo. But I think that really sustaining awesomeness - you don't have to make it any bigger. You don't have to make it any better. I mean, you can change, but I think that that you don't have to always be growing. When I say you, I mean all of us who do things year after year.

Stephen:        Just evolve and grow.

Gina:             Just transform. Speaking of transformation, there's some really interesting performances going on this year. Will you tell me about some of the ones that really stick out in your mind? 

Stephen:        If I could just kind of set the context here, in terms of the programming, for the last several years we've had various themes - whether it's a concert by concert theme or if it's a theme that runs through the entire festival. Initially we have three, maybe four, threads. Similar to what we did in the past couple of years, we featured a composer. So, two years ago we featured Mozart. Mozart on every program in addition to others. Then, last year we featured Johann Sebastian Bach in similar fashion.

This year we're doing that with Beethoven. So, on every program, there is Beethoven. Another additional thread into that is the impact that Beethoven had on composers - contemporary composers as well as composers after him. A very influential figure in music of the 19th century and subsequent composers certainly took a lot from his contributions to the symphony, to the string quartet, and so on.

                     The first concert, by the way, is a snapshot of the entire festival all wrapped up in an hour program at the Kenan Chapel. It represents what's happening throughout the entire festival. In the second concert on Monday, we have Beethoven and Schubert. Then, after that, we have Beethoven and Brahms. Then at the Cameron Art Museum, Beethoven and Mahler. Over at Beckwith Recital Hall at UNCW, we've got Beethoven and Schoenberg. The final concert in First Presbyterian is Beethoven and Mendelssohn. So, definitely we've got Beethoven and the impact he had on composers coming after him.

                     Another thread is this cross currents and in all music. So, we're bringing in a world perspective, a world music thread, if you will. In the concert at Wyndemere on Monday, we have the second half the program will feature a guest artist, QIN Qian, the Chinese erhu, which is a Chinese violin - one or two strings. The piano trio - piano , violin and cello - will be her backup band. On Tuesday, the next world music set is with the American Songbook. Even though it's from right here in North America, the songs that we've chosen really have impacted the world in terms of the quality of song.

On Thursday night, we've got South American music. We're bringing in not only as our violinist, Luigi Mazzocchi, from Venezuela, but we're also bringing in Patricio Acevedo who will be playing various South American guitars or types of strummed instruments - the  Brazilian Cavaquinho, the Andean Charango, and so on. On Friday at Beckwith Hall, we're doing Middle Eastern music. We have a guest artist, Raheem Alhaj, on the Oud, a Middle Eastern strummed instrument. That'll be with a string quintet and the Cajón - which is basically a percussion instrument that you play. Patricio Acevedo will be playing the Cajón on that.

To wrap up festival at First Presbyterian on Sunday the 10th, we're doing an Italian Aria which, from a world perspective, has been very influential. So, we have a set of Italian Arias that Kyle Angler will be singing with the orchestra.

Gina:             This is really mind blowing.

Stephen:        [laughs] Well, I've been percolating on the world music for several years here. Just trying to find the right time, and I remember my early thoughts a couple of years ago like, "Oh, we could bring in an Australian Didgeridoo!"

Gina:             That's what you could do next year. That could be for year 11.

Stephen:        Also, what has been on my mind for years was to be able to kind of expand the educational component of the festival. The last couple of years we've done masterclasses for students from the community as well as the colleges - and we'll continue to do that this year. We're doing that Saturday at 2:00pm in Union Station Auditorium at Cape Fear Community College. That's open to the public, and this is a masterclass setting. We've got students from various teachers who will be performing and then getting some commentary. We'll continue to do that.

                     But this year we're adding another component, and we're very excited about this. This is the Emerging Artists program. This is for college age music majors - undergraduate and graduate - to come and have an intense week of chamber music, rehearsal, coaching, and preparation for a concert that weekend - a concert that is specifically theirs for chamber music. That concert, by the way, is at 5:00pm at Union Station Auditorium on Saturday the 9th - free and open to the public. We've got a nice program of Beethoven, Schubert, Dvořák, and Franck and so on.

We've got a eight students coming in. They come from a UNC Charlotte, Appalachian State, Central Michigan University, Syracuse University, and Washington Adventist University - they're are coming in from all over the place. One of our cellists next week is coming in from Mexico for the festivals. She's a graduate student at Central Michigan University. In this program, similar to what we've been doing with our concerts, we make it so that this is a full scholarship situation for each of the students.

We've got a host families that are housing them for the duration - eight days, nine days. It's been just wonderful to experience the generosity of the community opening their arms and their homes to these young people who will be immersed in chamber music for a week - and also participating in the festival orchestra on our last concert. I'm very, very excited about this. We've got the eight students and, I think as we continue to consider how this program moves forward after this year, not necessarily looking for it to get that much larger in terms of enrollment, it can be a really meaningful and special when you've got a tight group of likeminded musician peers all aspiring for a performance career.

Gina:             I'm so glad that this is working. It's inspirational.

Stephen:        Thank you. Especially for those of us who have been heads down for weeks and months here as we gear up for this year, to step back and hear your reaction is - I tear up.

Gina:             It's remarkable that it has continued to work. It's remarkable that you guys do this. And you guys are coming here, by the way! Some of you are coming here to the station Friday, June 8 at Noon.

Stephen:        Yes, exactly. We'll be there. We'll play. We'll do a snapshot sampling of the festival.

Gina:             That's what it looks like.

Stephen:        We're very excited about that. I think last year was the first time, and I'm very delighted to do it again. Wonderful. But I do want to emphasize one point is that, and I've been saying this at our kickoff concert for years now, but the festival - even though it's a program of CAMERATA PHILADELPHIA - would not exist if it weren't for the people of Wilmington. So, really it's their festival, and they get to take care of it - and they have. As long as we do good work and bring a meaning to what we do, I think the festival will continue on. Because it's really a love of labor for a lot of folks putting in their time, and it's all volunteer. There are honorariums that the musicians get. But certainly it's not scaled to anything any musician's union might bless.

Gina:             Right.

Stephen:        It's a blast. It's a massive love of labor. I think that's really why it's continued to go on. That's where you have a combined, combined ownership.

Gina:             It shows what's possible when people work together - and when people support it.

Stephen:        Somehow we make it through. We were born during the recession. So, as an entity, we're very used to being very careful with what we do.

Stephen:        There's so much musical meaning in this year's festival. Whatever you like in terms of your tastes in music, you're going to find it in this festival. You're going to find in the American Song Book great jazz songs that you'll certainly recognize. If you like things that've got a Latin beat, you're gonna find that at the Cameron Art Museum with our South American segment. If you like things that have got a little bit of a Middle Eastern flavor, I think you're gonna really enjoy - especially the Letters from Iraq - and those are original compositions that Raheem Alhaj composed, performed, and recorded. If you want music of Asia, I think the Monday program.

                     And of course, we've got our solid Beethoven and Schubert so. We've got a lot here going on. I think every program is going to be very distinct and very different from the other. So, you can't miss any one of them because they're all extremely different. I encourage everyone to try to reschedule their entire week so that they can experience every single one of these different flavors.

Gina:             But Wednesday is a day of rest, is that right?

Stephen:        Oh, I know we're totally slacking off, and we're going to have a rehearsal in the evening with the orchestra.

Gina:             I know it's not. There is no rest for the wicked. 

Stephen:        Wicked, wicked good.

Gina:             Wicked good.

Stephen:        We've had feedback where people schedule their vacations to Wilmington around this festival.

Gina:             [gasps] 

Stephen:        We've been hearing that for a few years now.


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