It’s summertime in the Roaring Fork Valley. This means festivals galore, monsoonal rains (we hope) and a new tradition — the Garden Music Series. The collaboration between Carbondale Arts and MinTze Wu was born from a necessity, a “collective craving for being together and just listening to music,” in the words of Wu.
In September 2020, a single concert was produced to return live music to people in a safe way during the pandemic’s most isolating phase. Last year, the concept expanded to include four productions, capped off by “Death of the Pugilist” at The Orchard. In 2022, the series will again feature four unique concerts: two indoors at the Third Street Center and two outdoors at the historic Thompson House.
Wu came to the United States from Taiwan alone at age 14 to study at Juilliard Pre-College. In 2002, she moved to Boulder to receive her doctorate in music from the University of Colorado. It’s there she met Jem Moore, busking on Pearl Street. The two married and eventually landed in Carbondale with their two daughters, Adelaide and Camille, and have since delighted the community with high-caliber performances, casually produced — a recipe that fits right in with the town’s special sauce.
Once a month, on a Thursday at 6 p.m., connoisseurs of music — undoubtedly familiar with Wu’s work already — will be treated to a BenFeng production. BenFeng is Wu’s brand of experimenting with the traditional concert experience and translates to “running with free spirit.” She will perform in each of the four shows, accompanied by musicians from near and far, presenting a diverse range of musical stylings.
“Finding Bach” is the first in the series and will be performed solo on violin by Wu on June 23. “Bach is where we go when we want to find solace,” she explained. “Not that his music provides an answer, but it gives you a space to reflect and contemplate.” Playing unaccompanied is vulnerable, she continued, “but gives us an opportunity to quiet down and be centered, reflect on where we are in our life, where we are in this world.”
For 90 minutes, with no gap for words or applause, Wu will weave Bach’s music with a piece by Arvo Pärt and traditional Irish jigs to take listeners on a journey. “It’s not about showcasing a performer, but really an audience’s own inner interaction with the music,” she said.
The second program, on July 14, will move indoors for enhanced intimacy with guest performers, Jay Yiu (viola), Michael Graham (cello) and Chih-Long Hu (piano). A question is posed: “What do relationships, inner struggles, deepest desires and societal expectations look like in the 19th Century?” To answer, “Johannes & Clara” will honor the music and musings of Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann, incorporating the forbidden lovers’ letter correspondences between songs.
Wu calls their love story “a most complex, twisted plot.” Schumann was married to a renowned and troubled musician who was confined to an asylum after attempting to take his life, leaving her alone with their seven children. Brahms “stepped in and became an anchor in Clara’s life, emotionally, financially and artistically,” Wu explained.
The third program, “Chansons D’Amour” on August 25, is also about love. Singers Amanda Balestrieri (soprano) and Cody Laun (tenor), accompanied by Wu (violin), Sarah Graf (cello) and Terry Lee (piano), will explore the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice through the music of Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Debussy, Ravel, Schumann, Strauss and more.
Similar to the first program, each song will flow together without pause. “I just really love that way of presentation,” Wu said, “to take the audience into a much deeper experience.” She noted an unintended synchronicity. With Thunder River Theatre Company having produced Sarah Ruhl’s “Eurydice”, theater-going audiences should be familiar with the story.
The final show of the season is a departure from the rest. “Let’s Tango” closes the series out back at the Thompson House with two performances, Sept. 15-16. “I’ve always been pretty obsessed with this music,” said Wu of Astor Piazzolla. “It’s really hard to put into words, to describe the sensation.” She calls it “a combination of lust and desire, despair and sorrow,” “dense-dense” and “potent.”
Demonstrating the tango, “a dance where they are so close yet there’s always tension,” will be guests from AspenTango, Dance Initiative and Bonedale Ballet. “Let’s Tango” is dedicated to Heather Morrow, who founded AspenTango and passed away tragically in 2021.
All tickets are available online (at www.carbondalearts.com). “They’re always stretching their arms to connect the community through art,” Wu concluded, thanking Carbondale Arts. “I love my community!”
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