Chamber Music Festival Explores a Timely ‘Shelter of Peace’ Theme

 In Culture, Event

The ninth season of the Gesher Music Festival was planned months ago—with the goal of exploring art that makes audiences feel secure and lifts their spirits, according to artistic director Sara Sitzer. There’s no way organizers could have known how very much that would be needed during the festival itself, which runs Aug. 8-18.

“One of the reasons why music and art are so critical for our society is because they provide a reflection on who we are as a culture,” Sitzer says, “and this year it’s particularly relevant for Gesher to explore art that spotlights what makes us feel safe, secure and uplifted.”

Based on the Hebrew concept of Gesher, or bridge, the Jewish Community Center’s music festival builds bridges across the diverse cultures of St. Louis through engaging, inspiring and immersive performances. Festival artists include members of many of the nation’s top symphony orchestras, chamber music ensembles and university faculties. Pianist Daniel Pesca, violinists Eva Kozma and Cristina Buciu, violist Sixto Franco and clarinetist Dana Hotle are among the award-winning artists performing.

The festival schedule offers three distinct concerts, each reflecting different aspects of the “Shelter of Peace” theme, each in a different venue.

“Our ‘Safe Haven’ concert in partnership with the Missouri History Museum [on Aug. 15] focuses on composers who came to America as refugees, which is a particularly interesting topic in this day and age,” says Sitzer, who will be performing on the cello during the festival. “Nearly every composer on the program fled war or violence and became a naturalized U.S. citizen, making their own mark on the musical landscape of this country, from Irving Berlin and Bartók, Schoenberg and Korngold to contemporary composers who are alive today, such as Tania León and Kinan Azmeh. It’s interesting to put an artistic lens on a crisis that feels so removed from so many of us in this very polarized modern society.”

Chamber Music Festival Explores a Timely ‘Shelter of Peace’ Theme

The second concert, “Shelter from the Storm” on Aug. 17 at the 560 Music Center in The Delmar Loop, features what Sitzer considers one of the most interesting pieces of the entire festival. “Ark Luggage” reimagines the story of Noah’s Ark in a unique way, with vocalist Lucy Dhegrae (pictured) singing a list of 92 suitcases that Noah may have brought with him—things such as “fresh linen, clean sheets and warm underwear” to “white pebbles to edge the borders of my new garden.”

“This version of the biblical story is clearly an optimistic one,” Sitzer says, “and naively unaware of the kind of flood he’s about to experience.”

The festival ends on Aug. 18 at the JCC’s Wool Studio Theater in Maryland Heights with Schubert’s “Piano Trio in B-Flat.” As Sitzer explains, “It’s on a program we’re calling ‘Sacred Spaces’ and explores the music of sanctuary. The pieces took their inspiration from inside both the Jewish synagogue and the Christian church, but the Schubert is an homage to the sacredness of the chamber music salon, especially in Schubert’s time, when the great composer himself would gather with his friends to perform informal house concerts called Schubertiads.”

In addition to these three main concerts, the Gesher Music Festival offers a free hour-long preview performance at the World Chess Hall of Fame on Aug. 8, as well as an opportunity to tour the Saint Louis Art Museum’s exhibits to hear about works related to the theme on Aug. 11. To sign up for the tour or purchase tickets to the concerts, visit the festival’s website.

Images courtesy of the Gesher Music Festival.

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