The Bravo Vail Valley Music Festival finished their Silver Oak Series of new and old music on Thursday. Night one had been wonderful, but night two was mixed. As it turned out, night three was weak as well. The programming for the last two nights was off, and the final night was marred by a cancellation. The night had intended to feature two string quartets again, but one of the violinists had to leave town for the birth of his baby (best wishes to them), which was great news for him, but a big letdown for the audience.
The feature of the night was a new piece by Steven Mackey. Once again, I do not understand the programming. Mackey's new, long, and dissonant piece for electric guitar and string quartet OPENED the evening, rather than closing it. Hey, when you have a special guest, put him at the end of the program. The piece was not well-liked by the audience. The highlight was when an audience member broke a wine glass loudly, and the musicians broke up laughing. The first section of the piece worked quite well, with a nice ostinato that kept things moving forward. But the piece was just too long and serious for an opener. Most of the audience is not there to hear the new music. You have to guide them into it.
A perfect example of this would be the second piece on the program. It was an homage to an elderly blues singer, interpreted through string quartet (also by Mackey). This brief piece would have been the perfect overture for the evening. It was enjoyed by all and would have made a nice transition from tonal to dissonant.
Most of the remainder of the evening was cancelled. A Barber String Quartet Golijov's Nonet for Double String Quartet and Bass, and Schubert's String Quartet were all dumped from the program. This would have been a long program anyway. They were replaced with the Calder Quartet performing Mozart's Dissonant Quartet. A nice last minute replacement, and very well liked by the audience.
After a long intermission, the group returned to perform Philip Glass's American Four Seasons. I can't stand Philip Glass. There are so many talented contemporary composers, most of them unknown, who could have been featured, but instead we get the one "rock star" of the concert hall over and over. And over. And over. So we left.
I still have high hopes that this series can turn itself around next year. Programming is everything. Take a note from night one's successes (short sets of short pieces, intermingling all styles of music) and from the failures of the next two nights (long dissonant pieces early in the of the program, and anti-climactic second halves). Create a solid theme for the evening, warm the audience up, give them some wine, and bring out a guest for the second half. It's not rocket science.