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Amelia Islander

The Stars Come Out on Amelia Island

Jan 08, 2019 01:02PM
Entering its eighteenth season in 2019, the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival has become one the world’s foremost chamber music events. Since 2001, the festival has wowed audiences with chamber music concerts of classical and alternative genres, and this year’s events are packed with star power. “Presenting the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Joshua Bell, and Emanuel Ax in a single season clearly reflects our status as one of the nation’s premier festivals,” says Dr. Joseph Marasco, AICMF’s Executive Director. “The addition of such internationally recognized stars, with Amelia audience favorites like the Dover Quartet and Anne Akiko Meyers, will make 2019 our greatest season yet!”

Amelia Island’s beautiful churches and the Historic Nassau County Courthouse provide charming, intimate settings for the majority of the festival’s concerts, enabling attendees to sit near the concert stage. The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island and the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort provide larger venues. The array of internationally acclaimed artists who have headlined the festival in recent years includes Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Joshua Bell, Chick Corea, Bela Fleck, and Chris Thile.

“Clearly, we have enjoyed a glorious past, and our future is even more exciting,” says Marasco. “And in so doing, the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival has woven itself into the cultural fabric of northeastern Florida and the surrounding region.”

The force behind the success of the festival is Christopher Rex, Artistic Director and recently retired principal cellist with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. He joined the orchestra in 1979, the same year in which he became the first cellist ever to win the string prize in the biennial Young Artists Competition of the National Federation of Music Clubs. Since then, he has appeared as a recitalist and chamber musician across the nation, including the New York Philharmonic, Lincoln Center, and Carnegie Hall.

A vacationer on Amelia Island, Rex won the hearts of a group of Fernandina Beach women who loved chamber music. With Rex’s vision and contagious enthusiasm, the first season was launched in 2001 with a budget of only $50,000, raised by a group of generous donors and corporate sponsors. Grants from the Rayonier Advanced Materials Foundation, Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, Community Foundation of Northeast Florida, National Endowment for the Arts, and CBC National Bank, as well as generous corporate contributions from several local businesses, help support the festival. “Individual contributions and ticket sales account for the majority of our funding,” says Rex. “But truly, we are a volunteer-driven festival. The support of this community and our volunteers has propelled the festival’s success.”

[heading style="subheader"]RENOWNED MIRó QUARTET AT AMELIA BAPTIST CHURCH[/heading] On January 18 at 7:30 p.m. the 2019 AICMF season opens with the Miró Quartet featuring clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois at Amelia Baptist Church. The Miró has been awarded first prizes at several national and international competitions, including the Banff International String Quartet Competition and the Naumburg Chamber Music Competition. In 2005, the Miró became the first ensemble ever to be awarded the coveted Avery Fisher Career Grant. An avid chamber musician, Ms. de Guise-Langlois has appeared in the concert series of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and many more.

The program features pieces by Schubert, Dvorak, Ippolito, and Beethoven, along with Johannes Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115, one of four chamber works by Brahms that features the clarinet as a primary instrument. “Romie de Guise-Langlois is a rising star in the chamber music world,” says Rex. “She’s performed at Lincoln Center and played with the Dover Quartet. We’re very excited to have her with us this year.”

On January 19, de Guise-Langlois will perform again, along with Elizabeth Pridgen and Christopher Rex, at Story & Song Bookstore Bistro, which includes a luncheon at 11:30 a.m., followed by the concert at 12:30 p.m. Pianist Elizabeth Pridgen has established a distinguished career as a soloist and chamber musician. She has appeared in concerts at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall and Weill Recital Hall, Spivey Hall in Atlanta, the “Rising Stars Series” at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, and in recitals throughout the U.S. and Europe. Along with Rex, the trio will perform a program featuring the music of Beethoven, Bruch, S’Rivera, and Brahms. “The atmosphere of this concert will be fun and casual,” says Rex. “And concert-goers are sure to feel at home in this intimate setting.”

[heading style="subheader"]JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER ORCHESTRA WITH WYNTON MARSALIS[/heading] On January 25 at First Baptist Church at 7:30 p.m., treat yourself to the world-renowned 15-piece Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. Marsalis, managing and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, is a legendary jazz trumpeter and composer. He is the world’s first jazz artist to perform and compose across the full jazz spectrum, from its New Orleans roots to bebop and modern jazz. He also has composed a violin concerto and four symphonies to introduce new rhythms to the classical music canon.

In 1983, he became the first and only artist to win both classical and jazz Grammys in the same year, and he repeated that feat in 1984. In 1997, Mr. Marsalis became the first jazz musician ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his oratorio “Blood On The Fields.” “Wynton Marsalis is a virtuoso classical and jazz trumpeter who has the ability to shift in both of those genres,” says Rex. “We played together for the first time at Morehouse College in Atlanta during the early 80s. It was the Haydn Trumpet Concerto, conducted by Robert Shaw. We’re so pleased to have Marsalis with us this year!”

[heading style="subheader"]JOSHUA BELL RETURNS TO FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH[/heading] Joshua Bell returns to the AICMF this year on February 1 at First Baptist Church at 7:30 p.m. for an unforgettable program that includes works by Brahms, Grieg, and Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata No. 2 in D major, Op. 94a. This highly classical piece was based on the composer’s own Flute Sonata in D major, which he transformed into a violin sonata in 1943. Bell will also perform additional works which will be announced from the stage. With a career spanning more than 30 years as a soloist, chamber musician, recording artist and conductor, Bell is one of the most celebrated violinists of his era. He has recorded more than 40 CDs, garnering Grammy, Mercury, Gramophone and Echo Klassik awards. He also is the recipient of the prestigious Avery Fisher Prize. “I’ve known Bell for years,” says Rex. “He loved being here in 2015 and was eager to return.”

[heading style="subheader"]THE DOVER QUARTET AT AMELIA BAPTIST CHURCH[/heading] The internationally acclaimed Dover Quartet, AICMF’s Quartet-in-Residence, will host a master class/concert on February 23 at Amelia Baptist Church at 11 a.m. This class is free and open to the public, but you’ll need to reserve a ticket. The Dover will be mentoring promising young musicians from the Jacksonville area. Hailed as the next Guarneri Quartet, the ensemble was catapulted to international stardom following a stunning sweep of the 2013 Banff Competition. Named Cleveland Quartet Award winner for the 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons and awarded the Avery Fisher Career Grant in March 2017, the Dover has become one of the most in-demand ensembles in the world. The Dover will perform more than 100 concerts throughout North America and Europe during the current season, including February 24 at 3 p.m. at the Historic Nassau County Courthouse here on Amelia Island, and again on April 6 at 5 p.m. at Amelia Baptist Church.

The Dover’s February 24 program includes works by Tchaikovsky and Schubert, along with Mason Bates’ From Amber Frozen. Grammy-nominated American composer of symphonic music, Bates is distinguished by his innovations in orchestration and large-scale form,  and is best known for his expansion of the orchestra to include electronics. “The Dover is eager to bring the music of a young living composer to Amelia Island,” says Rex. “And we’re very pleased that the Dover has agreed to be our Quartet-in-Residence for three more years.”

On March 3, Philip Pan and his Viper violin will present a family concert at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Nassau County’s Robert’s Learning & Achievement Center at 3 p.m. This captivating concert is sure to be a hit with the young and young at heart, featuring light classical and popular music. The Viper is an innovative electric violin broadly embraced by many violinists for its ability to expand the boundaries of musical tone. “I was attracted to the Viper by its stunning appearance, enormous range, and great sound,” says Pan. “After owning my 7-string for a few months, I have come to realize that this is a true artist’s instrument of the level of the finest old Italian, acoustic violins.”

“Pan was Concertmaster of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra for 33 years before retiring in 2017,” says Rex. “During that time, he also appeared as soloist with the Boston Pops, the Albany and Schenectady Symphonies, and the Bach Aria Festival in Stony Brook, N.Y., and in addition to his vast career, he’s really great with the kids,” says Rex. “He’s amiable and energetic, and he is sure to keep families spellbound with his performance.”

Also on March 3 at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort at 5 p.m., “classical” music steps aside for the Balsam Range Bluegrass Band of western North Carolina. Balsam Range, an award-winning bluegrass band, combines banjo, mandolin, fiddle, bass, guitar, and vocals, and is one of the genre’s most award-winning groups in recent years. “Balsam Range has headlined major festivals from coast to coast, selling out venues across the nation and appearing multiple times at the Grand Ole Opry,” says Rex. “Presenting the best of bluegrass is one the ways the AICMF tries to reach a broader audience, by including different genres of music of the very finest quality. One thing that a lot of people still might not realize about chamber music is that it isn’t all ‘classical’ music. Chamber means music performed without a conductor, in a smaller venue.”

[heading style="subheader"]PIANO VIRTUOSO EMANUEL AX AT AMELIA PLANTATION CHAPEL[/heading] On March 22, the great piano virtuoso Emanuel Ax comes to Amelia Plantation Chapel at 7:30 p.m. with a program of works by Brahms, G. Benjamin, Schumann, Ravel, and Chopin, including Chopin’s Nocturne in B major, Op. 9. Ax made his New York debut in the Young Concert Artists Series, and he captured public attention in 1974 when he won the first Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Competition in Tel Aviv. In 1975, he won the Michaels Award of Young Concert Artists, followed four years later by the coveted Avery Fisher Prize.

“Ax and I attended Juilliard at the same time,” says Rex. “He’s one of my favorite pianists. He’s elegant and powerful, but with such a delicate touch. He is considered one of the greatest artists of his generation.”

On March 31 at 5 p.m. at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, the Christiana Piano Quartet will perform a program called “Czechmates,” cleverly named by Rex. The concert features two extraordinary pieces by Czech composers Dvorak and Smetana. Christiania’s artists include Julie Coucheron, piano, her brother David Coucheron, violin, Julianne Lee, 2nd violin, and Rex, cello. “The group decided to name themselves the “Chistiania Quartet since David and Julie are from Norway, and ‘Christiania’ was the name of the capital before it was changed to Oslo. It was the perfect title for our piano quartet since ‘Chris’ was part of the name,” laughs Rex. The program includes Dvorak’s Piano Quartet No. 2, Op. 87, and Smetana’s Piano Trio in G Minor, Op. 15, a moving and powerful work that was written in memory of the composer’s daughter.

David Coucheron is concertmaster of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. He has performed as a soloist with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, and Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and performed solo recitals at Carnegie Hall, London’s Wigmore Hall and the Kennedy Center. Julianne Lee is principal second violinist of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Prior to joining the ASO in 2017, she served as assistant principal second violin of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Julie Coucheron has won first prizes at competitions in Italy, Germany and the U.S. She has worked with Lazar Berman, Claude Frank, Emanuel Ax, and Vladimir Feltsman and toured internationally.

[heading style="subheader"]ANNE AKIKO MEYERS AT THE RITZ-CARLTON, AMELIA ISLAND[/heading] The 2019 season wraps up with festival favorite, Anne Akiko Meyers, along with Jason Vieaux, performing at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island on March 31 in a concert featuring violin and classical guitar. Meyers is one of today’s most in-demand violinists, performing as guest soloist with the world’s top orchestras, presenting ground-breaking recitals, commissioning and performing new music, and releasing best-selling recordings.

Grammy-winner Jason Vieaux won the 2015 Grammy Award for Best Classical Instrumental Solo. His solo recitals have been a feature at every major guitar series in North America and at many of the important guitar festivals in Asia, Australia, Europe and Mexico. “We are so lucky to have Meyers appear again this year,” says Rex. “She is a true friend of the festival, and by far one of the most played artists in classical music today. And Vieaux ranks among the elite of today’s classical guitarists.”

Education programs are the core of the AICMF’s mission in promoting chamber music to people of all generations. Music education, the Beth Newdome Fellowship, Master Classes, a Spring Institute, and Strings Education are just a few of the ways the festival gives back to the community. “Our goal in bringing music education to concert attendees, students, and aspiring young musicians has been an important part of our festival since 2001,” says Rex. “There are so many more exciting projects coming that embrace the music and the spirit of the people who love and support the AICMF. It just keeps getting better!”

For complete schedule of concerts and to purchase tickets to the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival, visit