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Amelia Islander

A Season of Strings

Jan 07, 2020 10:36AM ● By Tom Barrett
By Karen Miller • Photos courtesy of Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival

The Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival is celebrating nearly two decades bringing world-renowned artists to stages to Amelia Island. In its 19th year, this season promises to be the best yet! General and Artistic Director Christopher Rex has gathered together some of the world’s most honored musical virtuosos for another outstanding season of chamber music in all genres.

“Anne-Sophie Mutter, universally heralded as one of the greatest violin virtuosos of the modern era, will make one of her few North American appearances at our inaugural concert in January,” says Rex. “She will be followed by such international luminaries as bluegrass and country music legend Ricky Skaggs, superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman, the Dover Quartet, our acclaimed quartet-in-residence, piano virtuoso Valentina Lisitsa, cellist Lynn Harrell, and Pinchas Zuckerman, who reigns as one of today’s most sought-after violinists, chamber musicians,
and conductors.”

The array of internationally acclaimed artists who have headlined the festival in recent years has included Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, Emanuel Ax, Chick Corea, Bela Fleck, and Chris Thile. “Clearly, we have enjoyed a glorious past and our future is even more exciting,” says Dr. Joseph Marasco, AICMF’s Executive Director. “And in so doing, the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival has woven itself into the cultural fabric of northeastern Florida and the surrounding region.”

Rex has been the force behind the success of AICMF, whose vision won the hearts of a group of Fernandina Beach women who loved chamber music. With Rex’s vision and enthusiastic support from the downtown Centre’d Women and others in the community, the first season was launched in 2001 with a budget of only $50,000, raised by a group of generous donors and corporate sponsorship from CBC National Bank. More recently, grants from the Rayonier Advanced Materials Foundation, Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, Community Foundation of Northeast Florida, and the National Endowment for the Arts have helped.

Generous contributions from CBC National Bank (now First Federal Bank) and Florida Public Utilities, along with contributions from several local businesses, continue to 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 have propelled the festival’s success.”

On January 24 at 7:30 p.m., Anne-Sophie Mutter graces the stage of the AICMF’s inaugural concert at First Baptist Church. Ms. Mutter is on the greatest violinists of modern times. For more than 40 years, the four-time Grammy Award winner has been a fixture as a soloist in all of the world’s most important concert halls. Born in then-West Germany in 1963, Ms. Mutter made her professional debut at age 13 with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Since then she has thrilled audiences throughout Europe, Asia, and North and South America.

“We are truly honored to have artists of such international stature as Anne-Sophie Mutter and pianist Lambert Orkis to perform an all-Beethoven program in honor of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth,” says Rex. “They will present Beethoven Sonatas for Violin and Piano Nos. 4, 5, and 9.” Beethoven, being primarily a pianist, wrote intricate, challenging parts for the piano, matching the virtuosity of the violin, and these sonatas are truly a dialogue between the two instruments. This performance is one not to be missed.

On February 1 at 1 p.m., Amelia Islanders of all ages are in for a treat when pianists Julie Coucheron and Elizabeth Pridgen perform a four-hand piano version of “The Carnival of the Animals” by Camille Saint-Saëns. This musical carnival for children of all ages was developed in association with AICMF’s Young Patron program, in collaboration with the Amelia Island Dance Festival under the direction of Susan Dodge. The performance will be held at Fernandina Beach Life Center at Nassau County Council on Aging, along with dancers from the Amelia Island Dance Festival.
“This family concert combining the whimsical and playful music of Saint Saens with the imaginative choreography of talented dancers can be a wonderful introduction to classical music for young people,” says Rex.

Julie Coucheron is an award-winning pianist who tours internationally. Elizabeth Pridgen is a distinguished soloist and artistic director the Atlantic Chamber Players. Susan Dodge is a noted choreographer and professional dancer. Formerly a member of the Paul Taylor Dance Company, she has taught at universities and conservatories across the nation.

On February 9 at 7:30 p.m., be prepared to be wowed by bluegrass and country music giant Ricky Skaggs at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort. Born and raised in Cordell, Kentucky, Skaggs played mandolin on stage with bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe at age seven and appeared on television with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. He entered the world of professional music in 1971 and his popularity soared.

Skaggs garnered eight awards from the Country Music Association and several Grammys in the 1980s. He established his own record label in 1997 and since then, he and his bluegrass band, Kentucky Thunder have released 12 consecutive Grammy-nominated albums, eight of which have won the award.

In 2018, Scaggs was inducted into the National Fiddler Hall of Fame, the International Bluegrass Music’s Hall of Fame, along with the Country Music Hall of Fame. “The Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival has always tried to present music of various genres to attract as wide a demographic as possible,” says Rex. “We are thrilled to be able to present such a living legend in country and bluegrass music as Ricky Skaggs.”

AICMF’s Quartet-in-Residence, the Dover, catapulted to international stardom following a stunning sweep of the 2013 Banff Competition. The first-ever quartet-in-residence of the Kennedy Center and recipient of the coveted Avery Fisher Career Grant, the Dover has become one of the most in-demand ensembles in the world. Dover artists include Joel Link, violin, Bryan Lee, violin, Milena Pajaro-Van de Stadt, violia, and Camden Shaw, cello.

On February 16 at 3 p.m. at the Historic Nassau County Courthouse, the Dover will be performing Quartet in C major K. 465, “Dissonance” by Mozart, Quartet No. 9 in E-flat major, Op. 117 by Shostakovich, along with Sextet in A major, Op. 48 by Dvorak. “I am so excited to be able to share the stage with this fantastic young quartet and our long time festival friend, violist Robert Diaz,” says Rex.

The Dover Quartet will also perform at the Amelia Baptist Church on April 17th at 7:30pm. “I’m really looking forward to the Dover Quartet’s second program.” says Rex. “I am nicknaming it ‘Dover Lite’ because in the second half they will delve into the popular music of Duke Ellington and the hit television series, ‘Twin Peaks.’” In addition, they will be mentoring promising young musicians from the Jacksonville area at a Master Class on April 18 at 11 a.m., which is free and open to the public.

On February 23 at 5 p.m. at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, the Christiania Piano Trio presents a program of music by Brahms and Dvorak., including the first of Brahms famous piano trios, Piano Trio in B Major. This piece had a special significance for Brahms, as it began his public career and it preoccupied his attention again at the end of an astonishing series of masterpieces. In its final form, the B major piano trio bears the hand, the mind, and the heart of both the young and the elder Brahms.

The Christiania Piano Trio consists of David Coucheron, violin, his sister Julie Coucheron, piano, and Christopher Rex, cello. David Coucheron joined the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra as Concertmaster in 2010. He has soloed with many leading orchestras and given solo recitals at Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall, and the Kennedy Center. Artistic Director of the Kon Tiki Chamber Music Festival in his hometown of Oslo, Norway; he is on the artist faculty of the Aspen Music Festival and Brevard Music Festival.

Cellist Christopher Rex, in addition to being Artist Director for AICMF, retired from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in 2018 after serving as principal cellist for 39 years. He became the first cellist ever to win the string prize in the biennial Young Artists Competition of the National Federation of Music Clubs, and since then has appeared as recitalist and chamber musician across the nation, including the New York Philharmonic, Lincoln Center, and Carnegie Hall.

Pianist Julie Coucheron has established an international career, winning major awards on Italy, Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. She has worked with Emanuel Ax, Yo-Yo Ma, and Elton John, and has toured around the globe.

If you’re a Bach-lover, there’s a special concert just for you! On March 1 at 5 p.m. at Amelia Plantation Chapel, Pamela Frank, violin, and Peter Serkin, piano, perform an all-Bach concert of the composer’s masterpieces. Violinist Pamela Frank performs regularly as a recitalist with many of today’s foremost orchestra. Her chamber music projects include performances with Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, and her father, the late pianist Claude Frank. Pianist Peter Serkin has performed with many of the world’s major symphony orchestras, and in chamber music, has collaborated with Alexander Schneider, Yo-Yo Ma, and the Budapest, Guarneri, Orion, Shanghai, and Dover Quartets.

On March 19 at 7:30 p.m. at First Baptist Church, violinist Itzhak Perlman makes a much-awaited return visit to Amelia Island. Perlman enjoys superstar status rarely afforded a classical musician, propelled into the international arena with an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1958. “It’s always thrilling to hear the great artistry of Mr. Perlman,” says Rex. “I have had the honor of working with him as a cellist in the Philadelphia Orchestra over 40 years ago as well as accompanying him in many concertos as Principal Cello of the Atlanta Symphony. He is one of the greatest violinists of all time.”

Two free concerts held the weekend of March 27 and 28 welcome families to experience jazz and big band music at its best with the Kelly/Scott Quintet at the Boys & Girls Club on March 27 at 3 p.m., and the University of North Florida Big Band Ensemble on March 28 at 11 a.m. Three days later, Valentina Lisitsa returns to the festival in a concert at Amelia Plantation Chapel at 7:30 p.m., presenting works by Beethoven and Tchaikovsky.

On April 5 at 5 p.m., Lynn Harrell, “The Dean of American Cellists” will perform a program of works by Bach, Beethoven, and Rachmaninoff at Amelia Plantation Chapel. Harrell has been revered as one of the world’s most beloved cellists for over 50 year. His discography of more than 70 recordings includes collaboration with Itzhak Perlman, Vladimir Ashkenazy, and Zubin Mehta. Harrell will be accompanied by pianist Elizabeth Pridgen.

The Festival wraps up on April 26 at 5 p.m. at the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island with the Zuckerman Trio performing works by Beethoven, Arensky, and Brahms. With a celebrated career spanning five decades, Pinchas Zuckerman reigns as one of today’s most sought-after and versatile musicians as a violin and viola soloist, conductor, and chamber musician. Zukerman, along with cellist Amanda Forsyth and pianist Angela Cheng, began offering a trio repertoire in 2011, and became the Zukerman Trio two years later.

“A thrilling performance by the incredible Zukerman Trio will be a wonderful way to celebrate this fantastic 19th season of the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival,” says Rex.

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 the website