The Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival began its 21st season last month on December 3 with a Big Band Holiday performance featuring The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis and guest vocalist Alita Moses. The season continues this month with world-renowned soprano, Renée Fleming, followed by a line-up of internationally and nationally acclaimed musical stars, all scheduled to perform at various Amelia Island venues. The conclusion of this year’s Festival is highlighted by the return of the celebrated Zukerman Trio.
“This year’s Festival promises to be one of our most exciting, with an exceptional list of world-renowned artists that appeal to a variety of musical tastes and experiences,” says Christopher Rex, the Festival’s general and artistic director. “In addition to some of the most celebrated chamber music talent, we are delighted to showcase a variety of performances, including American soprano Renée Fleming, Tango Argentina, The Gibson Brothers, members of The Polish Wieniawski Philharmonic, the Danish String Quartet, and our very own quartet-in-residence, the Dover Quartet.”
The Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival was founded in 2001 by Christopher Rex, a vacationer on Amelia Island and principal cellist of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and a group of Fernandina Beach women, who loved chamber music. The first season was launched with a budget of only $50,000, raised by a group of generous donors and a corporate sponsorship of $30,000 from First National Bank, now First Federal Bank. Friends also donated housing for the artists, and some artists even donated their services to help get the Festival established.
Now in its 21st season, the Festival has developed into one of the most prestigious events of its kind in the nation. Grants from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, National Endowment for the Arts, Florida Public Utilities, First Federal Bank, and Rayonier Advanced Materials Foundation, as well as generous corporate contributions from several local businesses, help support the Festival. However, individual contributions and ticket sales account for the majority of their funding. In addition, the Festival continues to be a volunteer-driven Festival. An executive director and office manager are their only professional staff.
Festival board president Emma Mills Bledsoe noted that performances often sell out and she encourages music lovers to consider becoming a Festival Contributor and enjoy the benefit of early ticket sales. “The Festival’s ongoing success and ability to attract premier artists can be directly attributed to the generosity of the Amelia Island community,” says Beldsoe. “We are grateful for our patrons, contributors, sponsors, and volunteers who graciously give their time and talent to ensure that the Festival continues to be recognized as one of the nation’s premier classical music festivals!”
SOPRANO RENEE FLEMING AT FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH
On January 14 at First Baptist Church, the first concert of this year features American superstar soprano, Renée Fleming. Fleming is recognized worldwide for her performances in opera, recordings, theater, film, recitals, orchestral appearances, and at major public occasions. She is the first opera singer to perform the Star-Spangled Banner at a Super Bowl and is a recipient of the National Medal of Arts. Fleming has been nominated for 17 Grammy Awards and has won four times.
In addition to her concert, Fleming will host Music & The Mind, on January 13 at Courtyard/Springhill Suites. This complimentary event (reservations required) is an intriguing presentation and panel discussion about the intersection of music, health, and neuroscience. Ms. Fleming will be joined by Dr. Regis Haid, president of the National Association of Neurological Surgeons; former Emory School of Medicine Pediatric Neurologist Dr. Nicolas Krawiecki; renowned interventional neuroradiologist Dr. Ajay Wakhloo; and Olivia Hoblit, founder of the Trinity Love Hoblit Foundation.
POLISH WIENIAWSKI PHILHARMONIC AT FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH
On January 22 at First Baptist Church, the Festival welcomes the Polish Wieniawski Philharmonic. Founded in 1942 in the throes of World War II, the Polish Wieniawski Philharmonic gave the first symphony concert in postwar Poland and has since become the largest music institution in eastern Poland. Embarking on a North American tour in 2022, the orchestra is joined by violinist Sara Dragan, the first prize winner of the Henryk Wieniawski International Violin Competition, and Tomasz Ritter, piano soloist, who in 2018 became the first prize winner of the First International Chopin Competition on Period Instruments in Warsaw.
Members of the Philharmonic will perform under the baton of principal conductor Wojciech Rodek, as they are poised to dazzle Amelia Island audiences in their first performance at the Festival.
“BEER & G-STRINGS” PERFORMANCE AT SADLER RANCH
On January 30 at Sadler Ranch, the Festival is hosting its beloved “Beer & G-Strings” performance, Musical Fireworks. This astounding celebration of exciting, virtuosic, and inspiring chamber music features members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Georgian Chamber Players, Atlanta Chamber Players, Emory School of Music, Vega String Quartet, and Christiania Trio.
Enjoy works by a wide variety of popular composers, including Dvorak, Mozart, Vivaldi, Smetana, Piazzolla, and Manuel de Falla. Musicians include David Coucheron, violin; Julie Coucheron, piano; Helen Hwaya Kim, violin; Charae Krueger, cello; Yinzi Kong, viola; Jessica Wu, violin; Christopher Rex, cello; William Ransom, piano; and Elizabeth Pridgen, piano.
THE LEGEND OF PEER GYNT AT THE PECK CENTER AUDITORIUM
The Festival’s Young Patrons present an afternoon of music, dance, and art on February 5 at the Peck Center Auditorium, presenting “The Legend of Peer Gynt – A Concert for All Ages.” Edvard Grieg’s most popular work was composed for Henrik Ibsen’s Norwegian allegorical play in 1875. Today, it is considered to be one of the best examples of beautiful melodic “picture painting.”
Children of all ages will especially enjoy two of its best-known movements: “Morning” and “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” as dancers from Susan Dodge’s Amelia Island Dance Festival and artists from Lauren Templeton’s Amelia Art Studio interpret the music live on stage.
Students from the Amelia Art Studio will also create artwork inspired by Grieg’s music. Their work will be on exhibit at the concert. Local actor Frank O’Donnell narrates the story. A trio of musicians including Christopher Rex, cello; Elizabeth Pridgen, piano; and violinist Helen Hwaya Kim provide the inspiration for the dancers and artists.
THE DOVER QUARTET AT NASSAU COUNTY COURTHOUSE
On February 13 at the Historic Nassau County Courthouse, the Dover Quartet, the Festival’s quartet-in-residence, presents a concert of music by Haydn, Mozart, and Ravel. The Dover is one of the most in-demand ensembles in the world, and the first-ever quartet-in-residence for the Kennedy Center. They are the recipient of the coveted Avery Fisher Career Grant and are also quartet-in-residence for the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University, Chamber Music Northwest, Artosphere, and Peoples’ Symphony in New York. The quartet’s distinctive sound has helped confirm its status as “the young American string quartet of the moment” since they catapulted to international stardom in 2013.
TANGO ARGENTINA AT THE RITZ-CARLTON, AMELIA ISLAND
On March 8 at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, prepare to be wowed by Tango Argentina, comprised of 12 of Argentina’s greatest tango dancers and musicians. Since 2016, Tango Argentina has toured extensively throughout China, Russia, Sweden, Turkey, Central and South America. Marcos Ayala, artistic director and choreographer, has created an extraordinary and thrilling program for Tango Argentina’s inaugural tour of the United States.
With his company, he has created an experience that leaves the audience astonished beyond their expectations. Dancers Ivana Ayala and Pedro Sanchiz create a perfect dance couple, with synchronous movements of great interpretive technique. Their virtuosity leaves audiences amazed, along with the participation of other dance couples comprising Tango Argentina.
Ayala has created a musical show designed so that the public can for a moment imagine how the tango has evolved throughout its history, which originated in Buenos Aires.
DANISH STRING QUARTET AT AMELIA PLANTATION CHAPEL
Among today’s many exceptional chamber music groups, the Grammy-nominated Danish String Quartet continuously asserts its preeminence. The Festival is proud to welcome them to Amelia Island this year on March 31 at the Amelia Island Plantation Chapel. The Quartet’s playing reflects impeccable musicianship, sophisticated artistry, exquisite clarity of ensemble, and, above all, an expressivity inextricably bound to the music, from Haydn to Shostakovich to contemporary scores.
Performances bring a rare musical spontaneity, giving audiences the sense of hearing even treasured canon repertoire as if for the first time. The Quartet is the recipient of many awards and prestigious appointments, including Musical America’s 2020 Ensemble of the Year and the Borletti-Buitoni Trust.
On April 2 at Amelia Park, The University of North Florida Jazz Ensemble 1 presents a fun-filled and energetic outdoor concert led by director J.B. Scott. The group is the flagship ensemble of the prestigious UNF Jazz Studies Program. With an impressive list of awards, festival invitations, and recognition by industry publications for its improvisational prowess and precision ensemble playing, JE1 has enjoyed the reputation of being one of the finest collegiate jazz ensembles worldwide.
THE DOVER QUARTET AT AMELIA PLANTATION CHAPEL
On April 10 at The Amelia Plantation Chapel, the Dover Quartet performs with Roberto Díaz, Elissa Lee Koljonen, and Christopher Rex, with a program of music by Arensky and Tchaikovsky. From 1996 to 2006, violist Roberto Díaz, held the position of principal violist of the Philadelphia Orchestra and has been principal viola of the National Symphony under Mstislav Rostropovich, a member of the Boston Symphony under Seiji Ozawa, and a member of the Minnesota Orchestra under Neville Marriner.
Recognized as one of the most celebrated violinists of her generation, Elissa Lee Koljonen has thrilled audiences and critics in over 100 cities throughout the world. Koljonen initially received international acclaim when she became the first recipient of the prestigious Henryk Szeryng Foundation Award and silver medalist of the Carl Flesch International Violin Competition.
Christopher Rex is the founder and artistic and general director of the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival. He retired as principal cellist of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) in 2018 after serving in that position for 39 years. During his tenure with the ASO, he was the first cellist ever to win the string prize in the biennial Young Artists Competition of the National Federation of Music Clubs. He studied at the Curtis Institute of Music with Orlando Cole and at the Juilliard School with Leonard Rose. He was a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra under director Eugene Ormandy for seven seasons prior to joining the ASO.
THE GIBSON BROTHERS AT THE PECK CENTER AUDITORIUM
The Festival welcomes the Gibson Brothers on April 16 at The Peck Center Auditorium. The Gibson Brothers, Leigh and Eric, are considered bluegrass legends, and they debuted on the Grand Ole Opry stage in 2003. “Ring the Bell” (written by Chet O’Keefe) won Song of the Year and Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year in 2010.
Their first tour abroad was to Ireland and Germany in 2010. In 2012, they returned to Germany with stops in Denmark, France, and Italy. The brothers debuted on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion in 2014, at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota, and returned in January 2015.
THE ZUKERMAN TRIO AT THE RITZ-CARLTON, AMELIA ISLAND
On April 22, the Festival hosts its season finale at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, with a special concert by the Zukerman Trio. With a celebrated career spanning five decades, Pinchas Zukerman reigns as one of today’s most sought-after and versatile musicians as a violin and viola soloist, conductor, and chamber musician. Zukerman has been an inspiration to young musicians throughout his adult life in his continuing effort to motivate future generations of musicians through education and outreach.
He launched his trio in 2013, and since then, the ensemble has traveled around the globe and performed at such major festivals as Ravinia, the BBC Proms, Edinburgh, Verbier, and Bravo! Vail.
About the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival
Celebrating its 21st-anniversary season, the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival is one of the nation’s most renowned classical music festivals. The office is located at 1405 Park Avenue, Suite 101, in Fernandina Beach. For additional information, concert tickets, or to learn more about becoming involved visit www.aicmf.org or call (904) 261-1779. Follow the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival on Facebook.