Renewal and reinvention: The Storioni Festival’s 10-year anniversary celebration

January 29, 2017, 3:14 PM · EINDHOVEN, Netherlands -- It takes more than a gram of humor and self awareness to start a retrospective gala concert with a performance of a pizzicato duet (Sibelius’ Raindrops) followed by Mozart's somewhat precious Rondo for glass harmonica and mixed quartet (flute, oboe, viola and cello). No strangers to paths uncrossed, the Dutch-based Storioni Trio has brought the tried-and-true along with the uncharted to an ever-growing public. The 10th anniversary Storioni Chamber Music Festival proves that great friends make the best music with one another.

Super stars in the person of Ray Chen and the modest albeit renowned American composer David Lang graced this year’s first decade celebration. Yet as fans of the Storioni event have come to realize, the essence of this particular musical potpourri has little to do with egos on parade and everything to do with the myriad of possibilities that great music in relaxed spaces can offer.

Catching up with the festival in the town of Tilburg, down the street from its base in Eindhoven, the Dutch home city to innovation and technique, a concert featuring the theremin opened ears and minds. This electronic instrument’s eerie panoply of beguiling sounds has been featured on an episode of the evergreen Big Bang Theory and in the theme song to the popular series Midsomer Murders. The Dutch premiere of David Lang’s Breathless in which the works’s title comes to the fore in an ethereal overlap of jagged snippets of thematic material was given an impassioned performance by guest artists from the world over. Last but certainly not least, Dvorak’s beloved piano quintet was raised to new heights thanks to violist Vladimir Mendelssohn’s magically restrained palette, the bittersweet nostalgia of a truly slow Adagio, in which the Storioni’s Wouter Vossen shed new light on the second violin part and pianist Marianna Shirinyan’s rip roaring dumka beats in the Trio.

Beyond the joys of friends expanding horizons with new repertoire with unusual instrumental compliments (consider the violin, piano, cello, trumpet, bassoon and clarinet scoring in the Martinu’s bluesy La Revue de Cuisine, the festival thrives in a deep commitment to connect with a wide public in palpable ways. Candles lit the stage making the audience feel ‘at home’ for the closing festivities on the penultimate evening in which the sheer newness of repertoire and compliment brought a concert to one high point after the other.

The most glorious of all chamber music chestnuts, Schubert Quintet was performed by the Storioni’s and friends with refreshing ease. Even a moment of page turn mishap did not mar the serenity of the rendition. Cellist Monika Leskovar and hornets Herve Julian wove a magic spell with revelatory dynamics in Schumann’s Andante con variazione for 2 celli, 2 pianos and horn, a composition sadly relegated to anonymity.

Take note all established chamber groups: the Storioni’s showed remarkable modesty in programming throughout the festival always taking care to let distinguished guests and chamber music companions take the limelight. Storioni violinist Wouter Vossen proved his mettle on many an occasion as a supportive second violinist underlining the narrative of that all-important voice with character and élan.

One of the many high points in the celebration of a decade of festival activity was brought courtesy of music from Georgia. Nodar Gabunia’s Fable, a storied and politically relevant musical depiction in which voices blend with piano winds and strings to create a whimsical portrait. A splendid trio of Georgia’s finest male singers brought the house to its feet in an east meets west celebration of febrile and throaty song from their homeland.

Palpable enjoyment won the evening as the audience engaged in the plain old good fun with a hilarious cacophonous composition entitled Nuages for piano trio and cell phone orchestra. Candles flickered, the lights turned low as the unnerving sounds of harmonics and telephonic admonitions such as: turn up the volume and keep silent, kept the audience and their phones on high alert. The oft-banned companion provided an amused audience with a unique chance to turn up the volume and join in the fun. Quotes from Debussy and Django Reinhardt famed cloud compositions brought the familiar into focus.

The Storioni Trio’s ambitious mission for 2017 ‘Designing new traditions’ in a city permeated by inventiveness and creativity has built new bridges to expand the repertoire and engage audiences in new ways.

As the 10-year mark passes into that great space of fond memories, one wonders what the future will bring to a festival that excels in both quality and innovation. Violinist Wouter Vossen shares a sneak preview of great things to come: “next year our focus will turn to the theme of beyond borders. If you take this to the limit, not only does music and of course musicians interact across every conceivable barrier but also music can provide an inner escape from a harsh external reality.” Plans call for substantial involvement with asylum seekers in the region.

Whereas America’s new president seeks to close the doors to what was traditionally known as a democratic haven, a music festival in Netherlands enlightens us to the fact that art knows no boundaries. To those who follow the viral Netherlands Second posts and tweets, we may just have to move the small country with a festival replete with fecund partnerships to first place.

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