Leonore Overture

collects the music and arts criticism of Keith Powers

Kingston Chamber Music Festival opens with Curtis on Tour.

Violist and Curtis Institute CEO Roberto Diaz led an ensemble that opened the Kingston Chamber Music Festival. J. Henry Fair photograph

Violist and Curtis Institute CEO Roberto Diaz led an ensemble that opened the Kingston Chamber Music Festival. J. Henry Fair photograph

Curtis Institute in Philadelphia can brag that it’s the most exclusive college in the world. Only a tiny percentage of applicants make into the tuition-less conservatory—and they never forget that honor.

Curtis on Tour, which blends current students with prestigious conservatory alumni and travels the world, opened the 32nd Kingston Chamber Music Festival Wednesday evening in the Fine Arts Center at the University of Rhode Island. Five Curtis musicians, including current president Roberto Diaz, performed on the program. 

KCMF’s ties to Curtis run deep: founder David Kim and current artist director Nathalie Zhu are also prestigious alums. This current touring mix brought Cleveland Orchestra principal flute Joshua Smith, violinist Maria Ioudenitch, guitarist Jordan Dodson, and cellist Albert Seo—still as student—to the Fine Arts Center stage.

The concert opened with four sets of vernacular variations: groupings each by Marais and Bartok for flute and guitar; and sets by Piazzolla (“Histoire du Tango”) and David Ludwig, both written for violin, guitar and cello.

Each of the four sets had accessible, gestural music deeply rooted in various folk origins. Smith played a recycled lesson tune from Marais—“La Folia”—something few flutists could dare. The Bartok set—seven Romanian dances—had a heavy-footed charm, and was also played beautifully by Smith. 

Piazzolla’s “Histoire du Tango” came to life magnificently, with Ioudenitch supplying lyric lines and lusty dance rhythms. David Ludwig’s three songs artfully captured the spirit of the Jewish tradition in Spain and North Africa. These works, written in 2008, seemed to encapsulate the half-folk, half-classical compositions that ran through the first half of the program.

The second half featured quartets by Mozart (for flute and strings) and Paganini (for strings, with guitar). Smith gorgeously dispatched the Mozart—making sense of each line, articulating long phrases with ease. The finale was a riotous rondo—all four musicians had plenty to say. 

Diaz took the first chair for Paganini’s A minor quartet with guitar, one of fifteen he wrote for that instrumentation. The great Paganini was a viola virtuoso (and guitar too) besides violin, and Diaz braved this devilish lead viola part. 

A second movement duel with Ioudenitch gave both a chance to show off, and between that virtuosic showdown, some mock serious moments, and some serious serious moments, the 32nd Kingston Chamber Music Festival was off to a promising start.

The Kingston Chamber Music Festival runs through Aug. 4 at the Fine Arts Center Concert Hall, 105 Upper College Rd., Kingston. Tickets are $15–$30. Call (401) 308-3614 or visit kingstonchambermusic.org.

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