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For 32 years, the Kingston Chamber Music Festival has enjoyed continual success every summer on the Kingston Campus of the University of Rhode Island but as has happened to all large public musical events, the pandemic this year has delivered a sour note.
However, as soon as it became apparent that the festival could not be staged in front of live audiences, Natalie Zhu, artistic director and pianist, decided the show must go on virtually.
Starting July 22 and continuing for six concerts through Aug. 2, the Kingston festival will be available free online by visiting the festival’s website, kingstonchambermusic.org. Click on concerts and then click on watch and listen on the appropriate date/time. If you miss a date, the concerts will be available on the website until Sept. 1.
Much smaller than the famous Newport Music Festival, the Kingston festival was founded by Violinist David Kim on a shoestring budget. David’s father, Chai, was a professor at URI and when David visited one time, he thought the bucolic Kingston campus would be an ideal venue for a summer chamber music festival offered at bargain ticket prices. David scrounged around the community to garner funding and program advertisements. He enticed musicians he knew to come to South County to perform for modest pay but a chance to enjoy a seashore atmosphere. Tickets were just a few dollars and the summer community responded.
While the festival was held in the rather mundane, but acoustically good, Fine Arts Recital Hall at URI (stark contrast to the opulent venues used by the Newport festival) the audiences loved the performances high in quality and low in price.
The festival grew larger every year. David, who is now concertmaster of the world-famous Philadelphia Orchestra, was increasingly able to tap performers from the Philadelphia/Manhattan area. He never had a problem enlisting musicians at modest cost—summertime in South County with its beaches, seafood and relaxed atmosphere, was a big draw for musicians who often brought their children and pets for a combination of music-making and vacation.
The festival this year celebrates Beethoven’s 250th birthday and each concert has at least one work by the famed composer.
Performers vary throughout the six concerts, but David Kim plays in two of them and Natalie Zhu performs in five. All the performances were recorded in an acoustically famed Barthelmes Auditorium of the German Society of Philadelphia, which dates to 1764.
The concerts are:
–July 22, 7:30 p.m.— “Happy Birthday Beethoven”—Beethoven’s Piano Trio in E-flat Major and Dvorak’s String Quintet No 2 in G Major.
–July 24, 7:30 p.m.— “Romantic Developments”—Beethoven’s String Trio in G Major and Schumann’s Piano Quartet in E-flat Major.
–July 26, 4 p.m.— “Schubert Adds a Bass (and a Trout)”—Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 5 in F Major and Schubert’s Quintet in A Major, D “Trout.”
–July 29, 7:30 p.m. – “Mozart’s Inspiration”—Beethoven’s Seven Variations in E-flat Major from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G Major.
–July 31, 7:30 p.m.— “Transfigured Night” —Beethoven’s Horn Sonata in F Major and Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night for String Quartet.
–Aug. 2, 4:30 p.m. –“Au Revoir, Beethoven!” Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 16 in F, Major and Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 3 in C Minor.
All the concerts are free but donations to the Kingston Chamber Music Festival, P.O. Box 1733, Kingston RI, 02881 will be more than welcome this year when tickets sales are zero.
Rudi Hempe of Narragansett is a retired journalist.