Cristian Măcelaru | Credit: r.r. jones

America’s “oldest new-music festival” is an old hand at the world’s newest concert form. The Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music has announced its 59th season, already its second virtual season, running July 31 – Aug. 8.

Besides overcoming the obstacles and misery presented by COVID-19, Music Director and Conductor Cristian Măcelaru says the 2021 festival “offers themes of resiliency, hope, and realism, in response to the profound crises of climate change, wildfires, and the persistence of human oppression.”

“There is no question that we miss the experience of live performances terribly, but we’re also working from a perspective of great opportunity,” said Cabrillo Executive Director Ellen Primack. “We can support our artists, we can expand our reach, and we can truly transform what an ‘orchestral experience’ can be and stretch our creative wings. Many are struggling through these times, and we have the power through music to bring joy, solace, and connection.”

Gabriela Lena Frank’s work will have its world premiere

Season highlights include world premieres by Gabriela Lena Frank, Jake Heggie, and Sean Shepherd. The festival’s 2021 virtual season is free to the public and features offerings of dance, photography, video, and animation. Guest artists include the St. Lawrence String Quartet, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, violinist Benjamin Beilman, and the award-winning Cabrillo Festival Orchestra led by Cristian Măcelaru.

Also featured are works by Theo Chandler, Eli Gilbert, Meng Wang, and Jeremy Rapaport-Stein. The Festival Orchestra will be featured in three new works recorded remotely and a 2018 ensemble recording.

Virtual programs will be realized by director Elena Park, producer Svet Stoyanov, cinematographer Frazer Bradshaw, Swan Dive Media, and others.

“We have designed a season that is relevant to this moment in time,” said Măcelaru. “It is topical and explores exciting new partnerships — with artists of many mediums and national and regional music and civic organizations. This reflects our desire to collaborate, support one another, and build strength by sharing resources and imagination.”

Beginning on March 6, the Festival launches a pre-season series of “Composers in Conversation.” The first Saturday of each month, March through July, Măcelaru will host live online conversations between small groups of composers, with space for audience questions. Featured composers include Clarice Assad, Jennifer Higdon, Wynton Marsalis, Kevin Puts, Iván Enrique Rodríguez, Huang Ruo, and others.

The pre-season “Composers in Conversation” dates are March 6, April 3, May 1, June 5, and July 3; all beginning at 11 a.m. PT. They include live audience Q&As.

The festival in Santa Cruz once upon a time ... | Credit: r.r. jones

Cabrillo Festival’s 2021 virtual season concerts and events will be held over two weekends, July 31 – Aug. 1 and Aug. 7–8. Each concert will start at 7 p.m. PT, followed by a live post-concert artist Q&A, hosted by Măcelaru. All programming is free and accessible to the public.

Following each premiere, concerts and events will remain accessible via on-demand streaming on the Cabrillo Festival’s website and YouTube channel. Paid subscription packages offer access to additional program content and are encouraged in support of the festival. Donations are welcomed at any time. The public is invited to join the Cabrillo Festival mailing list.

A detailed look at the new music ahead:

On Sunday, Aug. 1, the Santa Cruz County Youth Symphony premieres two commissions: a work for remotely recorded youth orchestra by composer Danny Clay and a chamber work by Eli Gilbert for the Fourtés Violin Quartet, an ensemble of the SCCYS Chamber Music Academy.

At 7 p.m., an “In the Works” concert will present six solo works and three duets written for members of the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra by three emerging composers from the Cabrillo Festival Composers Workshop — Theo Chandler, Meng Wang, and Jeremy Rapaport-Stein.

St. Lawrence String Quartet | Credit: Marco Borggreve

On Aug. 7, the program highlights Jake Heggie’s Songs From the Violins of Hope, the culmination of an extensive S.F. Bay Area collaboration begun in 2020 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The Violins of Hope are a collection of violins of the Holocaust, many used in the concentration camps, which have been meticulously restored by Israeli luthiers Amnon and Avshalom Weinstein. The 45-minute performance will interweave portions of the festival-commissioned orchestral version of the music, recorded remotely by the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra.

Heggie says: “The Cabrillo Festival has always represented hope and possibility in its mission to focus on the future of music — what’s current and what’s next. To be part of the festival is a great honor. Last year, they commissioned an orchestral version of my work Intonations: Songs From the Violins of Hope — a piece about legacy, remembrance, and the power of music to connect, heal, and save our lives.

“For this coming summer, Music Director Cristian Măcelaru has come up with a wonderful way to meld the original chamber version together with the orchestrated version of the piece to create a unique online filmed experience. This way we can incorporate historical elements to tell the stories of these remarkable instruments — with the full orchestra joining from all corners of the world. With mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, violinist Benjamin Beilman, and the St. Lawrence String Quartet at the core, I think it will be a beautiful, powerful, and emotional tour de force.”

Wrapping things up, on Aug. 8, Sean Shepherd’s 2018 Melt will be paired with Shepherd’s newly commissioned brief sequel, the original’s lament on climate change and the disappearance of glaciers followed by the new, yet-to-be-named composition’s reflection on the resilience of the forest after wildfire.

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