Conductor Matthew Aucoin, left, and violinist Keir GoGwilt perform at the Caroga Arts Ensemble concert Friday night at Sherman Amusement Park. (photo provided)

CAROGA LAKE – The 11th annual Caroga Lake Music Festival had its final classical orchestra concert Friday night before a packed crowd of adoring fans. It was also the debut of composer/conductor Matthew Aucoin, who performed four of his works on the program.

For those who have not visited this festival, it is worth a look. The location is the former Sherman Amusement Park, which opened in 1921 and for the next 50 years or so hosted big bands, a dance hall, a carousel and a Ferris wheel on the shores of Caroga Lake, which is just inside Adirondack Park. The festival began when a 19-year-old cellist, Kyle Barrett Price, from the Cleveland Institute of Music, held several concerts with friends at his grandmother’s house.

The idea was born to develop an artist-led creative community and in 2012 the Caroga Lake Music Festival was founded.

It has since grown to more than 35 concerts over a five-week period and has further expanded to other venues through the Caroga Lake Collective and includes all kinds of music, theater and various symposia. There is also a dream to build a new amphitheater on the site and a year-round artists’ house on a nearby estate.

Before each concert at Sherman’s, the carousel runs for two hours. It’s a magical ride on horseback to see the wonderful stained glass windows around the interior of the ceiling that Adirondack Glass created. The Ferris wheel does not run, but lights up at night.

The concert was held indoors, where the audience could watch the sunset through the open doors – a charming and quiet addition to the music that was anything but soothing. The program included duets and solos with the 40-piece orchestra.

Aucoin, 32, is a 2018 MacArthur Grant Fellow and artist-in-residence at the Los Angeles Opera. The crowd heard his “Dual” for cello/bass; “This Earth” for countertenor and piano; “Shaker Dance” for violin/cello and orchestra; and “Family Dinner” for two violins and orchestra. His style was evident in all of them: fast, almost frantic repetitions, same-note motifs, some long exchanges between players, percussive rhythms, lots of unison, and parts that ended abruptly. All the musicians played with great dedication and energy. They included cellists Mitch Lyon and Price, bassist Jonathan Borden, and violinists Keir GoGwilt and Andy Liang.

The most effective part of this group was “This Earth”. Countertenor Nicholas Kelliher, who is a master’s degree candidate at the University of Cincinnati, sang in fine voice to Aucoin’s piano in a vocal line independent of the spare, open-space harmonies of the piano part. Based on the opening lines of Dante’s Purgatory, Kelliher sang in archaic Italian with compelling emotion.

The finale was GoGwilt as soloist in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto conducted by Aucoin. He laid down the traditional rhythms with an orchestra providing solid support. GoGwilt was technically quite fluent, but a little flat, which was corrected in the middle of the first movement. But in the cadenza, instead of staying behind Beethoven, he and the principal bassist indulged in some disorganized and highly improvised improvisations that not only destroyed Beethoven’s beauty, but were completely inappropriate. It is one thing to introduce a modern-style accompaniment to a masterpiece, such as this violin concerto; It is another thing to impose both styles together – an insult to the composer and the audience. The remaining two moves went traditionally.

Although the festival ends on Sunday, there are additional concerts at the venue with Alex Torres & his Latin Orchestra in the finale on September 30.

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