Across-the-water music on the Shore Festival: June brings a flourishing tradition of chamber music on the Eastern Shore. Concerts begin tomorrow at the Avalon Theatre in Easton.

June 06, 1996|By DAIL WILLIS | DAIL WILLIS,SUN STAFF

EASTON -- When clarinetist Lawrie Bloom's parents bought a house in St. Michaels, he came to visit and said, "We ought to start a little chamber music festival here." And they did.

More than a decade later, the Blooms' "little festival" has evolved into a Talbot County tradition. The Eastern Shore Chamber Music Festival has gained a loyal following in its 11 years and grown into a two-week event, but it hasn't outgrown its roots. It's still an opportunity for players and listeners alike to experience chamber music in an intimate setting.

"When you walk out on the stage, there's a feeling of family -- that we're playing for friends," says Bloom. "That doesn't happen very often."

He should know. After growing up in Bethesda and Princeton, N.J., he became a clarinetist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. For the past 16 years, he has played all over the world. But the chamber music festival that begins tomorrow night at the Avalon Theatre in Easton is special to him and the other players, he says.

"This is a very different venue," he says of the Shore. "You have two or three performers on stage and a couple hundred people in the audience. It's a very different intimacy. . . . Here you get to meet people. It's a different feel for us."

The opening-night program begins at 8 o'clock. Bloom, French horn player Michael Gast and pianist Diane Walsh will join the Mendelssohn String Quartet to perform a program that includes Mozart, Shnitke and Dohnanyi.

On Saturday afternoon, the concert series will move to the Aspen Institute at Wye Mills for a 4 p.m. concert and champagne supper. On the musical program are works by Haydn, Rochberg and Borodin.

On Thursday, June 13, there is a free concert for young listeners at the Avalon. On Friday, Bloom will be joined by two of the Mendelssohn Quartet players and seven other musicians for an 8 p.m. concert at the Avalon featuring the works of Beethoven, Harbison and Mozart. Saturday's concert is also an 8 p.m. performance at the Avalon, and on the schedule are the works of Bach, Poulenc and Tchaikovsky. The two-week series concludes Sunday, June 16, with a fund-raising concert on a private estate in Talbot County where the musicians will perform the works of Mozart, Prokofiev and Beethoven.

The music chosen each year reflects the intimacy and the continuity of the festival, Bloom says -- there's always something old and something new in every concert.

"We've developed a nice trust on both sides," he says of the

festival's relationship with its growing audience. "They trust that we're going to bring them some music that they've heard and some that they've never heard. We trust that they will listen to it. You don't always have that trust with an audience."

That trust arises in part because of the small, intimate settings for the concerts, he says -- "The Avalon is wonderful, a very small place where everyone feels involved" -- and also because of the festival arrangements offstage. The musicians stay with local families in Talbot County during the festival, and that contributes to the feeling of trust and intimacy on both sides.

"This audience is involved," he says with pride. "They feel like they know these players. The community houses these players."

Bloom and cellist Marcy Rosen of the Mendelssohn String Quartet are the festival's artistic directors. They choose the musicians who are invited each year, Bloom says, and even that choice reflects the festival's intimate, family nature.

"We have two rules," he says of how his fellow performers are chosen. "They have to be great players, and they have to be

people that we like! We're looking for people who are really nice people -- they communicate that onstage to an audience."

And the sense of communication and trust runs both ways, say Easton residents involved with the festival.

"These are 'our' musicians," says Anna Larkin, a member of the festival's board. She and others, such as Don Buxton, the festival's executive director, work all year to put the festival together. Over the past decade, they say, the festival has expanded to include more musicians and a more regional audience without losing that "small-venue" feel.

"Within the past five years, I've seen a larger degree of regional draw -- Washington, Philadelphia," Buxton says. The festival is attracting a younger audience and their families, a trend that pleases the festival organizers and musicians.

Ticket prices have been deliberately kept low to attract young audiences, he says -- the Avalon concert prices range from $6 to $22. The Aspen Institute concert is $50, and the fund-raiser concert is $250 for two.

This year, Bloom visited Talbot County a few weeks before the concert and talked to students in two Talbot County schools about chamber music and the coming concert series.

"That's been a real goal of the chamber music festival -- to really work on the educational aspects," Buxton says. The festival is also branching out geographically this year, with one concert Sunday in Ocean City.

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