Arts & Events

3-Week Mendocino Music Festival begins Tonight

Ken Bullock
Friday July 10, 2015 - 01:43:00 PM

"I saw them putting up the big tent on the headlands in Mendocino, while driving up Highway One," an old friend up north emailed me the other day. "Looks good from across the Big River estuary and the bay. I guess it's time for the Music Festival!" 

For the next three weekends, starting tonight, and every weekday in between, the Mendocino Music Festival will be celebrating its 29th annual season with afternoon shows mostly in the smaller venues around town and shows in the evening in that big, acoustically fine tent on the headlands, a few steps across the field from Main Street--all kinds of music, much more than the very fine classical musical performances the Festival has the highly deserved reputation of producing. 

This Saturday and Sunday's shows are a case in point, demonstrating the eclecticness--and depth--of programming: Saturday evening at 8, the excellent Festival Orchestra, conducted by Festival co-founder and artistic director Allan Pollack, longtime lecturer in music at UC Berkeley (and Berkeley resident), will play Shostakovich's Second Jazz Suite, followed by Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto, featuring guest violinist Livia Sohn, and finally Prokofieff's Seventh Symphony, with melodies he created for children's movies. In two separate shows on Sunday, bands from French Canada will play, Les Temps Antan, with Quebecoise music, and Vishten, playing in Acadian and Celtic styles. 

That kind of density and breadth continues throughout the second week, with vocalist Tierney Sutton paying tribute to Joni Mitchell's music next, accompanied by a duo that includes bassist Mark Summer of Turtle Island Quartet fame, splitting the bill with a jazz trio led by Julian Pollack, son of the Festival co-founders ("I grew up at the Mendocino Festival!"), back home for a break from his successful career as a composer-pianist in New York. That Friday, after an afternoon program by oud-frame drum duo Hamid, Rossini's opera, 'The Barber of Seville,' will be fully staged in the big tent, preceded by a lecture by stage director Eugene Brancovean--and the next night, after Alex de Grassi's afternoon guitar recital, the Festival Big Band, which really swings!, will be joined by jazz and standards singer Kathleen Grace. 

One set of programming at the heart of the Festival's raison d'etre will be spread out over four days of the last week: pianist and Festival co-founder and artistic associate director Susan Waterfall's series of programs on Mozart--Mozart with Punch and Dreck, Mozart At Home, Mozart At Court and Outdoors (preceded in the afternoon by a separate show of African pop by the great Bassekou Kouyate)--and Frederica von Stade singing Mozart with the Festival Orchestra, preceded by Waterfall's lecture--and her lectures are marvelously conversational and informed. 

There's also A Capella groups, JASBO (Jazz, Art Song, Broadway, Opera), with the Jade Jazz Ensemble and the Berkeley Young Musicians Chorale Orchestra, the bluesy, funky California Honeydrops, programs with the wonderful Festival Chorus--and a lot more ... including free admission to the rehearsals in the tent, afternoons before orchestral and operatic concerts. 

And of course there's the truly rustic beauty of the old town of Mendocino, its Victorian structures on the plateau between forest and the Pacific, where just strolling the streets, walking out on the headlands, or down to the river or beaches are alone a great pleasure. It's the perfect setting for the intimate yet community quality of this great summer music festival. 

"No static, memorized interpretations here, but rather an ink still wet on the paper immediacy, all seemingly amplified and enhanced by the bluff top location," Barbara Faulkner--Festival Board member, member of the Festival Chorus and longtime Mendocino piano teacher--wrote me, which sums up something of the collective spirit guiding the celebration. 

Mendocino Music Festival, July 10-25 in the town of Mendocino: Schedule, info & tickets