Kingston Chamber Music Festival to feature compositions by URI alumnus, professor

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Zach Friedland
Zach Friedland, a 2013 graduate of the University of Rhode Island and now a doctoral candidate at Ohio State University, composed "Riding Waves" for the 30th anniversary of the Kingston Chamber Music Festival. It will make its world premiere opening night, on July 25. URI photo by Nora Lewis

KINGSTON, R.I., July 19, 2018 – Zach Friedland, a 2013 graduate of the University of Rhode Island, knows what it would feel like playing on a bill with heavy hitters like Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page.

That’s what Friedland, now a doctoral student in composition at Ohio State University, will experience opening night of the 30th anniversary celebration of the popular Kingston Chamber Music Festival. The two-week, six-concert festival, housed in the University of Rhode Island’s Fine Arts Center Concert Hall, 105 Upper College Road, Kingston, opens July 25.

Pianist Natalie Zhu, in her 10th year as artistic director, has put together a festival worthy of a 30th anniversary by bringing in internationally known musicians – such as violinist Hilary Hahn and guitarist Jason Vieaux, both Grammy winners – and commissioning three original compositions that will make their world premieres at the festival.

The 30th includes an exhibit on the festival’s history, “Celebrating the Spirit of Con Brio,” in the Fine Arts Center that will run throughout the festival, and Grammy-winning recording engineer/producer Andrews K. Meyer will record the six subscription concerts.

The highlight may be the 30th finale on Aug. 5 when Hahn will perform two Bach concertos backed by a 22-member chamber orchestra, made up of festival artists and several musicians from URI, Zhu says. See the full schedule and ticket information.

“Every single concert will be a highlight of the summer,” says Zhu. “I’m looking forward to all of them. I suggest that no one should miss a single concert this summer.”

Along with Friedland, commissioned works by noted composers David Ludwig and former Wakefield resident Carl Schimmel, will be sprinkled among the mix of grand masters. Also, a 2006 composition by Eliane Aberdam, URI professor of music composition and theory, will open the second concert, on July 27.

Friedland’s work, “Riding Waves,” will make its world premiere in a lineup of music giants – Mozart, Schumann and Prokofiev – on a night billed as “Music of Four Centuries.” (The opening night concert is sponsored by the URI College of Arts and Sciences.)

“I would certainly call it quite humbling to be sharing a concert with those names,” says Friedland, 28, of Richmond, R.I. “They are names that most everyone knows, musicians or not.”

Adding to the prestige, the piano and violin duet was specifically commissioned for Zhu and festival founder David Kim, concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra who led the Kingston festival as artistic director for its first 20 years.

That knowledge added to the excitement, not the anxiety.

“It’s great because when you have musicians of that caliber, you can do anything,” says Friedland. “You don’t have to worry is this going to be too hard, and you know they will approach it with the utmost passion and virtuosity.”

For Friedland, his composition marks somewhat of a return to the festival.

As an undergraduate at URI and a graduate student at the Longy School of Music of Bard College in Cambridge, Mass., Friedland worked behind the scenes at the festival for five years. It was a lot of logistics, such as organizing travel and meals for the musicians.

“The secret success formula of the [festival],’’ says Kim, “[is] we always have a pair of young people who would just run so much of the nitty gritty. When I came back for the 25th anniversary, Zach was one of them.”

Friedland knew of Kim and his importance in the festival’s history, and the two became “really good friends,” Kim says.

“I thought that was just something wonderful for Natalie to program,” adds Kim. “I’m just tickled to death that we are going to play one of his works.”

“By commissioning Zach’s work, this is a special way for me to say thank you to him and to all the supporters who share the same appreciation and love for the festival,” Zhu says.

Though he’s just 28, Friedland has penned close to 50 compositions. He started composing his junior year of high school and composed a piece that he conducted at his high school graduation. He repeated the feat as a senior at URI, composing the graduation recessional “High Altitudes; Think Big We Do” and performing it with the commencement ensemble.

His inspiration for “Riding Waves” naturally came from his work at the festival.

“My experience with the Kingston Chamber Festival was such an important part of my life,” says Friedland. “It was a great opportunity for me. I got to meet some of the greatest musicians in the world.

“A lot of [the musicians] went to school together, got to know each other … and for two weeks in the summer, surrounded by beautiful scenery, they get to come together. That’s what makes the music so good, everyone is just happy to be here and playing together. That’s what makes it a special time.”

In writing the piece, Friedland, who’s studied composition with eight different instructors, including Aberdam, strove for something “uplifting and full of energy.” Something Zhu and Kim would enjoy playing and befitting an opening night.

Before sitting down at his piano to write, he listened to the historic pieces that would be on the program with his, ensuring that his complemented the program and would “give the concert audience a nice taste of some of the music being written today.”

He had at least one tool the Mozarts and Schumanns lacked – music notation software. It allowed him to write and tweak the music ­­– and easily print out a finished product – that would have been unimaginable in their time. And he could hear it – albeit by a computer.

“It gives you a pretty good idea of what it sounds like,” says Friedland, “but obviously, it doesn’t compare to the real thing.”

Aberdam’s work, “Grisailles Vaporeusues,” premiered at a 2006 festival in Grenoble, France. The piano trio was selected by Zhu for Kingston, using the 30th anniversary to thank the University and the community for their support over the years, Aberdam says.

Aberdam wrote the piece shortly after she moved to Westerly, R.I., in 2006, and it captures the “misty grayness” of an autumn day. “It was the first of my works that was inspired by natural surrounds,” she says, “and special places that I cross every day on my way to work.”

The piece will be performed by Zhu, violinist Amy Orshiro-Morales and cellist Priscilla Lee. Aberdam last heard it performed in 2010, and says she’s thrilled to hear a new interpretation of a work that “has become familiar to my ears in prior recordings.”

“This is a prestigious honor to have a piece performed by musicians of such caliber,” she says, “and I want them to enjoy themselves and keep good memories of the experience.”