Baritone Kerry Henderson co-founded the successful Phoenicia International Festival of the Arts with Maria Todaro and Louis Otey in 2010, and he has since turned his attention to Kingston. Last August, Henderson and Gloria Waslyn launched the Kingston Festival of the Arts: a one-day affair with a program of music, dance, culinary and visual arts events scheduled all over the city. This year, with unbounded optimism and ambition, Henderson has expanded the festival to 11 days, from August 21 to 31. He will also be launching his new Opera Theater of Kingston on opening night.
Most of this year’s performances are centered in the Stockade District. The prime venues are the Old Dutch Reformed Church and the Uptown Gallery, the storefront art gallery that Henderson and Waslyn opened last year on Wall Street.
While there will be plenty to please classical musical-lovers, Henderson has expanded the concept of “chamber” to include a performance of a jazz piece still in development, a band whose prime instrument is a ten-foot hurdy-gurdy and several crossover performances, including interpretations of pop and jazz classics by a classically trained quintet. There will also be Mayan-inspired dance, dramatically staged in the Andy Murphy Neighborhood Center; an all-day, hands-on children’s arts fest at Forsyth Park; an orchestral event aimed at toddlers; folk music in the Pete Seeger-inspired Voices for Water concert held on the waterfront; and discounts at many of the city’s restaurants, cafés and taverns.
The festival kicks off at the Old Dutch Reformed Church on Thursday, August 21 at 7:30 p.m. with “A Night at the Opera,” featuring Henderson; Eugenia Zukerman, the international flautist and classical music television personality; soprano Alison Davy; tenor Monte Stone, creator of the Ring Disc: An Interactive Guide to Wagner’s Ring Cycle (the acclaimed CD-ROM compilation of the complete Ring cycle with scholarly commentary); conductor and pianist Louis Menendez; and pianist Peggy Reich. They’ll be performing highlights from Pergolesi’s hilarious opera buffa La Serva Padrona, excerpts from Zuckerman’s recording of opera favorites for flute and piano, Wotan’s Farewell from Wagner’s Die Walküre and gems from the Broadway playbook.
The event will be introduced by Kingston mayor Shayne Gallo and wind up with a champagne toast at the Uptown Gallery, with a performance by jazz singer Liza Doolittle. It also marks the debut of Henderson’s new chamber opera company, the Opera Theater of Kingston. Based in Kingston, the company plans to present its first opera, The Marriage of Figaro, at Dietz Stadium in 2015.
One of the highlights of this year’s festival is The Other Mozart, a one-woman show about Wolfgang’s sister Nannerl, conceived, written and performed by Sylvia Milo. Like her younger brother, Nannerl was a child prodigy, keyboard virtuoso and composer who performed throughout Europe. While her compositions have been lost to history, bits and pieces of her extraordinary career are revealed in letters, which served as the source material for Milo’s production.
While Milo is off touring the show in Europe this summer, understudy Sara Florence Fellini – herself an accomplished performer and writer – will play the role of Nannerl in virtually the same production in six performances at the Uptown Gallery. With her enormous coiffure, balletic movements, opulent clothing and clouds of dusting powder, Fellini exudes elegance and beauty, even as she is literally trapped in her costume: an 18-foot-long dress, which functions as the set and as an emblem of the societal strictures of her time.
The piece features music composed by Mozart and Marianna Martines, a composer who inspired Nannerl, along with original music by Nathan Davis and Phyllis Chen of Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival. Clavichords, music boxes, bells, teacups and fans serve as the musical accompaniment. It will be performed on August 22, 23, 24, 29, 30 and 31.
Other classical music performances are a song recital by mezzo-soprano Anita Shamnasky, titled “Eternal Love,” at the Uptown Gallery on the evening of August 27; the “Riot with Three” chamber ensemble (soprano Alison Davy, classical saxophonist Javier Oviedo, pianist Gene Rohrer) on August 28, also at the Uptown Gallery, in which the trio explore the theme of ones, twos and threes through the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Lee Hoiby, Joelle Wallach, Francis Poulenc and other composers; and a performance at the Old Dutch Church on August 30 with Zuckerman, pianist Babette Hierholzer and violinist Helena Bailey playing a program of chamber music in styles ranging from Baroque to bossa nova.
Henderson said that presenting grassroots, small-scale productions such as what he is organizing for the City of Kingston helps keep classical music alive and accessible in a time when mega-companies, with their mega-productions, are struggling. By enabling artists to retain control, such intimate performances allow for more risk-taking, ensuring an exciting experience for audiences.
Among the more experimental offerings is One’s-self I Sing, a new chamber work by contemporary composer Steve Lebetkin with sections inspired by the poems of Walt Whitman, Pablo Neruda and Alexander Pope. It will be performed on August 23 with soprano Kimberly Kahan and pianist Peggy Reich; they’ll be accompanied by a wind quintet recorded in Prague. Formerly an accountant who gave up his practice to devote himself to composing, his true passion, Lebetkin will host a question-and-answer session after the performance.
At 7 p.m. on August 25 at the Uptown Gallery, indie classical chamber ensemble Madera Vox invites the public to sit in on its rehearsal of a newly commissioned work by acclaimed jazz pianist and composer Sumi Tonooka, who will also be present. The classically trained Hudson Valley-based quintet – who are Keve Wilson, Cornelia McGiver, Sylvia Buccelli, David Gluck and Kelly Ellenwood – reinterpret Nirvana, the Doors, Chick Corea, Kurt Weill and other wide-ranging music, as well as perform their own genre-bending compositions. Admission to the rehearsal is free.
Last year’s crowd-pleaser was Dzul Dance, and this year the Mayan-inspired international dance company is back, with two performances on August 29 and 30, plus a free preview performance on August 23. Suspended from wires hung from the ceiling of the Andy Murphy Neighborhood Center, the dancers will perform a piece called Pixom, combining circus arts with indigenous traditions from Central America. Artistic director Javier Dzul grew up in the jungles of southern Mexico, performing Mayan ritual dance as a child and teenager, before becoming a principal dancer with two ballet companies in Mexico; he also studied ballet in Cuba before coming to New York on a scholarship to study with the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance.
Performing at the Uptown Gallery on the afternoon of August 24 will be jazz singer/songwriter Jeanne Gies and seven-string guitar-player Howard Alden. Alden did the soundtrack for Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown and has appeared on recordings of jazz legends Benny Carter and Dizzy Gillespie. Gies and Alden have toured the world, teaming up to create their own brand of jazz/pop and performing songs written by Alden.
A ten-foot-long Bosch hurdy-gurdy is the star of the Jobe/Redfearn Project, held at the Old Dutch Church at 4 p.m. on August 30.
True to its orientation as a family-friendly event, the Kingston Festival of the Arts is sponsoring a free artfest for kids at Forsyth Park on August 30. There’ll be kids’ bands, an open mic, youth dance groups, face-painting, games and more from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The same day, the Northern Dutchess Symphony Orchestra will present two “Tiny Tots inside the Orchestra” interactive performances at the Old Dutch Church, featuring music from the Disney movie Fantasia and other kid classics. Toddlers will be encouraged to dance, make artwork and mingle with the musicians as they play; 20 minutes before each hourlong performance, scheduled for 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., families are invited to explore the “Instrument Petting Zoo.”
Rounding out the festival are Voices for Water, a free performance by singer/songwriters celebrating the essential resource of clean water at the Hudson River Maritime Museum on August 30 at 3 p.m., and “Chasing the Rhythms,” a percussion performance of music from Africa and the African diaspora by Ensemble Congeros at the Uptown Gallery on August 31 at 2:30 p.m. Director Dr. Eddie Ade Knowles is a well known percussionist and professor of Practice in the Arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
While you’re in Kingston, check out the Artists’ Soapbox Derby, the race down lower Broadway of novel non-motorized vehicles, on the afternoon of August 24, back after a few years’ hiatus. Many of the city’s restaurants, cafés and taverns will be offering discounts; visit www.facebook.com/kingstonfestival for details. Visit www.kingstonfestival.org for the complete listing of events and to purchase tickets. Tickets are also on sale at the Uptown Gallery at 296 Wall Street in Kingston Monday through Saturday from 12 noon to 6 p.m.
Kingston Festival of the Arts, August 21-31, free-$20, various venues; www.kingstonfestival.org.