The Valley of the Moon Music Festival returns to Sonoma Valley on July 17 with a full program of enticing chamber music concerts. The calendar of events for the seventh annual festival includes both live and virtual events. Current pandemic restrictions limit the number of participants in the live concerts.
The theme of this year’s VMMF is “Love and Longing: Getting Over the Distance”. Co-founder and Artistic Director Tanya Tomkins stated, “The theme has to do with the idea that we were all pretty isolated from this pandemic. Music is a way of bringing us all together. All the musicians longed to play together and the audience longed to hear live music. All the music we programmed for the festival has to do with love or longing. It’s about wanting to be together, wanting to be close. The joy of being close or the sadness of not being close. “
The hopeful theme follows a dark 2020. Tomkins said, “Last season we focused on virtual and presented an entire virtual festival. We learned a lot of new things. This year we present our first hybrid virtual and personal festival. “
There will be virtual concerts in various locations across the country and live concerts in the auditorium of the Hanna Boys Center.
“We’re so excited to come back to Sonoma and perform for a smaller audience that is sure to be aloof,” said Tomkins. “We have a strict security protocol that we follow.”
The origins of the festival began seven years ago with a kismet-enhanced afternoon in the Sobre Vista house of the founding council president Martin Cohn. He suggested to Tomkins and her festival partner Eric Zivian that their vision of a classical music festival could take root successfully in the Sonoma Valley.
Tomkins said on a phone call from her Berkeley home, “While Napa has had several chamber music festivals, the city of Sonoma has not yet had one. Seven years later, we feel so privileged and excited to have become part of Sonoma’s vibrant tapestry of amazing nonprofits and to bring world class benefits to the community. “
This season, Tomkins is particularly excited about “a fantastic baritone named Dashon Burton. He’s going to do one of our virtual performances, this one from Boston. “
Burton will perform a program that will focus on the relationship of Czech composer Antonin Dvorak with a classical composer named Harry Burleigh. Burleigh popularized the so-called “Negro Spirituals,” Tomkins said.
Burleigh caught Dvorak’s ear with his rich baritone voice singing the bewitching melodies. Dvorak adapted these spirituals for the concert stage. Soon concert masters and producers began to include all of these spirituals in their recitals by Mozart and other classical composers.
The name of this concert sung by Burton is “Collaboration” and will take place on July 22nd. Tomkins called it “an interesting intersection of our American history and European art music”.
A fascinating aspect of the Valley of the Moon music festival is the use of period instruments for all concerts. A historical instrument is an instrument that exactly meets the specifications that the masters used in composing their works. This is important in order to have a true replica of the original work, festival officials say. For example, the small piano that Mozart would have used to compose his works sounded very different from the Steinway grand pianos that you could hear in a concert hall. The festival has a selection of these contemporary instruments.
The use of these historical instruments is increasing, said Tomkins.
“It’s getting popular,” said Tomkins. “I think it’s something that helps them get out of the perfectionist rigidity that we often associate with classical music. (They) offer a lot more experimental possibilities; it opens up sound worlds and it liberates them. “
The use of the period instruments is a return to the actual ingredients that the composer used in writing the pieces. Beethoven is more than a marble bust sitting on a grand piano, and the instruments allow the musicians to get closer to the music “to learn that a person wrote the piece,” said Tomkins.
The first two weekends of the festival are virtual. The last two weekends are live concerts.
On the evening of July 28th, a free community concert will take place at a location to be determined. Tomkins will provide further details which will be announced at a later date.
For information about the free concert and regular live and virtual shows on their website, visit talofthemoonmusicfestival.org.