People the world over associate the Bluff City with the sounds of rock-and-roll, the blues, jazz, Stax-flavored soul, and Goner’s brand of garage-punk. Classical music rarely gets a mention in that list — despite the accomplished Memphis Symphony Orchestra (see Chris McCoy’s cover story below), the PRIZM Ensemble (see Alex Greene’s June 15th column), and others. The Luna Nova Ensemble is another hidden gem for the music lover in search of something a little more refined.
Luna Nova Music is celebrating the 11th annual Belvedere Chamber Music Festival at Grace-St. Luke’s Episcopal Church June 21st-24th. The festival will include performances of works by Bach, Bartok, Martinů, and Ravel, as well as original compositions by three composers selected from the 189 entrants to the Luna Nova student composition contest.
Patricia Gray, Ph.D., is the executive director of Luna Nova Music. Gray has been a musician her whole life and once taught in the music department at Rhodes College, after which she began working with the music tech division of the Associated Colleges of the South, a consortium of colleges like Rhodes. “That was a springboard,” Gray says. “That’s where Luna Nova came from, because I was working with a lot of composers and performers of new music who were from small colleges, and they didn’t all have the support that they would like to have. So we were able to blend a lot of resources from a number of institutions and build an ensemble and build a concert series and create a lot of wonderful networking between really talented people. That just started with a bang.”
Gray couldn’t help but notice that students, talented though they might be, did not always have access to the funds, technology, or professional performers necessary to lay down a high-quality recording of their compositions. And it’s exactly that kind of recording that a student bound for post-graduate studies or a career in recording or performance would need. Gray and her husband Robert Patterson found a void in the music community, and they set about filling it.
Luna Nova was initially funded by a Mellon Grant, but when the grant ran out, Gray and Patterson kept the ball rolling. They established Luna Nova as a private 501(c)(3), and with the help of Grace-St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, they began the Belvedere Chamber Music Festival to showcase the composing talents of students worldwide and the performance abilities of local and national classical musicians. “Since we’ve been independent in Memphis, it’s been worldwide,” Gray says. “We’ve had people from France and Italy and Australia and China.”
This year marks the 11th anniversary of the Belvedere Chamber Music Festival, and once again, Luna Nova has partnered with the Beethoven Club, a group of local musicians dedicated to the promotion and sustenance of classical music, to put on the international student composition contest. The winners of this year’s contest are Alex Burtzos from New York, Brendan McMullen from Seattle, and Jack Frerer from Australia. (Fun fact: Burtzos is the founder and president of ICEBERG New Music collective, a group that has been working with Memphis’ own Blueshift Ensemble during a residency at Crosstown Arts this week, see below.) Each of the three composers boasts a list of impressive bona fides, and each will have a piece performed in this year's festival.
The performers will be John McMurtery (flute), Gregory Maytan (violin), Nobuko Igarashi (clarinet), Craig Hultgren (cello), Paul Murray (baritone), Perry Mears (piano), Daniel Gilbert (violin), Tomaz Robak (piano), Jonathan Kirkscey (cello), Marisa Polesky (violin), Jenny Davis (flute), Brian Ray (piano), Robert Patterson (horn), Mark Volker (guitar), and Michelle Vigneau (oboe).
The Belvedere Chamber Music Festival will be presented at Grace-St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on June 21-24, 2017. Evening concerts start at 7:30 and are free and open to the public. Afternoon concerts are Thursday and Friday at 3:00.