Musicians live, breathe and play chamber music in NH

Special to the Union Leader
July 06. 2016 1:26PM

Heng-Jin Park founded the Halcyon Festival and serves as the two-week chamber celebration's artistic director. She joins a roster of instrumentalists from around the world in seven concerts this month in Rye, Portsmouth, Durham and Exeter. 

For two weeks this summer, a handful of musicians will live in apartments at the University of New Hampshire, practicing, socializing and performing together.

Halcyon Music Festival’s performers see the immersive chamber-music program simply as a “mental vacation,” said the festival’s artistic director and pianist, Heng-Jin Park.

“We don’t think of it like work,” she said. “There’s a sense of just getting away from it all and focusing on the one thing that we’re all passionate about.”

Twenty-two musicians from across the country — they range in age from early 20s to 70s — arrive on the Seacoast Sunday, July 17. Between Wednesday, July 20, and Saturday, July 30, they will present seven concerts around the Seacoast.

“I decided it was now or never to start this festival that I had always dreamed of,” Park said. “It’s really sort of my baby. It’s taken off much quicker than I’d hoped. It’s sort of like a dream come true for me to start a festival where I invite my favorite musicians and I make my own music programs.”

This month’s program marks the third festival. But while much planning goes into it, the event itself goes by incredibly fast.

“We just start rehearsing immediately, and our first concert is three days after we first get there, so it’s quite quick,” she said.

Park houses featured musicians in apartments at UNH in Durham. As part of the two-week schedule, rehearsals begins at 9 a.m., with the last sessions of the day as late as 10 p.m., although they might not practice the entire day.

Those she chooses for Halcyon range from seasoned musicians to those who have won world-class competitions.

“There are so many wonderful people who are coming,” Park says of her lineup, which includes the principal horn player and the principal cellist of National Symphony Orchestra and the principal cello player of Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

This year’s roster includes violinists Miki-Sophia Cloud, Gabriela Diaz, Katherine Manker, Irina Muresanu, Monica Pegis and Ben Sayevich; violists Tatjana Mead Chamis, Chung-Hoon Peter Chun, Tim Deighton, Robert Meyer and Yizhak Schotten; French hornist Abel Pereira; cellists David Hardy, Brian Manker and Wendy Warner, and pianist Lolita Lisovskaya-Sayevich, along with Park.

Park also is grateful that Durham-area churches have donated their sanctuary spaces to festival musicians.

“We can’t just go and perform all these concerts without rehearsing first. So, we’re really fortunate that these churches have been incredibly generous in giving us these spaces so we can rehearse basically around the clock, all day long, starting that first Monday when we get there. We have incredibly full rehearsal schedules every day, and then some days we have concerts in the evenings.”

Passion for piano

For Park, who lived in Korea until she was 10, the piano has always been a passion. She remembered being about 5 when she heard her cousin play.

“I just fell in love with it. It was sort of like love at first sight, and I told my parents that I just had to do that — I just absolutely had to,” said Park, who parents bought her a piano, “and off I went.”

Park received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from New England Conservatory in Boston, and studied in Paris. In addition to her work with Halcyon, she’s a pianist with the Boston Trio, which she founded nearly 20 years ago. In addition, Park teaches in the music and theater department at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.

She enjoys the laser-focused environment of the Halcyon festival.

“They don’t have to think about anything else in their lives,” she said. “They don’t have to teach. Once they get there, they don’t have to travel. They don’t have to deal with any of the practicalities of life. Literally, they get there and all they have to do is music.”

Park, who will play at five of the seven shows, says another goal of the festival is to make chamber music accessible to more people, and the music she chooses reflects that diversity.

“It’s all classical music, but it’s all from different genres and different periods,” Park said. “There’s some baroque, there’s the classical period, there’s the Romantic period, all mixed together, so that if you go for even only one evening, you might get some Mozart, you might get some Brahms, you might get some Tchaikovsky, but you’re not gonna get just one type of classical music.”

Park said some of Halcyon’s programs cross over into more popular music, a form of fusion that may entice new listeners. For example, Park describes one piece as set to ragtime music, while another one is a “sort of folksy, Spanish music with a flamenco flavor to it” and a third has “a lot of jazzy flavor.”

“Most of our programs are more standard, classical, but there are these other pieces thrown in there, so that there’s something for people who like a little bit more, that kind of crossover,” she said.

The seven concerts begin with “Bohemian Rhapsody” on Wednesday, July 20, at Phillips Exeter Academy Library in Exeter at 7 p.m. Concerts continue with 7:30 p.m. shows at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Portsmouth Fridays and Saturdays, July 22-23 and 29-30; St. George’s Episcopal Church in Durham Wednesday, July 27, and Rye Congregational Church Thursday, July 28.


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