Mayfest chamber music festival returns to Ithaca May 20-24

Under the artistic direction of pianists Miri Yampolsky and Xak Bjerken, the Department of Music in the College of Arts and Sciences presents Mayfest, its annual springtime festival of world-class chamber music. Held May 20-24, Mayfest will feature performances by exceptional guest artists from around the world.

Bjerken and Yampolsky say they look forward to this celebration of music, community, and friendship every academic year, but after two years of cancellations, they are thrilled to present a journey to dearly-missed places in a festive reunion of music-making.

Invited artists this year include five-time Grammy-winning soprano Dawn Upshaw; saxophonist Steven Banks, a recent Avery Fisher Career Grant winner; Guy Braunstein, former concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic; Vesselin Gellev, the third concertmaster of the London Philharmonic Orchestra; violist Nikki Divall, a former member of the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the principal viola of Apollo’s Fire; clarinetist Chen Halevi, a frequent chamber music collaborator with festivals including Marlboro and Santa Fe; and flutist Gili Schwarzman, who has regularly toured with a chamber music group of the Berlin Philharmonic and performs with numerous European orchestras.

saxophonist Steven Banks
Saxophonist Steven Banks

Familiar favorites include cellist Zvi Plesser, who has performed with the National Symphony Orchestra and Berlin Philharmonic, among others; violinist Xiao-Dong Wang of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; and Cornell Senior Lecturer and Artist in Residence, cellist John Haines-Eitzen.

Yampolsky notes that the guiding principle of Mayfest is “to play and hear beautiful music with the best artists” and adds that the loss of performance opportunities during the pandemic has given her a “new profound appreciation of the live performance experience and changed [her] as a musician and pianist in ways [she is] still discovering.”

The five days of Mayfest concerts offer a range of music from familiar masterworks to less-explored compositions that will highlight the unique mix of instruments and performers. Bjerken says “the programs this year were constructed carefully with our guests, and while there are some lesser-known works presented, these are discoveries you will not want to miss. Each piece is special and approachable, and the musicians have been waiting in some cases for years to share the imagination of these composers.”

violist Nikki Divall
Violist Nikki Divall

The opening night performance on Friday, May 20 at 7:30 p.m. in Barnes Hall includes Brahms’ C Major Piano Trio, as well as Creston’s Saxophone Sonata, and a variety of art songs.

Saturday, May 21 at 7:30pm in Barnes Hall features Wolf’s Italian Serenade, Zemlinksy’s Clarinet Trio, songs by Alma Mahler, and more.

Sunday, May 22 at 3:00pm in Lincoln Hall B20 will include music from Kodaly, Bartok, Beethoven, and Novacek. Monday, May 23 at 7:30pm is an evening at the Moakley House at the Cornell golf course and will present selections from Shostakovich, Kodaly, Boulanger, and others. Finally, the festival concludes on Tuesday, May 24 at 7:30pm in Barnes Hall with Mendelssohn’s String Quintet No. 2, Op. 87, Schumann’s Piano Quartet, Op. 47, and songs of John Dowland.

Tickets are available online or at the door: Complete festival passes are available for $100 for adults and $10 for students, or individual tickets are $25 for adults, $5 for students, and free for listeners below the age of 18 with an accompanying adult.

Special event parking is available. Cornell’s Commuter and Parking Services lift parking restrictions in the Sage South lot (corner of Campus Rd. and Sage Ave., near Barnes Hall) one hour before each Barnes Hall event (May 20, 21, 24). Parking for the May 22 performance at Lincoln Hall may be found in the Sibley Lot and Forest Home parking garage. Parking is available at the Moakley House on May 23, and the restaurant will open and serving dinner until 6 p.m. and drinks through the end of the concert.


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Person sitting on a stool, holding a flute
Flutist Gili Schwarzman will perform at Mayfest