Mayfest, Cornell’s Int’l Chamber Music Festival, begins May 17

This year’s Mayfest, May 17-21, features five “fabulous concerts,” say artistic directors Xak Bjerken and Miri Yampolsky, by “fan favorite” guest musicians playing music from Bach to Britten to Hildegard von Bingen – and the world premiere of a composition by Christopher Stark DMA ‘13. Tickets can be purchased in-person or online; all concerts will be held on the Cornell campus and the public is welcome.

Yampolsky says she always counts on Mayfest as “a festival of joy, music, friendships and deep connections among the musicians and with the loyal and wonderful audiences.”

Welcoming performers returning for a second time to the festival is a particular highlight, she says; this year, oboist Dudu Carmel is one of them. He performed at Mayfest in 2019 to great audience enthusiasm, says Yampolsky, and this year each program will contain music with oboe, surrounded by complementary masterworks and “hidden gems,” says Yampolsky, senior lecturer of music in the College of Arts and Sciences.

“Good music is always the answer when you doubt where you stand. It elevates us and brings us all to a shared humanity,” says Bjerken, professor of music (A&S), in a paraphrase of a comment by violinist Anne Sophie Mutter. 

Christopher Stark
Christopher Stark Christopher Stark

One of the festival gems will be the premiere of Christopher Stark’s Piano Quintet, “Rampike,” commissioned by Mayfest. The piece’s subject is trees and their life cycle; a rampike is a standing tree that has been struck by lightning or caught fire with just the essential structure remaining. Stark describes the piece as an ambient work built on canons that evolve a singular idea, pairing it down to its essential core and stripping away ornaments to get to a beautiful simplicity. Stark teaches at Washington University in St. Louis and has been awarded prizes from the Guggenheim Foundation, Chamber Music America, and the Fromm Foundation, among others.

The opening night performance on Friday, May 17 at 7:30 p.m. in Barnes Hall includes Mozart’s Oboe Quartet in F Major, Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in C Minor, and works by Shostakovich, Hindemith and Fauré. Saturday, May 18 at 7:30 p.m. in Barnes Hall features Brahms’ Piano Trio in B Major, Schumann Violin Sonata No. 1, Joseph Phibbs’ Night Paths, and pieces by Crusell and Cassadó. 

Sunday, May 19 will feature “Brunch with the Schumanns (and Brahms, naturally)” at the A. D. White House at 10:30 a.m. and includes songs and instrumental selections from Robert and Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms. Monday, May 20 at 7:30 p.m. at Barnes Hall features Beethoven’s Archduke Trio and Violin Sonata in E-flat Major, plus pieces by Britten, Hildegard von Bingen, and Caroline Shaw. 

Dudu Carmel
Provided Dudu Carmel

The festival concludes on Tuesday, May 21 at 7:30 p.m. in Barnes Hall with a world premiere of Christopher Stark’s Piano Quintet, J.S. Bach’s Concerto for Oboe and Violin in C Minor, and Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major.

Invited artists this year include saxophonist Steven Banks; oboist Dudu Carmel; violinists Roi Shiloah, Xiao-Dong Wang, Maria Ioudenitch, Isabella Gorman and Guillaume Pirard; violists Kyle Armbrust and Anthony Bracewell; cellists Zvi Plesser and Ariel Tushinsky; baritone Jean Bernard Cerin, assistant professor of music (A&S); bassist Misha Bjerken and harpsichordist William Cowdery. Biographies of the artists can be found on the Mayfest Festival website.

Tickets may be purchased online or at the door. Concerts at Barnes Hall are $25 for adults, $5 for students, and free for listeners below the age of 18 with an accompanying adult. Tickets for the brunch concert on May 19 are $35 for all. More details and ticket purchases are available online.

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 17, 18, 20, 21). Parking is available near the A.D. White House on Sunday. Parking details and maps are available online.

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Roi Shiloah playing violin while leaning back in his chair
Provided Roi Shiloah