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The 10 musicians performing Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” at the Wellfleet Congregational Church last month to kick off the Cape Cod Chamber Musical Festival's 35th season were all students from the renowned Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. None of them is a superstar, but neither were cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinist Joshua Bell when they first appeared at the festival.
Bell and Ma were two of the many emerging artists who caught the ear of festival founder Sam Sanders, a distinguished New York pianist who recorded with top-ranked soloists and chamber groups.
“I think the fact that he was so interested in young, up-and-coming artists is a huge part of his legacy,” said violist Roberto Diaz, who first joined the festival in the 1980s. These days he’s president of the Curtis Institute of Music, and still a sought-after soloist and teacher.
Díaz knew Sanders well.
“He played with people that are now household names when no one knew who they were, they were students,” Díaz said. “People knew that Sam was always around some of the greatest talent there was, whether they were students or professionals.”
Violinist Stephanie Chase also performed with Sanders in the early days of the festival, which has been enticing performers and audiences back year after year.
“For someone who played around the world, he could have had a festival anywhere, and that he chose the Cape really indicates that this particular region had a lot of significance for him,” Chase said.
Sanders passed away in 1999 at age 62. By then his attachment to the Cape had infected other festival performers. Flautist Carol Wincenc says she’s always loved playing here.
“The Cape has always attracted such a beautiful feeling about it,” Wincenc said. “You’re surrounded by the sea. You’ve got moods of weather. It’s the reflection of the light off the water. And the little towns — they all have their own personalities.”
Wincenc’s memories of the Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival include staying in the homes of festival supporters, a tradition that continues to this day. Elaine Lipton, the festival’s executive director, says it helps residents develop a sense of ownership of the festival.
“One of those hosts was overheard standing at the concert as it was just about to get started and turning to someone else saying, ‘Oh, that one’s mine!’ So that sense of, ‘I am part of this, and this is my chamber music festival,’ is really what makes it succeed.”
That, and the music being played, which occasionally challenges conventional notions of chamber music.
Another character in the story of the Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival is the venue, or venues, which are mostly churches. The churches in Chatham, Dennis, Orleans and Wellfleet make more intimate chambers for chamber music than, say, Symphony Hall.
Violinist Nicholas Kitchen says that the sanctuary setting also connects the listening experience with the Cape.
“Those venues, and the way people remember all the concerts they attended at them, is something that is very connected with history of Cape Cod and yet so personal and so stimulating that it’s a very beautiful way for us to find a place where the festival lives,” Kitchen said.
Friday night, Kitchen will join fellow festival alumni at the Wellfleet Congregational Church to celebrate 35 years of music making in this special part of the world. It’s a tribute both to the passion of founder Sam Sanders and the dedication of all of the festival performers, directors and listeners.
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