Only three years into its existence and already the Birdfoot Festival has begun to establish itself as one of the world’s top showcases for chamber music.
During the festival’s public duration, May 26-31, 16 noteworthy performers will travel to New Orleans from three continents. They will perform 10 pieces of music, ranging from the baroque and classical eras of Bach, Mozart and Haydn to the modern era of Terry Riley and Brett Dean.
Among the talented artists performing this year are violinist Kristopher Tong, of the Boston-based Borromeo String Quartet, and cello prodigy Caleb van der Swaagh.
Along with festival organizer-music director and violinist Jenna Sherry and other musicians, they will perform in various New Orleans locations and host workshops and mentoring sessions before coming together for a final gala concert on the festival’s closing day at Tulane University’s Dixon Hall.
New this year are the festival’s Community Chamber Music Reading Party on May 26 and a mentoring program, Making Music on Julia Street, from May 27-30, Sherry said.
“The Reading Party will bring together amateur and professional chamber musicians for a fun, relaxed evening playing through the wonderful chamber music repertoire,” Sherry said.
“Making Music on Julia Street is a new collaboration for us this year and something we’re very excited about,” she added. “Coaching sessions between our artists and student chamber groups will be happening in several art galleries. We’re hoping that, by being around contemporary art, our students may find it a very inspiring place to work musically, as well as develop an appreciation for another creative art form.”
Eight Julia Street art galleries will be hosting the hourlong sessions on those four days.
Distinguished guests for this year’s festival include William Kinderman, of the University of Illinois School of Music, a prominent classical era authority, and his wife, Katherine Syer, a noted opera and Wagner scholar.
This year’s guest performers from the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra include violinists Kate Withrow and Eva Liebhaber and percussionist Nena Lorenz.
Returning for his third year with the Birdfoot Festival, Tong said, “This has really been a wonderful event. It’s something I look forward to every year. Collaborating with other chamber musicians and exchanging ideas with them is very exciting. I think that’s what musicians are very much drawn to.”
Tong noted that he coached Sherry at the Yellow Barn Young Artists Program in Vermont and again at the Taos School of Music in New Mexico. This association resulted in her invitation for him to participate in the festival from the beginning.
“Jenna is very talented, energetic and well-organized,” he said. “She has done a wonderful job putting this festival together. New Orleans is such an amazing musical and cultural city, and I love performing there.”
Caleb van der Swaagh, another of Tong’s pupils at the YA program in Vermont, also is anxious to return for this year’s festival. A participant in 2013, he will perform in three of the featured chamber pieces, including the final concert.
“I had such a great time there last year. I think it’s a really great festival, and they do such tremendous work,” he said. Van der Swaagh, 26, began playing the cello at age 4. He said he has known Sherry since they were both teenagers attending the Yellow Barn youth program.
“This year’s musical programming looks great,” van der Swaagh said. “It’s a great mix of classics and new pieces. Some of the newer pieces are more unusual than the classics, but they’re going to be fun, as well as challenging.”
Based on last year’s high attendance figures, Sherry is anticipating a sizable turnout this year, as well.
“I think this year is going to be our best yet,” she said. “I’m excited to see that more and more people have heard about us, and I hope this will translate into a lot more people coming to check us out.”