While there will be no official bonfire, the third annual Bonfire Chamber Music Festival will evoke warmth, sparks and fire at the Reif Center and various venues throughout town later this month. This year’s chamber music festival will feature the artistry of acclaimed Artaria String Quartet, as well as a premiere performance of the newly-formed 2 Sisters Trio.
Grand Rapids is an area known throughout Northern Minnesota for its rich history in the arts, a badge of honor which has continually evolved thanks in part to a wide array of professional performances. The plethora of cultural offerings, according to Mary Ellen Haupert, makes it an ideal location for cultivating a chamber music niche.
The impetus for the Bonfire Chamber Music Festival grew out of discussions between Haupert, a Grand Rapids native, and members of the Artaria String Quartet, a group of performers who partnered with the Reif Center on two Chamber Music America-sponsored residencies in Grand Rapids in the spring of 2016, as well as worked with local string teachers and students during their time in the area.
Two years ago witnessed the fruits of Haupert’s labors and passion, with the debut of the first Bonfire Chamber Music Festival in Grand Rapids. Haupert hopes the event will continue to be an annual celebration.
According to Haupert, not only were the last years’ concerts “fantastic,” but the performers received “lots of support from community members.”
For Haupert, the notion of bringing chamber music to Grand Rapids was based on a number of factors, the most notable being the level of skill presented during the performance.
“In chamber music, there is no conductor as there is in an orchestra,” explained Haupert. “You rely on one another. You have to talk about all the logistics of the music, the tempo, dynamics, interpretation. It’s a little more personal, which is why I like it as a musician.”
The Bonfire Chamber Music Festival will consist of a three-day series, taking place on Wednesday, July 24 through Friday, July 26. Concerts will be held in the Ives Studio Theater at the Reif Performing Arts Center in Grand Rapids at 7 p.m.
Performances on Wednesday and Thursday will feature the artistry of the Artaria String Quartet, who recently celebrated their 30th year of performing chamber music concerts.
Described as an “exceptional ensemble with impressive confidence in its interpretations” and “Minnesota’s foremost teaching and performing string quartet,” the Artaria String Quartet were named winners of the 2004 McKnight Fellowship for Performing Musicians, and named 2013-14 Minnesota Public Radio Artists-in-Residence. Artaria was also featured on Twin Cities Public Television as part of the “Minnesota Originals” series.
Artaria’s refined and thoughtful playing has brought them to major venues throughout the United States and Europe, on national television and public radio stations, and at top summer festivals including the Banff Centre in Canada, Festival de L’Epau in France, and the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, Mass.
Artaria has earned numerous awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Chamber Music America, and the Minnesota State Arts Board for excellence in performance and educational outreach. Directors of the Artaria Chamber Music School, a premiere weekly string chamber music program in Saint Paul; and Stringwood Chamber Music Festival, featuring the quartet and renowned guest artists every June in Lanesboro, Minn.; they are founders of the Saint Paul String Quartet Competition, which showcases the nation’s top high school age string quartets each April.
Friday’s event will feature the premier performance of the newly-formed 2 Sisters Trio, which is comprised of Kristina Gullion on violin, Monika Sutherland on cello and Haupert on piano. Highly-trained and experienced, these three women will perform an exciting program honoring the 200th anniversary of Clara Schumann’s birth. The performance will explore the artist’s life as a performer, mother, husband of Robert Schumann, and close friend and confidante, Johannes Brahms.
“Monika and Kristina moved to the La Crosse area about 10 years ago and have been highly-involved with the Waldorf School in Viroqua, Wisconsin. They are both graduates of Indiana University and have a passion for chamber music. We have so much in common beyond our love of chamber music; all three of us have four children, so there is more to our conversation than music! We are delighted to share our music with chamber music lovers in Grand Rapids,” said Haupert.
In addition to festival evening concerts at the Reif, there are daily “Bonfire Extras,” free, family-friendly events, occurring around town Monday through Friday (July 22 - 26).
The “Bonfire Extra” performances will take place at the following locations:
• Monday, July 22, 11 a.m.: Music and More at the MAC: All ages are welcome to “make art” while listening to music at the MacRostie Art Center.
• Tuesday, July 23, 12 p.m.: Tuesday Summer Concert Series: This annual summer concert series features Bonfire Chamber Music Festival musicians (lunch to follow, for a small fee), at United Methodist Church, 1701 SE 5th Avenue, Grand Rapids.
• Wednesday, July 24, 11 a.m.: Kindle Konzert at Kiesler: Participate in story-telling and music-making with members of the Artaria String Quartet (lunch to follow, for a small fee) at Kiesler Wellness Center.
• Thursday, July 25, 11 a.m.: Down by the Radio-Side: Bring your sack lunches to the banks of the Mississippi for a preview of the Thursday evening concert; KAXE - 91.7 Northern Public Radio.
• Friday, July 26, 11 a.m.: Classical Grand: Join members of the newly-formed 2 Sisters Trio in the activity room of Grand Village for a preview of their evening Bonfire Chamber Music Festival concert; Grand Village, 923 Hale Lake Pointe, Grand Rapids.
Haupert hopes that community members will take advantage of the opportunity to “come out, meet the performers and get excited about chamber music” offered by the mini-series of performances during the week leading up to the festival.
“I hope people get excited about continuing something like this in Grand Rapids,” added Haupert, who hopes to grow community support and appreciation for chamber music through the annual festival.
“Chamber music is far from boring,” said Haupert. “It’s artistry up close and immediate. Each player is responsible for his/her own part in performances that hinge on mutual agreement of melodic, rhythmic and interpretative aspects of the music. The give-and-take between players is dynamic and sophisticated, breath-taking and exciting.”
And, it is “a great opportunity to bring top-notch performers to Grand Rapids,” added Haupert.
“It’s a nice outing, in a beautiful venue,” continued Haupert. “It’s classical music and it’s very easy to listen to. The music is beautiful and extraordinary. We’re really lucky to have performers of such expertise coming to the area.”
“This is just one more thing that people can come out to to build culture and awareness in Grand Rapids,” added Haupert. “It’s just one more thing that makes Grand Rapids a cultural destination.”
Tickets for each performance are $20, or $40 for the series (using coupon code BONFIRE at checkout). Tickets are currently available at the Reif Center Box Office, by phone at 218-327-5780, or online at www.reifcenter.org. To learn more about the festival and its performers, visit https://bonfirechambermusic.weebly.com/.