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Mostly Modern Festival Returns To Zankel Music Center

Mostly Modern Festival
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The Mostly Modern Festival takes place at the Arthur Zankel Music Center at Skidmore College.

The Mostly Modern Festival is in full swing at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. 

In its second season, the Mostly Modern Festival aims for bigger and better, with 13 concerts reverberating through Skidmore’s Arthur Zankel Music Center over three weeks through June 29. Co-founder and Artistic Director Robert Paterson says the idea is to flip the model of the typical “classical music festival” on its head.  

“Most people’s impression of classical music is kind of almost, like, a cliché. They think, first of all, it’s conservative, or second of all, it’s mostly dead [composers]," Paterson says. "I mean, you know – people that are in the know in the classical field know that’s not true. But I think what we want to do is create a festival that makes music by composers who are around you, and who are alive, fun.”

Paterson’s “Shine” for brass quintet was one of many pieces showcased last season. He’s premiering some new works this time, including a piece commissioned for the Euclid String Quartet. The Mostly Modern Festival boasts works by 24 composers from all over the world, and Paterson says he can’t choose a favorite. But he’s looking forward to a long list of premieres.  

“These are brand new things that are like, being born into the world, and there’s nothing to my mind more exciting than that," he notes. "You get to experience something that nobody's ever experienced before. This is not something that a 1,000 people have ever done. Nobody will have done this.”

Well, almost nobody. Members of the American Modern Orchestra and Ensemble, the Euclid Quartet, Akropolis Reed Quintet, and Atlantic Brass Quintet have been practicing these pieces for weeks, and dive even deeper into rehearsals and workshops during the Festival. Cellist Dave Eggar says he prepared 37 new pieces in two weeks last year. It can be draining, but he says the Festival is great way for musicians to connect with and learn from each other.

“Here it’s all very side-by-side. Like, you have programs with Pulitzer Prize-winning, Grammy-winning composers right next to a 20-year-old composer whose string quartet is being performed for the very, very first time," Eggar explains. "And similarly in the orchestras you have accomplished professionals from major symphonies right next to undergraduate students.”

When he isn’t rehearsing, Eggar coaches his peers through the Festival’s educational arm, the Mostly Modern Institute. Having “bridged” the musical gap with a number of popular artists, including Beyoncé and Taylor Swift, Eggar says his recent masterclass focused on professional development.  

“Much like an actor might study Shakespeare, but then be on a show like “How to Get Away with Murder” – how do you maintain your sophistication of your classical technique, but apply it to a relevant career today?” he adds. 

Of course, for the public, it’s all about the concerts. And even if you can’t make it to Skidmore, Robert Paterson says you might find the Saratoga streets a little more musical for the next few weeks.  

“So we’ll do little pop-ups around town, where you might hear some of our musicians playing in like, a green space somewhere, or on the street in front of a restaurant a little bit, for about a half hour," Paterson notes. "And this is to introduce people to what we’re up to because we want people to know what’s going on on the campus there.”

Ultimately, Paterson advises audiences to come with an open mind. He says pieces can range from (a few) traditional works, to compositions inspired by jazz and rock and roll.

“Everything under the sun. And you may love it, or you might not – and that’s OK! It’s OK to leave our concerts thinking, ‘Yeah, I liked that piece, but not that one so much,'" Paterson explains. "We’d love to hear from our audience members about what they liked and didn’t like – and that helps us think towards the future as well.”

You can learn more about the Festival and see the concert schedule at mostlymodernfestival.org.

Jesse King is the host of "51%" and a producer for WAMC's afternoon news programs. She also produces the WAMC podcast "A New York Minute In History."
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