Beethoven, Brahms, and Armstrong are back!

From June 7 to June 15, 2013, the 26th Annual Sunflower Music Festival will offer free and unique orchestra and chamber music concerts every night beginning at 7:30 p.m. inside White Concert Hall at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, with one night reserved for a jazz concert at the same location. Those who appreciate fine music are encouraged to attend and bring friends who will soon want to make this unique Topeka event an annual pleasure.

Each year, the Sunflower Music Festival organizers strive “to bring extraordinary orchestra and chamber music to Topeka and northeast Kansas.” They take pride in “provid[ing] it free to the public, so that everyone has the opportunity to […] enjoy the best,” explains Carole Hawkins, who has spent 20 years on the Festival’s board and is this year’s festival coordinator.

Listening to chamber music is often described as eavesdropping on a conversation between a small group of long-time friends. In order to pull off such an intimate musical form, a special sense of camaraderie is necessary, and, despite the Festival’s musicians journeying from all over the world in order to perform, that “music of friends” feel is readily apparent, promises Ms. Hawkins. The audience quickly becomes part of the mix, part of the circle of friendship. To view “the reaction of the audience to the musicians and the reaction of the musicians to the audience is magical.”

Each year, the Sunflower Music Festival features several special guests. This year’s guest conductor is Andrés Cárdenes, current music director of both the Strings Festival Orchestra in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and the Pittsburgh Festival Orchestra, as well as past music director and leader of the Pittsburgh Symphony Chamber Orchestra (1999-2010). He has played in orchestras around the world, including in Moscow, San Francisco, Houston, Helsinki, and Shanghai. “The musicians that I’ve talked to are excited about playing under his baton,” affirms Ms. Hawkins. A new conductor always brings different energies to the musicians, and you never know “how the music will be interpreted. It is always an emotional experience.”

The internationally renowned Atrium Quartet, which was founded in 2000 in St. Petersburg, Russia, will return again this year after enthusiastic reviews from the 2012 Sunflower Music Festival. This year’s Festival performances will include the musical talents of three local artists, as well. Concertmaster of the Topeka Symphony Orchestra, Zsolt Eder, violin, started with the Festival as an apprentice.  David Wingerson, percussion, who graduated from Washburn University in 2013, is the Festival’s stage manager. Jasper Shrake, trumpet, graduated from Topeka High School in 2013, and he will be attending Washburn University in the fall. Mr. Shrake will be performing with the Blanche Bryden Institute Brass Quintet.

This year’s program also again features guest jazz artist Sean Jones, bandleader and artistic director of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra. While jazz music may initially seem distant from the classical music style, in chamber music, where the music is “unplugged,” the two styles complement each other. “Jazz is an example of America’s chamber music,” so the Festival directors found it appropriate to add a jazz concert to the program when the Coleman-Hawkins Festival lost its funding, says Ms. Hawkins.  As the Topeka audience witnessed last year, “Sean Jones is an extraordinarily gifted jazz trumpet player, and his skill and savvy fit with the sensitivities of our orchestra chamber musicians.”

“If you have been here before, then we know you will be back,” says Ms. Hawkins. “If you haven’t had the Sunflower experience yet, join us!”

To view a copy of the 2013 program and to learn more about the Sunflower Music Festival, please visit their website.

[ Story by Emily Sheldon | Image submitted ]

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