Thirty-sixth annual Cape chamber music fest entertains fans and first-timers alike

They play all over the world in styles sedate to jazzy, performing compositions from classical and baroque to mid-20th century and brand new. They are members of the 36th annual Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival, a coalition of celebrated and rising-star solo artists and ensembles whose instruments include strings, brass and wind.

From July 31 to Aug. 28, at various venues in Provincetown, Wellfleet, Orleans and beyond, you can catch them at 13 concerts.

Jon Nakamatsu and Jon Manasse are the artistic directors whose featured duo of piano and clarinet, respectively, will also play the festival.

“The festival is always an adventure, an amazing and exciting time, but this year the sheer variety of repertoire and instrumentation is truly great,” Nakamatsu says.

All great news for the music connoisseur — but why should the uninitiated venture out to chamber music?

Arthur Diamond, the series’ promoter, is a long-time amateur pianist who says chamber music offers the intimacy of interactions between musicians and the audience that’s more like the jazz experience than the formal concert hall. “The music crosses centuries, continents and styles,” he adds.

Elaine Lipton, the festival’s executive director for nine seasons, says, “Chamber music is a musical conversation between individuals, not under the wand of a conductor.”

As for the musicians’ love of the genre, Nakamatsu says, “As a pianist, chamber music offers me the opportunity to be ‘social’ with other musicians. So much of my time is spent alone in the practice room and on stage — this proves that I can associate successfully with other humans. I love it.”

Lipton says it all started when a Juilliard department head, the late pianist Samuel Sanders — also an accompanist to violinist Itzhak Perlman — got together with fellow musicians on the Cape to play a few concerts. Since then it has grown. Lipton says this year features some 40 musicians, and eight ensembles.

“Our artistic directors are at the top of their game,” she says, explaining that the directors bring in artists with whom they have worked, so they know their competency and style of music.

Wellfleet’s First Congregational Church will be a frequent venue, starting the series off July 31 with “The Rising Star” duo of Yevgeny Kutik, violin and Spencer Myer, piano, playing Mendelssohn, Prokofiev, Debussy, Ravel and a divertimento from the Stravinsky score for the ballet “The Fairy’s Kiss.”

The Jupiter String Quartet will play classical pieces including Brahms and Bartok at the same venue Aug. 21 after playing the Orleans United Methodist church Aug. 19. Lipton says the Jupiter has grown up with the festival, and will be in residency on the Cape for a week. Pianist Brian Zeger, former festival director, joins them at the Aug. 21 Wellfleet performance.

Amongst other appearances, Nakamatsu plays piano with the Emerson String Quartet at the Wellfleet First Congregational church Aug. 6. The Emerson group is a long-time festival favorite, says Lipton.

“They are the renowned elder statesmen of the chamber music world,” she says, one of a handful of quartets that may be ranked with the late, great Budapest String Quartet.

The Grand Finale, on Aug. 28, also takes place at Wellfleet’s Congregational Church. Lipton says it features a few musicians from the ensembles, with many others “from all over the place with very interesting musical backgrounds. It should be fabulous.” Strings, horns, piano and winds will play the narrated Stravinsky piece “The Soldier’s Tale,” and a Dohnanyi sextet.

For an unconventional chamber ensemble, the Imani Winds blow less cerebral compositions that make audiences stand up and “Dance!” — the title of their Aug. 3 performance at Provincetown Art Association and Museum. The congregation of bassoon, flute, oboe, cello, clarinet and horn are so well melded they create almost string-like chords. Lipton describes Imani Winds as “classically trained musicians who do adventurous programming, commissioning new works with repertoire-bridging traditions.”

In addition, the American Brass Quintet, the Boston Trio, the Borromeo and the Danish string quartets, the Manasse-Nakamatsu duo and others will play in Cotuit, Yarmouth (site of a gala), Dennis and Chatham where there’s a celebration of the late Deborah Geithner who housed many musical groups, letting them rehearse on her two Steinways, and who, Lipton says, had “a long family connection to Orleans and was a special person to the festival.”

All concerts begin at 7:30 p.m. and there are additional events where you can meet the musicians and even a potluck party and picnic at Wellfleet Preservation Hall on Aug. 24. For a full line-up of concerts and other events, go to or call (508) 247-9400.

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