Sounds of Lyons, the quirky chamber-music-festival-that-could in Lyons, returns this year in a brand new format.
Ever mutable, the festival is both the same as ever and completely remade. It has all the same ingredients as the past three years: the combination and juxtaposition of musical styles, serious chamber music and folk styles, storytelling with music, and improvisation alongside music that is thoroughly composed.
But unlike past years, there are no ticketed concerts. More community-oriented now, the festival takes place outdoors, alongside the St. Vrain River in Lyons’ Bohn Park. The whole festival is free.
In a three-hour span on Saturday, June 2, and Sunday, June 3, there will be children’s concerts, a string quartet, Baroque duos, Gypsy jazz, dance and literary readings with music. (For the full schedule, see http://soundsoflyons.wordpress.com.) One reason for the change is the free spirit and idealism of the festival’s founder and guiding light, violinist MinTze Wu.
“I wanted the town to feel that this is not my festival but their festival, so this year we decided to bring everything outdoors and to make it free because we want it to be accessible to everybody,” she says. “The diversity that Sounds of Lyons always presents is still here. For instance, we are doing readings of children’s stories, nature stories and stories of the Ute. And we’re going to put music around the stories, so it’s like the [story-based performances of previous festivals], but more improvised.
“Each concert still has its focus, even though they are shorter. We have the focus for children, the string quartet, dance, and then the second day with Baroque music and gypsy jazz, and the combination of story and music.
“In some ways the whole focal point of this weekend is art in Lyons, and Sounds of Lyons is part of a bigger celebration, which I love the idea of.”
In addition to such community-spirited goals, Wu acknowledges that there is also a personal and practical reason for the change. The mother of a 3-month-old, she decided she could not organize the more complex formal concerts this year.
“I have to change my course, yes. But I just don’t want to create something half [heartedly],” she says. “I want to do something brilliant, and this way we continue part of the tradition of Sounds of Lyons. Last year we did music on the river, and this year we follow the thread of those two concerts and make it bigger.”
Fans of chamber music — one of the legs that previous Sounds of Lyons have stood on — will be most interested in the performance by Wu’s Sage Quartet, at 11 a.m. Saturday. In an hour, they will present the entire “Lark” Quartet by Haydn, plus slow movements by Schubert, Beethoven and Dvorak.
“If we’re going to be outside, I’d like to incorporate that into the music,” Wu says. “For me there is the song of the river in Schubert. The Haydn quartet we are playing is ‘The Lark,’ which, when you are in Bohn Park, you are going to hear birds chirping.”
Wu hints that the other choices are more personal.
“First of all, I have to be very moved by the music I play,” she says. “The Beethoven Op. 132 is one of the most personal and introverted pieces of music. The Dvorak slow movement [written in the United States] is about nostalgia to homeland. That is something that everybody shares. We are all travelers of the world, and there are just different emotional dimensions to it.”
The Sunday performances start with “Baroque Time,” with Wu and viola da gambist Ann Marie Morgan playing music from a 14th-century jig in fiddling style to J.S. Bach.
“Ten a.m. on Sunday is usually church time for people, and so that’s for those who come to nature for church,” Wu says.
Next will be the Taarka Quartet (fiddle, mandolin, guitar and bass), described in Strings Magazine as playing “gypsy-jazz, bluegrass, Celtic, chamber-folk, jazz, rock and even Indian influences, all distilled through a gifted group.”
In addition to including two Lyons natives, Taarka clearly embodies the genre-crossing, improvisational aesthetic that characterizes the Sounds of Lyons event.
“They are fabulous,” Wu says. “They are just great improvisers, and it’s just a great jam with the four of them.”
As for the future, Wu doesn’t want to be tied down until she can announce the next festival. Still, she is always looking ahead.
“Every year is an experimentation,” she says. “We are celebrating a more local element to it this year. Next year will be different.”
We can count on it.