Marc Neikrug is generally reluctant to identify this or that concert as a highlight of an upcoming Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival season. So many concerts each season qualify to be called highlights.
But for the summer festival’s 2015 season, which begins July 19 at St. Francis Auditorium, Neikrug, the festival’s artistic director, is making an exception. He is pointing to the Aug. 23 concert that has a single 90-minute composition on the program – Olivier Messiaen’s “Des Canyons Aux Étoiles” (“From the Canyons to the Stars”).
“It’s a huge undertaking that I’ve been working on for quite a while,” Neikrug said. “It takes 46 people to play. It also takes a huge number of percussion instruments – seven.”
Alan Gilbert, the festival’s artist-in-residence and the music director of the New York Philharmonic, will conduct what will be the largest ensemble the festival has ever organized.
Messiaen visited Utah’s Bryce Canyon several years before the work received its world premiere in 1974.
“Messiaen was a naturalist. He spent time there. The whole inspiration for the piece is that landscape,” Neikrug said. “And it has a lot of similarities to our sky. So it’s very appropriate to do it.”
The festival’s 43rd season opens July 19 at St. Francis Auditorium with Russian-Israeli pianist Kirill Gerstein playing the world premiere of Alexander Goehr’s Variations “Homage to Haydn,” which Gerstein commissioned.
“Gerstein is a phenomenal pianist, a major pianist in the world right now. Up until his mid-20s he was trying to decide whether to be a classical or a jazz pianist,” Neikrug said.
On the same program are Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A minor and W.A. Mozart’s Quintet in E-flat major for Piano and Winds. The concert will be repeated on July 20.
As usual, the season will present an array of top-rated chamber soloists and ensembles.
Some of them will perform in four festival concerts in consecutive weeks at Albuquerque Academy’s Simms Performing Arts Center. The first, on July 22, features the newly formed Montrose Trio.
The second, on July 29, will have the Miró Quartet.
The third, on Aug. 5, will have the Orion String Quartet and the FLUX Quartet. The FLUX will premiere a festival-commissioned work by Sean Shepherd.
The fourth, on Aug. 12, will have the Miami String Quartet.
Each of those four Albuquerque concerts will be repeated the following evening in Santa Fe.
Neikrug said the festival will also present a work that could also be considered a highlight – Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” It will be performed Aug. 15 at the Lensic Performing Arts Center.
“Besides Beethoven’s Ninth, it’s probably the most famous piece in the world,” he said.