Mendocino Music Festival

Hot concerts on a fog-bound coast.

The 28th season of the Mendocino Music Festival is in full swing on the scenic shores of northern California. Held in an enormous white tent that sprawls across the village headlands, this festival celebrates the love and energy of a whole community as much as it does the eclectic blend of music. Musicians travel here, many from the Bay Area, to be hosted by 90 families who house them for as much as three weeks of rehearsals and performances.

Mendocino Music Festival-2012Besides classical works by the Festival Orchestra, one can hear Big Band, Latin, Delta Blues, Flamenco, country, bluegrass, choral and even an entire opera – Don Giovanni. This year I sampled a mid-week delight, a lecture/demonstration on Bach’s cannons and fugues by Susan Waterfall, followed by Bach’s Clavier Concerto in D Minor performed by pianist Stephen Prutsman and the Festival Chamber Players.

After an engaging explanation of Bach’s process by Waterfall, we were treated to Trio Sonata in C Minor from Bach’s “Musical Offering,” performed by flutist Mindy Rosenfeld, violinist Jeremy Cohen, cellist Burke Schuchmann and Waterfall doubling the cello for a faithful “continuo” line. Later, I found myself humming a popular tune…and then able to invert it! Weird.

I last heard famed pianist and composer Prutsman in Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, and it was a wonder that this architect of scornful phrases and fat notes could re-invent himself for the astringent beauty of Bach, using arched fingers to deliver the metallic pluck of harpsichord.

Prutsman sat at a lidless piano with his back to the audience, conducting the eleven strings of the Festival Chamber Players with incisive nods. Those strings all stood, except for the two cellists, in a modern rendition of Baroque musicians, leaning into their bowing to round the shapes of notes. In the 16,000 square foot tent, that ensemble would have sounded thin if not for some judicious electronic enhancement, that, to their credit, never sounded at all enhanced.

Prutsman’s runs were a pointillist’s delight of quick colors. The strings, led by violinist Roy Malan and anchored by bass Michel Taddei, combined modern assurance with period modesty, the crème of two art forms.

The festival continues with daily concerts, concluding July 26 with Saturday’s Grand Finale Concert from the Festival Chorus and Orchestra, preceded by an afternoon recital by two prodigy pianist-composers, Julian Pollack and Natalie Tenenbaum. That is a pair of concerts sure to please. For Bay Area audiences this is a fun jaunt, with bed and breakfasts dotting the coast, and several local camping grounds. See for more details.

—Adam Broner

Photo of the Festival Tent from 2012 by A. Broner