It’s summer in the Roaring Fork Valley. That means festivals galore, monsoon rains (we hope) and a new tradition – the Garden Music Series. The collaboration between Carbondale Arts and MinTze Wu was born out of necessity, a “collective desire to be together and just to listen to music”, in Wu’s words.
In September 2020, a single concert was produced to bring live music back to people safely during the most isolating phase of the pandemic. Last year, the concept expanded to include four productions, capped off by “Death of the Pugilist” at The Orchard. In 2022, the series will once again feature four unique concerts: two indoors at the Third Street Center and two outdoors at the historic Thompson House.
Wu came to the United States from Taiwan alone at the age of 14 to study at Juilliard Pre-College. In 2002, she moved to Boulder to receive her doctorate in music from the University of Colorado. It was there that she met Jem Moore, on Pearl Street. The two married and eventually landed in Carbondale with their two daughters, Adelaide and Camille, and have since thrilled the community with high-caliber, casually produced performances – a recipe that fits perfectly with the town’s special sauce.
Once a month, on a Thursday at 6 p.m., music connoisseurs — no doubt already familiar with Wu’s work — will be treated to a production by BenFeng. BenFeng is Wu’s brand that experiments with the traditional concert experience and translates to “running with a free spirit”. She will perform in each of the four shows, accompanied by musicians from here and elsewhere, presenting a diversity of musical styles.
“Finding Bach” is the first in the series and will be performed as a violin solo by Wu on June 23. “Bach is where we go when we want to find comfort,” she explained. “Not that his music provides an answer, but it gives you space to reflect and contemplate.” Playing unaccompanied is vulnerable, she continued, “but gives us an opportunity to calm down and be centered, to reflect on where we are in our lives, where we are in this world.”
For 90 minutes, without pause, words or applause, Wu will weave the music of Bach with a piece by Arvo Pärt and traditional Irish jigs to take listeners on a journey. “It’s not about showcasing a performer, but really about an audience’s inner interaction with the music,” she said.
The second program, July 14, will take place indoors for greater privacy with guest artists Jay Yiu (viola), Michael Graham (cello) and Chih-Long Hu (piano). A question is posed: “What are relationships, inner struggles, deepest desires and societal expectations like in the 19th century? To answer, “Johannes & Clara” will pay homage to the music and daydreams of Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann, incorporating the forbidden love letters between songs.
Wu calls their romance “a most intricate and twisted plot.” Schumann was married to a renowned and troubled musician who was confined to an asylum after he attempted suicide, leaving her alone with their seven children. Brahms “stepped in and became an anchor in Clara’s life, emotionally, financially, and artistically,” Wu explained.
The third program, “Chansons D’Amour”, on August 25, is also about love. Singers Amanda Balestrieri (soprano) and Cody Laun (tenor), accompanied by Wu (violin), Sarah Graf (cello) and Terry Lee (piano), will explore the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice through the music of Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Debussy, Ravel, Schumann, Strauss and many more.
Similar to the first program, each song will flow seamlessly. “I really love this way of presenting,” Wu said, “to take the audience into a much deeper experience.” She noted an involuntary synchronicity. Since the Thunder River Theater Company produced Sarah Ruhl’s “Eurydice,” theatergoers should be familiar with the story.
The last show of the season is a departure from the rest. “Let’s Tango” closes the series at Thompson House with two performances, September 15 and 16. “I’ve always been pretty obsessed with this music,” Astor Piazzolla’s Wu said. “It’s really hard to put into words, to describe the feeling.” She calls it “a combination of lust and desire, despair and grief”, “dense-dense” and “powerful”.
Demonstrating tango, “a dance where they are so close but there is always tension,” will be guests from AspenTango, Dance Initiative and Bonedale Ballet. “Let’s Tango” is dedicated to Heather Morrow, who founded AspenTango and tragically passed away in 2021.
All tickets are available online (at www.carbondalearts.com). “They always reach out to connect the community through art,” Wu concluded, thanking Carbondale Arts. “I love my community!”