SHAKERTOWN -- Classical music is something we normally associate with the city. There are those big orchestras in New York, Chicago and just about every other metropolis worth its salt. Even here, in the heart of the Bluegrass, our major concert hall is in the middle of a wide web of asphalt.
Meadow View Barn isn't.
The old tobacco barn at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill lives up to its name, nestled atop a hill that looks out upon vast expanses of green valley or trees from every direction.
For the second Memorial Day weekend in a row, the barn and Shakertown are hosting the Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass, produced by Centre College's Norton Center for the Arts. Featuring the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, direct from the asphalt jungle of NYC, it is one of the most sublime concert experiences you will ever have.
The string musicians' instruments probably haven't been played this close to their natural elements -- i.e. trees and horse hair -- and sounded this at home in a long time. Somehow the cellos sound more woody, the strains of the violins twirl in the air like a lark dancing, and the violas sound like old souls taking it all in.
This year, the chamber music society brought along four musicians of its own: co directors Wu Han, piano, and David Finckel, cello, and emerging artists Arnaud Sussman, violin, and Beth Guterman, viola, who were new to the festival. Han and Finckel also invited along the Orion String Quartet, which is performing in its own right and splintering off to perform with the Lincoln Center artists as well.
That was an added bonus with Saturday evening's concert in the Meadow View Barn: We got these world-class musicians mixing and matching for more variety than you usually get from a chamber concert.
"It doesn't matter if the birds are singing or the cows are mooing, because it is such fun to play," Han said to the audience that seemed like a group of old friends.
And she was right. It was sweet to hear the musicians emerge from loud spirited passages and be joined by a choir of birds, even if one really seemed to want to have a solo toward the end of Han, Finckel and the Orion's Daniel Phillips' performance of Bedrich Smetana's Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano in G minor. It was a moody center to the concert and an exciting piece of collaborative playing. We could see what makes Finckel and Wu Han such a great couple on stage and off, as they have such a joy in playing and are so absorbed by the music.
Wu Han was an equally generous colleague with the Orion in the concert's second half, playing Dvorak's Quintet for Two Violins, Viola, Cello and Piano in A Major.
And that was just one concert. The weekend started Saturday morning with performances by Sussman, Guterman and Orion cellist Timothy Eddy of trios by Franz Schubert and Ludwig van Beethoven in Shaker Village's acoustically spectacular Meeting House.
As I write, there are two concerts left, with the Orion playing the Meeting House at 11 a.m. Sunday and a 5 p.m. Russian concert in Meadow View with all the musicians, culminating in Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Sextet for Strings "Souvenir de Florence."
If you love classical music and Kentucky, this festival is a perfect marriage of the two, though watch how much you let word get out. We don't want anyone to think they need to build more asphalt roads around Shakertown.
The crowd pretty much packed out the Meadow View Barn on Saturday. There's another concert there Sunday.