Padanaram Chamber Music Festival amped up for opening weekend

Aug 5, 2019

A house overlooking Padanaram harbor is about to become the headquarters for a new summer music program: The Padanaram Chamber Music Festival.

As he answered the door, festival Executive Director Colin Roshak — an articulate youth wearing thick woolen socks with his sandals, despite the heat — gave the impression of boundless energy. 

Every few minutes he’d push his round glasses up the bridge of his nose as he sat in the garden and spoke about his massive new project, set for the second week of August.

Artists and musicians are flying in from all over the country to camp out at the house — Roshak’s parents’ summer home on Elm Street — for the next two weeks.

Seven musicians, two directors, and one visual artist are combining forces for a unique experiment in artistic residency.

Roshak and two other musicians played an exploratory winter concert in January to test the waters for the festival, and found the response exceeded expectations.

Since then he and Artistic Director Michelle Ravitsky have been working hard to organize an ambitious festival that will offer five concerts of classic and contemporary chamber music played by some of the most talented musicians in the country — for free.

“My musical life has been really fortunate in a lot of ways, and one of them is I’ve met some really talented people,” he said with a smile. “And they’re all nice. And they’re willing to just come work with me for two weeks during the summer.”

Since graduating from Oberlin Conservatory of Music in 2018, Roshak has been living and working in Alaska, where he plays clarinet, teaches, writes as an arts critic, and manages a performing arts center, among other activities.

He’s currently here on vacation — but organizing a festival of this kind is no easy task.

Roshak explained that the new non-profit is a startup, so there’s a lot of work involved. “We’re starting kind of conservatively — well, I don’t know if five concerts is conservative,” he checked himself with a laugh.

But the festival’s mission is clearly important to him. 

“We believe that the arts are one of the best ways to build community,” he said. “I think to evaluate them as simply something beautiful is a bit of a mistake, and blind to the incredible benefits they can provide.”

“Many of our formative experiences as a young person are artistic,” he continued, noting that this could mean anything from singing along to a car radio to scribbling in a personal journal. 

“Whatever it is, we all express ourselves through the arts. And there’s something about that shared humanity that if you can tap into that, you can really cultivate an incredible community. And that is at the core of this whole thing.”

Roshak hopes to ultimately turn the festival into a two-week summer residency for talented young musicians to practice and perform outreach concerts, with a goal of improving the program every year.

Part of the mission is to ensure that the concerts are as accessible and inclusive as possible. 

To that end, the cost of admission is free, with the idea that those who can afford to give donations will, and those who can’t will give back in the future.

“That was one thing I was not willing to compromise on,” Roshak said with a laugh. “We’re playing the long game.”

The organization has applied for and is currently awaiting a non-profit status — so any donations made now can be retroactively deducted from taxes after the status is awarded.

Lots of local businesses and organizations have helped them out already by donating space, advertising, or other items, such as their brochures.

As for the musicians, many of them are friends of Roshak and Ravitsky, or friends of friends. 

“These musicians are superlative,” Roshak says enthusiastically. “They are the best young classical musicians in the world. They come from top conservatories, top universities.”

Although for its first year the musicians have kindly agreed to play without being paid, Roshak says a priority for the festival going forward is to be able to make enough money to pay the musicians fairly.

“These are incredible young artists. They deserve to be paid and appreciated in a way that is representative of their talents,” Roshak said.

But as of yet, they’ve never played together at the same time.

This week they are flying in to spend five days rehearsing before setting out to play a challenging music program that mixes classic and contemporary music, combining male and female composers from America and elsewhere.

Roshak said the program is an “eclectic mix.” 

One of the concerts has a focus on modern music, another is American chamber music, and the rest are composed of “cool combinations.”

“That’s not to say it’s all crazy weird, out there contemporary music,” he explained. “We have a lot of Beethoven and Mozart, the classics. And then we have music that is meant to expand our ears a little bit and push some boundaries.”

“I think it will give the audience a lot to take away,” Roshak added. “I think it will challenge them. And I think they’ll really enjoy it.”

The concerts will take place in various locations around Padanaram and New Bedford on August 9, 10, and 11, and again on August 16 and 17.

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