Featuring pianist Barry Douglas and Aizuri Quartet

By Karen Herlitz

Composers have always been inspired by the references of their times, their “source and inspiration,” if you will. As those references have changed, so has the music. Musicians today strive to keep “traditional” classical music alive but also celebrate the continuation of the creative process with new compositions and by supporting the next generation of musicians. Both are integral to the future of classical music. The theme of this year’s Rockport Chamber Music Festival (RCMF) is Source + Inspiration, and we spotlight two of this year’s Festival artists, pianist Barry Douglas and the Aizuri Quartet, and their efforts towards that goal of keeping the future of classical music alive and well.

Barry Douglas shot into the spotlight with his Gold Medal performance at the 1986 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition. It had a profound impact on his career. Recently, Douglas reflected on that competition with program annotator Keith Horner, who was in the audience at that 1986 performance. At the close of Barry’s performance of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Keith remembers that it “resulted in 10 minutes of applause.” When asked why he thinks there was such a strong response, Barry replied, “…maybe, they detected that I, like them, appreciate that this is a ground-breaking piece of art!” Barry continues:

I was greatly influenced by Van Cliburn, whom I had the honour to know as a close friend for many years—he won, as everyone knows, the first Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958! We used to talk…about the need to branch out and have a wide repertoire. He told me to remember always the great honour of the Gold Medal, but also to think outside my success and be brave for new and exciting repertoire, and to think of new young composers!

In 1999, Barry Douglas founded the chamber orchestra Camerata Ireland and the Clandeboye Festival to celebrate and nurture the very best of young musicians from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. He wished to create a “center of excellence for new young musicians in the first steps of their career…to find a way to nurture their talent.” He adds that approximately 20% of his Camerata Ireland players come from this Festival.

For his RCMF program, Douglas will be performing his two greatest musical loves, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and a Brahms Trio.


Meet the Aizuri Quartet

Since winning the 2018 M-Prize Chamber Arts Competition, the Aizuri Quartet has been on a fast track, catching the attention of audiences and critics, as well as a Grammy nomination. As part of the Quartet’s residency at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the ensemble presented five unique programs over a season in which the New York Times hailed the Quartet’s “imaginative programming” and “places it in the new guard.” The Aizuri has had numerous other residencies, including the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts, the Ravinia Festival’s Steans Music Institute, and the Curtis Institute of Music.

“In a crowded field of many brilliant young quartets, the Aizuri, through their exceptional playing and truly thoughtful curating, stand out. I am really excited to introduce this group to our Rockport family,” says artistic director Barry Shiffman.

Their debut release Blueprinting, a 2019 Grammy nominee and an NPR Music Best Classical Album of 2018, featured works by five of today’s most exciting American composers. Two of the composers included were Caroline Shaw and Gabriella Smith, whose works will be performed on the Aizuri’s RCMF program. According to NPR Music, the new quartet compositions “prove that the 250-year-old string quartet formula remains vibrant and vital.” The Washington Post adds, “The result is a collection of viscerally powerful pieces that glow with ingenuity and push the string quartet in inventive and unexpected ways.”

In addition to the tremendous success with new compositions and creative programming, the Aizuri Quartet is also known for its performances of the classical masters. The Washington Post states, “In Aizuri’s hands, Beethoven’s String Quartet… became a study in contrasts…(the) syncopations were playful yet meticulous while, in the finale, the quartet bided its time, allowing the icy melancholy to melt into radiant sunbeams.”

Both artists, Barry Douglas and the Aizuri Quartet, will be performing in the Rockport Chamber Music Festival this June, and both provide a fresh perspective on how to approach new compositions as well as works from the classical canon. Be sure to catch them and many more exciting artists this summer!