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La Musica festival adds folksy to its repertoire

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  • | 4:00 a.m. April 7, 2010
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Chamber music is deeply rooted in 18th-century classical masterpieces. Haydn. Mozart. Bach. Yet, it’s the addition of a playful contemporary work by a University of Nevada piano and composition professor that’s drawing attention to this year’s La Musica International Chamber Music Festival.

Dr. James Winn, a professor since 1997 at the University of Nevada, Reno, will perform his folkloric “Three Nocturnes” April 12, at the Sarasota Opera House. Though Winn wrote the piece 20 years ago and performed it at several chamber music festivals across the country, it’s making its regional debut next week in Sarasota.

A three-movement piano piece, “Three Nocturnes” was originally written for summer performances near Lake Tahoe. Inspired by literature and folklore, the work stands out among scores of traditional chamber music.

“It was a nice fit for this year,” says Sally Faron, La Musica’s executive director. “The theme of the festival is resolutions, the idea that chamber music is really a series of resolutions. You bring together people with no conductor and everyone has their own vision and their own ideas and somehow these have all got to be resolved.”

According to Faron, the unusual nature of the piece, coupled with Winn’s participation in La Musica’s education-outreach day, helped the organization land a 2010 grant from MetLife’s Creative Connections Meet the Composer program.

Winn, a former solo pianist with the New York City Ballet and a member of the New York New Music Ensemble, is considered a specialist in new music. He has worked with 13 Pulitzer Prize-winning composers and is a frequent guest artist with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

The first movement of his “Three Nocturnes” is based loosely on a Thorne Smith novel, in which amateur occultists attempt to summon the goddess Venus but mistakenly call on the Goddess of the Hunt instead.

The second and most fanciful movement draws on Winn’s own Scottish/Irish heritage with bagpipe embellishments, Celtic fiddle movements and a tale about a young knight taken as a love slave in the realm of Faerie.

Winn’s third movement pays homage to Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. Based on a folk epic about a witch queen, a master magician and a mill that has the power to grind out any substance its user commands, the section starts with the dark and mysterious sounds of spell casting.

“It’s not something audiences should be afraid of,” Winn says of the wildly inventive composition, which he will perform with violinist Ellen dePasquale and cellist Eric Kim. “Whether or not the audience is trained in new music, they won’t have any trouble understanding this piece. It’s brand new, but it’s very much couched in a language people are familiar with.”

If You Go

The La Musica International Chamber Music Festival runs April 9 to April 21, at the Sarasota Opera House.
This year’s festival features 14 chamber musicians, including flutist Carol Wincenc, performing the regional premiere of Grammy Award-winning composer Joan Tower’s “Flute Quintet.” Daily rehearsals and pre-concert lectures are open to the public at the Mildred Sainer Pavilion at New College of Florida.

For ticket information and a complete schedule of events, call 366-8450, Ext. 3 or visit

Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected].


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