Daniel Brewbaker’s String Quartet No. 4

The world premiere of Daniel Brewbaker’s String Quartet No. 4, “Love Notes to Napa,” was commissioned for the 18th season of Music in the Vineyards, and will be performed at Clos Pegase Winery’s Cave Theater on Sunday, Aug. 5. Chick Harrity photo

Its 18th season brings myriad firsts for Music in the Vineyards, the annual chamber music festival that begins this Sunday and runs through Aug. 19.

After 39 classical artists from around the country arrive in Napa, their itinerary will include a day trip this Sunday to the Presidio of San Francisco to experience a private concert in the Walt Disney Family Museum.

The following Sunday, within the acoustical and atmospheric Cave Theater at Clos Pegase in Calistoga, concert goers will hear the world premiere of Daniel Brewbaker’s String Quartet No. 4 “Love Notes to Napa,” performed by the Borromeo Quartet and commissioned for the festival by Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem, owners of Clos Pegase.

Another first for the festival is a woodwind quintet of all-stars performing in the warm acoustics of Merryvale Vineyards on Wednesday, Aug. 8. The program features gems of woodwind quintet literature including a work by composer Miguel del Aguila, awarded a Kennedy Center Friedeim Award for excellence in chamber music.

“We just can’t wait to see how it all will work, to hear the results of the musical matchmaking,” sad Daria Adams, violinist and co-artistic director for the festival along with her husband, violist Michael Adams, who gives witty and insightful background on composers and the pieces performed. “It’s a very gratifying process, especially when the audience also senses the chemistry between the musicians.”

Some festival musicians are as young as 18, such as the Klein Competition-winning violinist Mayumi Kanagawa, and some more established, such as pianist William Wolfram, a medalist in both the William Kapell and the Naumberg International piano competitions.

For the musicians arriving in the valley, it will be three weeks of blending old and new, in terms of colleagues, chamber music repertoire, and even the festival’s winery venues and artist accommodations.

“After 18 seasons, we still love the challenging process of assembling the great jigsaw puzzle of music and musicians that make up each year’s festival lineup,” Daria Adams said.

Music in the Vineyards, which offers complimentary wine at intermission, is held in barrel rooms, wine caves, and an occasional outdoor terrace within a dozen wineries up and down the valley, allowing audiences an up-close look into the soul of chamber music.

The festival program varies from nostalgic classics by Beethoven, Mozart and Brahms, to playfully modern pieces such as Miguel del Aguila’s woodwind quintet and Judd Greenstein’s Four on the Floor.

“It can be quite a challenge to create something cohesive to present to the public with people you barely know, but making music together can create incredible bonds, sometimes even in a few hours,” said Kanagawa. “We’re trying to have a dialogue amongst the performers and the audience. It’s like a play without words — there are main voices and story lines and twists; the lines are written, but the spontaneity makes it exciting.”

Kanagawa will perform a Mozart Adagio and Fugue in C minor, as well a Eugène Ysaÿe Sonata No. 3 in D Minor on Friday, August 3 at Robert Mondavi Winery.

“It’s an incredible festival, with wonderful artists and artistic directors whose fun and relaxed personality is infused into the atmosphere,” said Wolfram, who is performing during the first week of the festival, including at the new Provenance Vineyards venue on Saturday, Aug. 4.

“The concert settings are uniquely gorgeous, the terrain is spectacular,” the pianist added, “and although the first rehearsal is always a little nerve-wracking, the whole experience truly encapsulates what it’s like to be a performer — that balance of terrifying fun.”

This relaxed tone Wolfram describes is often set long before the concert begins.

Part of what makes the experience complete, and what keeps these world-class musicians coming back year after year, is the relational camaraderie they feel with not only with their colleagues, but also with their housing hosts.

In an effort to keep ticket costs down, and to maintain the intentionally intimate, family-like feel of the festival, musicians are paired with homeowners in the valley who offer their spare bedrooms or guest homes to the traveling performers. Conversations take place, meals are shared, and wine is poured as the musicians settle in, relax and enjoy the valley.

Directly following the concerts, patrons are also free to mingle with the musicians, ask questions and congratulate them on a job well done.

“The relationships built between our musicians and patrons is at the very core of our festival, and what truly sets us apart,” said Evie Ayers, executive director of Music in the Vineyards.

“The stories shared before and after each concert, combined with Michael’s casual and entertaining commentary and sips of wine at intermission, give the whole experience an approachable, friendly atmosphere.”

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