MANCHESTER, VT. >> "A lot of bad cats are coming to play."
"Bad" in this case means good, as in extremely good, since Ariel Rudiakov, the artistic director of the Manchester Music Festival, was referring to the musicians who will be passing through Manchester this summer as part of the festival's 42nd season.
Titled "Synergies," the summer festival's music aims to bring together different musical elements and stitch them together into something that's undeniably classical, but fresh and different as well, he said.
"We are incorporating other things into the classical realm that will, I think, enhance an experience that will be broader even than the classical purist will enjoy," he said.
Bringing together seemingly disparate elements to make a new synthesis is familiar territory for Rudiakov, who in recent years has brought his string quartet to perform with "Out on the Tiles," a Led Zeppelin tribute band from Hudson Falls, N.Y. (and will again later this summer at Stratton Mountain on July 30) as well as with other jazz and popular musical artists at other concerts hosted by the festival. Opening night of this year's summer festival is a good demonstration of that.
The seven-week long festival launches on Thursday, July 7, with a tribute to Duke Ellington. "If it sounds good ..." is the title of the program, and the Duke is well known for completing the thought ... "it is good." The concert starts with a piece by Brahms before working its way forward to Ellington, Rudiakov said.
"You'll end up with your fix of Brahms, but we'll take you through a wider variety, ending with Ellington," he said. "That kind of speaks to what the fusion is about — not every concert is going to be that way. But I feel strongly that more and more, people want a 'mash up' kind of experience."
The musicians who will bring the Brahms-to-Ellington mash up on July 7 include such well-known performers to musical festival audiences as Joana Genova and Austin Hartman on violins, Yehuda Hanani on cello, Adam Nieman on piano, and of course, Rudiakov on viola. Soprano Danielle Talamantes will be on hand for the vocal chores.
Opening night will be followed one week later, on July 14, with "Flirting with Fusion," a concert devoted to the vision and entrepreneurship of a group of local Manchester businesspeople who have formed a group known as the Female Business Owners of Manchester — or FBoM's for short. The group of ladies formed last year to provide support, advice and networking for each other, and will join forces with the music festival that night, talking about their businesses from the stage and meeting and greeting.
The concert will include a world premiere of a piece by Sato Matsui, a Julliard-composer, and local singer Laura Molinelli. It will feature works by female composers for the most part, Rudiakov said.
"Another part of the story is why people come to Manchester and to live here — and it's not always the easiest thing to do," Rudiakov said. "We will end up on stage singing David Bowie's 'Heroes.'"
Joining Genova and Hartman on violins will be Nathaniel Parke on cello, Di Wu on piano along with Molinelli on guitar and Susanna Loewy on flute, and Rudiakov on viola.
Subsequent concerts on the following five Thursday nights through Aug. 18 will include a program of music from Russian and Armenian composers on July 21; "Handel to Modern" on July 28; and a Spanish-flavored night on Aug. 4 with a touch of klezmer music — dance music of Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe — thrown in.
Things get a little more vocal-oriented for the final two shows on Aug. 11 and Aug. 18. "Voices Together! An orchestral experience" on Aug. 11 will feature Stefan Milenkovich on violin and a special appearance by the Manchester Community Chorus, directed by Linda Hueckel. It will mark the return of a community choir performance that has not been seen at the festival for awhile, Rudiakov said.
"We have not had a chorus in any way, shape or form, drawn from the community, for at least 30 years," he said. "We have had vocal ensembles but not local ones. We used to do that back in the day."
"Back in the day" was when Rudiakov's father, Michael Rudiakov, served as the festival's artistic director, and helped bring the music festival into prominence. The festival's heart is actually a music academy named in honor of Michael Rudiakov, which offers instruction to rising younger artists in chamber music. These "Young Artists" have their own series of chamber music concerts in conjunction with the Thursday evening performances each Monday night from July 11 to Aug. 15. Ticket prices are $10 each (students and children admitted free of charge). They perform at the Riley Center for the Arts at Burr and Burton Academy, not far from the Arkel Pavilion at the Southern Vermont Arts Center where the music festival stages its main Thursday night shows.
Those Thursday night concerts will conclude on Aug. 18 with a now traditional "Night at the Opera" where rising stars from the Metropolitan Opera along with pianist Caren Levine will perform. Arias, duets and ensemble pieces will be part of the season finale.
And the "bad cats" who will have crossed the stage at the Arkel Pavilion by then will have included winners of the Van Cliburn competition, Julliard's Gina Bachauer Award, a Gilmour Young Artist Award, a National Endowment of the Arts Award and the Metropolitan Opera's National Council Auditions.
All the concerts start at 7:30 p.m., but in another innovation for this year, open rehearsal performances will be open to the public on concert Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. for $10.
"The palette will be really wide this summer — that goes with some risk to our traditional subscribers who really want to hear classical music and classical chamber music," Rudiakov said. "But at the same time, most of them understand that we live in a broader world and have to be more inclusive. I believe we can do that without selling out our roots."
For more information about the summer music festival, visit mmfvt.org.