Summer Travels: Music in the Mountains

In the heat of summer, Atlantans head for the hills and the Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival.

Featured image: The cool, high mountains of North Carolina form the backdrop for the Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival. (Courtesy Highliands Chamber of Commerce)

by Mark Gresham

June 26. 2019

The town of Highlands, located in the cool, high mountains of western North Carolina, just beyond the Georgia state line, is a busy place during the summer. Bustling crowds fill the shops, restaurants, and streets, drawn by the scenic waterfalls and hiking trails nearby. Highlands has enduring social ties to Georgia’s capital thanks to well-to-do Atlantans who owned summer homes there long before the town became a trendy tourist destination. It makes for an attractive day-trip, weekend getaway, or even a season-long escape from the hot summer weather of metro-Atlanta.

No surprise, then, that a number of Atlanta’s arts patrons can be spotted at the annual Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival. Now in its 38th season, the series of concerts runs this year from July 5 through August 11.

The performances in Highlands, held on Fridays and Sundays at the Highlands Performing Arts Center, are repeated on Saturdays and Mondays at the Albert Carlton Library in nearby Cashiers, an unincorporated village that lies about 10 miles to the northeast of Highlands (The name, incidentally, is pronounced “CASH-ers.”)

A total of ten different programs are performed once at each of the two venues, capped off by a grand finale concert (in Highlands only) with a gala dinner afterward at the Highlands Falls Country Club a little over two miles from town. 

The lineup for the 2019 Festival: 

“By George!” Chamber Music of George Gershwin
Friday, July 5 – 6 p.m. Highlands; Saturday, July 6 – 5 p.m. Cashiers
A handful on familiar and not-so-familiar compositions by Gershwin, some originally chamber works and others transcribed for small forces. Selections include the Cuban Overture arranged for for Piano four hands, Lullaby for String Quartet, Three Etudes for solo clarinet, songs from Porgy and Bess adapted for violin, and an arrangement for Rhapsody in Blue for solo piano and chamber ensemble. The performers will be violinists David Coucheron and Kate Ransom, violinist/violist Julianne Lee; cellist Charae Krueger, clarinetist Marci Gurnow, and pianists Julie Coucheron and William Ransom.

David Coucheron is just one of the many Atlantans you’re likely to spot in Highlands this summer. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s Concertmaster performs as part of the Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival in early July. (Image courtesy ASO)

Mozart in the Mountains
Sunday, July 7 – 5 p.m. Highlands; Monday, July 8 – 5 p.m. Cashiers
An all-Mozart program featuring his Violin Sonata in B-flat Major, K. 378; the Piano Trio in B-flat Major, K. 502; and the Piano Quartet in G Minor, K. 478. The peformers will be violinists David Coucheron and Kate Ransom, violinist/violist Julianne Lee; cellist Charae Krueger, and pianists Julie Coucheron and William Ransom.

The Armida String Quartet performs at the Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival on July 12 and 13. (Image courtesy the artists)

Armida String Quartet
Friday, July 12 – 6 p.m. Highlands; Saturday, July 13 – 5 p.m. Cashiers
Founded in Berlin, Germany in 2006, the Armida String Quartet makes its Highlands-Cashiers debut with this concert, which includes Mozart’s Quartet in G. Major, K. 387; Verdi’s Quartet in E Minor and the String Quartet No. 5 of Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks.

Armida String Quartet-Plus
Sunday, July 14 – 5 p.m. Highlands; Monday, July 15 – 5 p.m. Cashiers
Violist Yinzi Kong and pianist William Ransom join the Armida Quartet to play a program that features the Piano Quintet in A by Camille Saint-Saëns, Dvořák’s “American” Quintet in E-flat, Op. 97.

Concerto Night
Friday, July 19 – 6 p.m. Highlands; Saturday, July 20 – 5 p.m. Cashiers
Schumann’s Concerto Without Orchestra (aka Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 14), along with Elgar’s Cello Concerto and Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto performed by the soloists with piano rather than orchestra. Violinist Philippe Quint, cellist Ani Aznavoorian and pianist Elizabeth Pridgen will perform.

Sunday, July 21 – 5 p.m. Highlands; Monday, July 22 – 5 p.m. Cashiers
An evening of chamber music for strings: Mozart’s Duo for Violin & Viola No. 1, K. 423, Beethoven’s String Trio in D, Op. 9, No. 2 and Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence for string sextet, performed by violinists Philippe Quint and Helen Kim, violists Yinzi Kong and Scott Rawls, and cellists Ani Aznavoorian and Charae Krueger.

Jazz Meets Classics: Impressions and Reflections
Friday, July 26 – 6 p.m. Highlands; Saturday, July 27 – 5 p.m. Cashiers
A mix of Impressionist and Jazz idioms. The String Quartet of Maurice Ravel and three solo piano works by Debussy, Reflections in the Water, Claire de Lune, and L’isle jJoyeuse, and poses stylistic comparison to the jazz of Gary Motley in a set of improvisations for solo piano and works for Jazz trio. The Vega String Quartet will be joined by pianists Gary Motley and Fei-Fei for this concert.

Beethoven and Brahms
Sunday, July 28 – 5 p.m. Highlands; Monday, July 29 – 5 p.m. Cashiers
A program of mainline classical repertoire pairing Beethoven’s String Quartet in F Major, Op. 59 No. 1, and the Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op 34, of Johannes Brahms, performed by he Solera String Quartet with pianist Norman Krieger.

Cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio performs at the Highland-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival in August with pianist Victor Asuncion (Image courtesy the artists)

Dynamic Duo
Friday, August 2 – 6 p.m. Highlands; Saturday, August 3 – 5 p.m. Cashiers
Beethoven’s Sonata for Piano and Cello in C Major, Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit and Rachmaninoff’s Sonata for Piano and Cello make a substantial program performed by cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio and pianist Victor Asuncion.

“Anything You Can Do…”
Sunday, August 4 – 5 p.m. Highlands; Monday, August 5 – 5 p.m. Cashiers
A comparison of originals and arrangements. Two solo violin works by J.S. Bach, the “Prelude” from his Partita No. 3 in E Major and the “Chaconne” from his Partita No. 2, also performed as arranged for solo piano by Rachmaninoff and Busoni respectively; songs by Schumann and Schubert, plus transcriptions of them for solo piano by Franz Liszt; plus Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 for solo violin, likewise repeated as arranged for solo piano by Liszt. Violinist Robyn Bollinger, tenor Bradley Howard, and pianist Victor Asuncion will perform.

The Gershon-Cohn Final Gala and Dinner Party 
Sunday, August 11th at 5 p.m. (Highlands only)
Beethoven, Bailey and a Big Band – Cellist Zuill Bailey and pianist William Ransom perform Beethoven’s “Magic Flute” Variations, WoO 46 and Sonata No. 3 in A major, Op. 69 for cello and piano, plus a set of big band classics and contemporary tunes from the Joe Gransden Big Band. Dinner follows the concert at Highlands Falls Country Club.

Mark Gresham is the founder and principal music journalist of EarRelevant. He primarily writes about classical and post-classical music, and occasionally about other arts. His career as a journalist, spans 30 years. He co-founded the monthly publication Chorus! in 1989 and edited it through 1995. A selection of his interviews from the magazine was published in 1997 as a book, Choral Conversations. In addition to EarRelevant he is currently the Atlanta correspondent for American Record Guide, and also writes occasionally for OPERA (UK). He was a contributing writer for ArtsATL from 2011 until the middle of February 2019. He has also written for NewMusicBox, Where Atlanta/Georgia Traveler, and Creative Loafing, among others. In 2003, Gresham received an ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for music journalism.

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