From Brahms to Barber, Arensky to Vivaldi, there will be no shortage of great classical music in the Black Hills this summer.

The Rushmore Music Festival has returned for its second year, with remaining concerts on Wednesday, and Friday and Saturday, following its first shows this weekend. As it wraps up, the Chamber Music Festival of the Black Hills will have its ninth season with shows on July 9, 16 and 22.

Rushmore Music Festival

The Rushmore Music Festival began last year as the ambitious dream of violinist Katie Smirnova and violist Brett Walfish, both Musical Arts doctoral candidates at Stony Brook University in New York. The two dreamed it up as an intimate event in which concertgoers would get to know them as well as the music.

"We're finding great music that we thought people would enjoy and giving people a chance to ask us why we're playing the pieces, what they mean to us," Walfish said. "It's no longer us playing for them but a collaborative environment."

Cellist William Kass, one of the returning musicians, agreed, saying that he felt being an audience member should not be a passive experience.

"You're not just receiving music," Kass said. "As fun as playing music for yourself or listening by yourself can be, it's special and meaningful when you're sharing it with somebody."

The festival's first major concert this year, "Songs, Dances and Jokes," saw the group performing work by Dvorak, Scott Joplin and Cole Porter, among others. The second, "A Romantic World's Fair," is a collaboration performance featuring the music of Brahms, Schumann, Saint-Saens and others and guest artists including Christopher Hahn and local prodigy Maya Buchanan.

The third concert, "The Greats: Known & Unknown," bring work from both a known genius (Tchaikovsky) and a lesser known one, Spanish composer Juan Crisotomo Arriaga, who gained a reputation as the "Spanish Mozart" and died at a similarly young age (19 to Mozart's 35).

"One of the things we like to do is find pieces that aren't well known and pair it with another all-time masterpiece," Smirnova said. "Part of our goal is to spark curiosity, and he belongs on a list of young musical geniuses with Mozart and Mendelssohn."

In the meantime, the group has continued their music education program, with students aged 7 to 18 studying under them at Black Hills State University, offering full scholarship to students. Smirnova said that they plan to expand the program to a residential camp for students next year, inviting children from across the country to study alongside locals.

"We hope to become a national festival, eventually," Walfish said. "One where students can take a few weeks out of the summer to immerse themselves in the sights of the Black Hills and use that to inspire their music, and have that intertwined with a festival that everyone will participate in and engage with."

Chamber Music Festival of the Black Hills

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If Rushmore Music Festival features some of the most promising classical musicians in the country working with future talents, the CMFBH features some of the current great professionals via the Orlando Chamber Soloists.

The festival's first concert, "The Booze Traveler," sees works by Brahms, Artie Shaw, Piazzolla and more paired with wine.

"That one's going to be a lot of fun," said Executive Director Michael Hill. "Eric Gardner from KOTA has chosen seven different wines paired with the works, and he'll explore the wines in relation to the countries of the composers."

The second concert, "Madness Equals Genius," explores the works of painter Vincent Van Gogh in relation to the music of his time.

"There's a relationship between the artistic advances made by Van Gogh and composers like Debussy, Chabrier and Faure," Hill said.

"Chabrier became a composer late in his life and wrote his major pieces in the last few years of his life, just like Van Gogh did with his work," said Artistic Director Dawn Marie Edwards. "And they're both at the beginning of Impressionism, where Chabrier wanted to use musical soundscapes in the orchestra as different colors the way Van Gogh and Gaugin used color as a way of expression."

The third concert, "Vivaldi Four Seasons," pairs that composer with Purcell's "Fair Queen Suite," Halvorsen's "Passacaglia Duo for Violin and Viola" and a sonata by Lotti.

"We took a variety of pieces we thought would best compliment the Vivaldi, and we're excited with how it's turned out," Edwards said.

Hill further touted the festival's success with student musicians in their master classes and interns in their administration, many of whom have earned scholarships or positions following their work for the festival. Their first intern, for example, now working with the London Symphony Orchestra.

"It's a great feeling," Hill said. "We don't take credit for their success, but we're happy to provide opportunities and help any way we can."

With their continued success artistically and academically, the CMFBH provides a model for a first-rate classical musical festival in the Black Hills.

"Our music and our programs fit the community, and we think they're going to have a great time," Hill said.

To purchase tickets, visit thedahl.org.

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Contact Max B. O'Connell at 394-8427 or max.oconnell@rapidcityjournal.com

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