For five years, the Colour of Music Festival was a grand, Charleston-based extravaganza featuring all kinds of classical music performances, from large-scale presentations at the Gaillard Center or Memminger Auditorium to recitals in local churches.
But this year is different. Organizers of the special festival, which celebrates contributions to classical music by black composers and musicians, are pulling back after struggling to cover the costs of ambitious programming in previous years. And they are distributing the musical wealth among several cities, untethering the festival from Charleston. It has become a decentralized road show of sorts, an enterprise that is part of Charleston’s cultural landscape, but that is increasingly part of other landscapes as well.
The advantages to this approach are numerous, said founding producer Lee Pringle.
“We’re scaling it back for two reasons,” he said. “Charleston has a long history with two major classical music organizations that are deeply rooted in its psyche” he said, referring to Spoleto Festival USA and the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. These two nonprofits capture much of the local patronage, making it a challenge for ambitious upstart festivals to find their niche. What’s more, Pringle said, “We don’t have the kind of corporate presence to support what I had imagined originally.”
The city has no Fortune 500 companies headquartered here, and a finite pool of philanthropists who, many point out, are called up to support a wide range of enterprises.
“I realized in Year Three that I had to re-engineer the festival,” Pringle said. He was struggling to pay all the bills and manage the complicated logistics. Spoleto Festival houses many of its participants in College of Charleston dorm rooms in late May and early June, but the Colour of Music Festival, which has scheduled events in October, has no such luxury: The students are in town. “So I scaled it back to Charleston’s original music, which is chamber music.”
No big orchestra will populate a concert hall, no conductor will assume the podium; rather, the festival will present a series of seven recitals, Oct. 24-27, hosted in venues well-suited for chamber music: the Edmondston-Alston House at 21 East Bay St.; the Murray Center Salon, inside the building that belongs to Spoleto Festival USA at 14 George St.; and Burke High School’s auditorium, 244 President St.
Though the venues are smaller, the level of artistic achievement remains high. Scheduled to perform are pianist Kyle P. Walker, cellists Wade Davis and Kevin Phillip Jones, trumpet player Justin L. Bland, violist Ashleigh Gordon, violinist Anyango Yarbo-Davenport and organist Josiah Montgomery.
The musical programming favors the Baroque era, though a few classical and 20th-century works are thrown in for good measure. Davis will perform a Bach Suite for cello. Gordon will offer Telemann’s Viola Concerto in G Major. Parker will put his baroque horn to use for a Vivaldi concerto. And Bland will forego valves to play some authentic baroque trumpet music.
Pringle said the programming reflects the city’s early infatuation with small-scale classical music concerts, which typically were offered in private homes. But he hopes that performances at Burke High School will enable the festival to reach a new constituency: young people who otherwise might not attend a classical music concert.
Yarbo-Davenport said this kind of outreach is a personal priority.
“I have a strong commitment to changing the dialogue about classical music,” she said from her home in Bogota, Colombia, where she is professor of violin and coordinator of the strings department at Universidad Javeriana. “So I make the time, I see how I can have an immediate effect.”
The daughter of an African-American mother and Austrian father, and who grew up in Munich, Germany, the violinist said the festival has enabled her to better pursue her goals.
“Having been connected with Colour of Music is really key,” Yarbo-Davenport said. “I have more opportunity to collaborate with musicians of African heritage. … It’s been a wonderful expansion in my professional life.”
Pringle said the festival enjoyed success in Houston (13 performances including two “masterworks” concerts), Richmond and Pittsburgh last month, where local schools offered essential support.
In Charleston, Pringle is producing concerts “that can pay for themselves.”
What’s more, he said, this is the last time the festival will be in October. Next year will be a transition year, with limited programming in the spring, then the festival will look ahead to February 2020.
For more information about the festival’s mission, for a full schedule of events and to buy tickets, go to https://www.colourofmusic.org.