Plays well with others

Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra bassist Fred Bretschger thinks rock lovers “just need to be reeducated on what chamber music is” in order to be converted.

Of course, it didn’t happen for Bretschger (an alleged former rock fan) that way. He met a girl who played cello, and that was that.

Still, without the benefit of love or lecturing, surprising parallels between the two worlds do crop up. This summer, for instance, instead of doing X-Fest, Bonnaroo or NattiJazz, Bretschger will hit the other live-music circuit, playing chamber music festivals across the country (and there are lots of them). His travels bring him to these parts for the Keowee Chamber Music Festival, now in its fifth year.

Bretschger happens to know Keowee co-founder and flutist Kate Steinbeck through various musical engagements. He also counts North Carolina among his favorite places. But, more than that, the symphony musician looks for excuses to get out of town and jam on some tunes.

“We like to play with other people,” he says of fellow career classical performers. “We like to mix it up.”

Referencing Steinbeck, he adds, “The bass and flute [are] two unlikely partners, but there’s a lot of great music written for the two.”

Other unlikely pairings will abound at Keowee, including Manuel de Falla’s “Siete Canciones Populares Espanolas,” originally written for voice and piano.

“We’re doing a transcription for guitar [instead],” explains Steinbeck.

As for Asheville-based composer Tania Gabrielle French’s “Three Landscapes,” written for violin and guitar: “We’re doing it on flute and marimba,” Steinbeck notes.

Other odd couplings will include “From ‘Duos for Two Violins,'” by Bela Bartok. The late composer spent some time in Asheville, visiting the Grove Park Inn, residing at the Albemarle Inn, and performing at Homewood in Montford — all of which makes his composition a perfect choice for the June 17 concert at the First Presbyterian Church (see sidebar for complete schedule).

Just one problem: The Keowee quartet doesn’t include a violinist in that program — let alone two. So, the Bartok selection will be reinterpreted as Bretschger promised — for flute and bass.

In the course of conversation, Steinbeck brings up a recent New Yorker article in which the antediluvian rumor surrounding the viola da gamba (a predecessor to the cello) is debunked. “Anyone who thinks that the music of several centuries ago is less emotionally immediate than the modern product needs to hear a few of these discs,” the reviewer huffs in the May 2 piece.

The flutist adds her own spin, arguing that modern-music buffs wouldn’t call rock ‘n’ roll irrelevant since the advent of rap and hip-hop. “When you hear something that affects you, it doesn’t matter [about] the age of the music,” she says.

And, just as Steinbeck likes to prove that chamber music isn’t stuffy, she’s also prone to insisting that the Keowee program isn’t strictly classical. “We have a Bach solo piece in each concert. … His music is timeless,” she says about the 18th-century composer. “And that’s Baroque,” she adds, referring to Bach’s “Partita No. 2 in D Minor.”

“It’s funny — pop culture has put a certain brand on chamber music, that it’s something of the elite,” says Bretschger. “It isn’t. Chamber music is making quite a comeback.”

Most of Keowee’s offerings will be unapologetically 20th century (seven of the 13 composers represented created work in the 1900s) and thematically Latin — a far cry from powdered wigs and harpsichords.

“We’re doing ‘Three Songs after Poems by Pablo Neruda,'” Steinbeck reveals. Virginia-based composer Andrea Clearfield interpreted the works of the exiled Chilean poet (the subject of the popular 1995 film Il Postino). Performed by the dynamic duo of flute and bass, each poem will first be read in its original Spanish by Tito Amaya of El Salvador.

“The composer told me that had never been done before,” Steinbeck boasts. Which shows that even though chamber music has been played for centuries, it’s far from played out.

Fierce flute, bold bass

Catch Keowee concerts in a variety of venues between WNC and South Carolina.

Program I (music of Gioacchino Rossini, Manuel de Falla, Andrea Clearfield, JS Bach)

• Friday, June 17, 7:30 p.m.: First Presbyterian Church in Asheville. ($12/general, $7/students)

• Saturday, June 18, 2 p.m.: Children’s Concert at the Reuter Center at UNCA. Features a reading of Once Upon an Ordinary School Day by Colin McNaughton, plus musical excerpts. ($2/kids, $5/adults, $10/family)

• Sunday, June 19, 3 p.m.: Pretty Place Chapel (YMCA Camp Greenville) in Cedar Mountain, N.C. (Free)

Program II (music of JS Bach, WA Mozart, Rob Smith, Guillo Espel, Lou Harrison)

• Thursday, June 23, 7:30 p.m.: Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross in Tryon, N.C. ($12/$7)

• Friday, June 24, 7:30 p.m.: Centre South Carolina in Greenville, S.C. ($12/$7)

• Sunday, June 26, 3 p.m.: Reuter Center at UNCA. Reception follows the performance. ($12/$7)

The Keowee Chamber Music Festival performs Friday, June 17, through Sunday, June 26, in North and South Carolina. Tickets are available at the door. For information, call 254-7123 or (864) 624-9693 or go to


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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. She is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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