Skan Festival: Anniversary celebration a tasty affair

Some wish they could have skipped the appetizer.

Over the course of the past 30 years the Skaneateles Festival has been serving up a tasty smorgasbord of chamber music, feeding Central New Yorkers a well-balanced diet of flavorsome works that have stood the test of time, sprinkled with a sampling of contemporary works that, occasionally, take a bit more time to digest.

In a way, Thursday evening's anniversary season-opening concert proved somewhat of a microcosm of the past three decades, with listeners smacking their lips in approval at the taste of a couple of familiar composers (Dvorak and Mozart) -- but reaching for the Alka-Seltzer after trying to digest a new work co-commissioned by the festival.

Peter Child's Pantomime for Oboe Quartet, which opened the program, is a divertimento comprising seven short contrasting character pieces that the composer, a professor of music at MIT, likens to "a wordless serio-drama." But while Child's writing may be accessible, it is not especially engaging, and the listener and composer soon part ways.

The compositional style in Pantomime is predominantly neo-classical (a return to a style of the past), and while a tonal center does exist in this work chords do not progress as expected. Still, it's prudent for a composer to have a sense of direction that may engage the listener's interest: These chords were headed nowhere -- and rather slowly at that. The quartet was led by long-time festival favorites Peggy Pearson (oboe) and violist Michelle LaCourse, as well as violinist Renata Knific and cellist Rosemary Elliott.

If Pantomime proved a disappointing appetizer, the Mozart Quintet for Piano and Winds (K.452) managed to satisfy the crowd's demand for some quality fare -- and this in spite of some balance problems endemic to the lively acoustical venue of First Presbyterian Church, which is not especially kind to the disparate timbres of wind instruments.

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