Fest brings music, BBQ, snakes

The fifth annual festival serves up its last free concert schedule.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

As she has for the past five years, the Greek muse Euterpe has smiled on Malibu in late summer, bestowing musical riches with the Malibu Coast Chamber Music Festival. The annual event has brought world-class musicians, composers, dancers and visual artists to Malibu’s hills with performances set to please the whole family-all free of charge (although, beginning in October, there will be a charge for tickets to keep the concerts “running in the black,” it is stated on the chamber’s Web site).

The brainchild of violinist Scott Hosfeld, who is the chamber’s music director and conductor, and Maria Newman, Malibu violinist, composer and youngest daughter of renowned film composer Alfred Newman, the festival is sponsored by the Malibu Friends of Music and offers a weeklong schedule of concerts, classical dance programs, silent films and relaxed discussions of all things musical.

The fact that the event takes place in Hosfeld’s and Newman’s Eric Lloyd Wright-designed home, the Montgomery Arts House for Music and Architecture, with buffet refreshments and tiny tea candles leading you up the path to the front door, only serves to enhance the intimacy of the communal arts festival.

Both Newman and Hosfeld have no trouble attracting some of the country’s busiest concert performers to participate. They have played with most of these artists in the past in competitions, commissioned concert performances and in master classes.

“We have three performing venues here at Montgomery House,” Newman said. “The inside concert rooms make for very intimate experiences. I’ve found that, if you can make the audience really trust you, they’re game for classical music up close and personal.”

Newman likens the experience to being inside an orchestra pit, where “you can really see the sweat on their brows and watch their bow strings break,” which gives the performers a chance to react to the audience’s reaction.

Hal Ott, who is performing a duo for flute and piano by Aaron Copeland, said, “This festival is the highlight of my year. I work with great colleagues [he is on faculty with Central Washington University and is principal flutist with the Yakima Symphony Orchestra], but to gather with the caliber of musicians that Maria brings together really revives one’s spirit to music.”

Ott recently recorded Newman’s composition, “Pennipotenti,” which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and is enthusiastic about the festival format that effectively allows audiences to become participants.

“The whole experience becomes very organic,” Ott said, in describing concerts where the musicians sit knee-to-knee with the audience. “You are breathing, they are breathing. We all become one. The feedback is quite electric.”

Eric Kutz is the cello half of the Murasaki Duo, who, along with his wife (the piano half), Miko Kominami, performs Chopin’s “Polonaise.” His comments echo Ott’s.

“The reason I come to perform at this festival is because of the quality of musicians it attracts,” Kutz said. “I’d go anywhere to work with these artists, but to work in beautiful Malibu is extra special.”

This year’s festival runs Aug. 21-28, so there is still plenty to enjoy.

Thursday evening’s concert is titled “In the Wake of a Tormented Mind” and, far from being a funereal subject, Newman said that torment has often led to musical brilliance.

“Look at Beethoven,” Newman said. “I strongly believe that his deafness contributed fully to his brilliant and creative output. Brahms was part of a love triangle with Robert and Clara Schumann, and it generated a lot of passion musically.”

Brahms will be heard Friday night with the “Johannes Brahms Meets a Night at the Not-So-Silent Movies.”

Saturday night’s Fantastic Festival Finale features not just the Malibu Coast Chamber Orchestra, but a barbecue and, just to keep things lively, a presentation by the Fabulous Reptile Family as well.

“When my oldest daughter was in kindergarten, the Fabulous Reptile Family brought in a whole show to the class with snakes and spiders and toads,” Newman explained. “You get over being afraid of them real quickly. And it always pleases the kids. We definitely want to engage children because this festival is for all the community.”

The fifth annual Malibu Coast Music Festival runs through Aug. 28 at the Montgomery Arts House for Music and Architecture. As a non-profit organization, all events are free to the public, but donations are gratefully accepted.

The festival schedule can be found online at www.malibucoastmusicfestival.org. Reservations are required for all events and can be made by telephone at 310.589.0295.

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