The Gesher Music Festival is back for its ninth season of thoughtful chamber music aimed at building bridges and connecting communities. “Gesher” means bridge in Hebrew, and the festival’s themes are inspired by the Jewish experience.
The festival’s founder and artistic director, cellist Sara Sitzer, is a St. Louis native based in Chicago, where she’s a member of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra and executive and co-artistic director of Chamber Music on the Fox. She performs regularly with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Opera Theater and elsewhere.
We talked with Sitzer about this year’s festival. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q • What, if anything, has changed in your approach to programming the festival over the years?
A • I’d say the biggest change is the thematic programming. While the music certainly speaks for itself, tying in powerful, relatable stories behind that great music makes for a much more compelling and cohesive festival. I’m proud of the fact that, when people come to a Gesher concert, they’re not just experiencing a wonderful live performance, but they’re experiencing the music in a way that they can relate to their own lives.
Q • What’s this year’s theme?
A • It’s “Shelter of Peace,” which looks at the music of refuge, of security and of sanctuary. Our program at the Missouri History Museum on Aug. 15 explores the lives and the music of refugees, composers who fled to the U.S. during times of war or oppression and whose music helped to shape the American musical landscape.
On Aug. 17, our concert at the 560 Music Center looks at the ways in which music can depict shelter from all types of storms, from Haydn’s “Storm and Stress” period to a contemporary piece based on the story of Noah’s Ark. And our final concert on Aug. 18 at the Jewish Community Center is a musical take on history’s most sacred spaces, featuring music inspired by churches and synagogues, as well as the sacredness of the chamber music salon during Schubert’s time.
This year, it’s particularly relevant for Gesher to be exploring the art that shines a lens on what makes us feel safe, secure and uplifted.
Q • Who are this year’s artists?
A • We’re fortunate to have many returning artists this year, including violinist Eva Kozma of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and clarinetist Dana Hotle of Chamber Project St. Louis, as well as the Chicago-based violinist Cristina Buciu and violist Sixto Franco. New York-based mezzo-soprano Lucy Dhegrae is returning to Gesher for her fifth year. New this year will be one more local favorite: pianist Nina Ferrigno, of the Missouri Chamber Music Festival. We’re absolutely thrilled to have her performing with us this season.
Q • How many programs will you do in all, including the nonpublic ones?
A • We have eight events over 10 days, including a free docent-led tour of the St. Louis Art Museum, the three main stage concerts, and outreach programs at the International Institute, Central Reform Congregation and Temple Israel.
Q • What pieces this year are you most excited about?
A • One of the most interesting pieces we’re bringing to the festival this year is a piece called “Ark Luggage,” by David Lang. It’s on our “Shelter From the Storm” concert at the 560 Music Center, and reimagines the story of Noah’s Ark in a unique way. Composed for mezzo-soprano and string quartet, she sings a list of 92 suitcases that Noah may have brought with him on the ark and includes items from “fresh linen, clean sheets and warm underwear” to “white pebbles to edge the borders of my new garden.” It’s a fascinating imagining of what might have been going on in the legendary man’s head in preparation for the Great Flood.