It's hard to believe that another year has flown by and the annual OK Mozart festival has our neighbor to the north, Bartlesville, abuzz with activity once again. Even harder to believe is that it has flown by and swept in so quietly, that I almost missed it, only realizing the festival was upon us again as I ended up in Bartlesville on other business just as the festivities were rolling out.
If you've never made the short road trip north, you would do yourself good to mark out the rest of your weekend and make the trip, even if it has to be impromptu, to get taste of what's going on this weekend. The music carries on almost non-stop at various locations around Bartlesville right up through this Saturday evening, June 16, and even if you missed the beginning of the festival, there are still a number of highlights to make it more than worth the time and effort to go out of your way and soak up the music and arts as much as possible before the festival wraps up.
Thursday, June 14, is as good a night as any to jump in head first. If you can make it to Bartlesville by 6pm, you can catch either Jo Hemian Jazz Syndicate at Community Hall or Kilkenny Road at Price Tower Arts Center to kick off the evening. The real star of the night, however, is Carolina Chocolate Drops, making a return to OK Mozart this year after debuting at the festival in 2011. This Grammy winning group, which initially met at the Black Banjo Gathering in 2005 blends classic folk and blues with a contemporary twist to tie American roots music to modern pop and hip hop as the initial core trio of Dom Flemens, Rhiannon Giddens and Justin Robinson augmented the group with cellist Leyla McCalla and beat box specialist Adam Matta on the group's 2012 release, Leaving Eden. After debuting at OK Mozart to an amazing response last year, the group returns for an encore that extends OK Mozart's vision of reaching beyond the classics and tying all genres of music together.
That extension of the classics is continued on Friday night, June 15, as Rhiannon Giddens joins Amici New York Orchestra for what has become an OK Mozart tradition in its concert at Woolaroc Museum and Wildlife Preserve. Constantine Kitsopolous will be guest conducting Amici New York, which has become the house orchestra for OK Mozart, for a program that will delve into America's great orchestra and theater compositions. Giddens will be featured as the orchestra delves into the songbook of Edith Piaf as well as sampling a Johann Straus Jr. operetta and the Rogers and Hammerstein songbook. This concert has become a staple of the series and favorite of OK Mozart subscribers, providing a unique experience with the orchestra performing outside at Woolaroc Wildlife Preserve. Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for students in advance or $30 at the gate. In addition, instead of driving to Woolaroc, you can park in Bartlesville and purchase a shuttle pass for $15 to travel on the bus that departs from Bartlesville Community Center at 6pm for the 8pm concert.
Later on Friday evening, Susan Herndon is the featured artist at Price Tower Arts Center, performing as part of the Copper Late Night program, from 9:30-11:30pm.
Saturday night's main event is the Grand Finale concert at Bartlesville Community Center with Amici New York and guest violinist Kyle Dillingam performing the work premier of Callen Clarke's "Life Symphony". Constantine Kitsopolous will once again be conducting, with a different focus on this performance. In addition to Kyle Dillingham's spotlight performance, Grammy award winning bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding will also be guesting with the orchestra, bringing an all-star flair to the evening's performance.
Even with Spalding's awe inspiring vocals and bass playing, the evening truly will be a showcase for Oklahoma's musicians. Callen Clarke is a native of Edmond, OK and began composing music at the age of five, when his family moved to Oklahoma. At the age of ten, this piano instructor encouraged him to become a classical composer and the path was paved. Clarke made his symphonic debut in 2007 with the Oklahoma Centennial Overture as part of the celebration around the state's 100 birthday. Since then, he has premiered at least two works each year with various ensembles throughout the state.
Added to Clarke's composition skills is the appearance of Oklahoma City native Kyle Dillingham, who has been a soloist with Amici New York, Oklahoma City Philharmonic, Enid Symphony Orchestra and OCU Orchestra amongst others. By performing in over 30 countries, Dillingham has earned the title of "Oklahoma's Musical Ambassador" and become a treasured addition to this year's OK Mozart Grand Finale.
Saturday night's celebration finally closes out at Frank and Lola's with Pilgrim performing as part of a weeklong series at the venue that has featured a number of artists considered a part of the "New Tulsa Sound". Overall, the week's festival and combination of musical styles has been able to draw music fans from all corners and expose them to not only classic works, but contemporary artists as well and converge everything with a focus on the arts and Oklahoma's rich talent pool. Even if you missed out on opening weekend, as I did, there is still plenty more to be enjoyed this weekend. A complete schedule with details, artist profiles and ticket prices -- as well as directions -- can be found online at okmozart.com.
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