“I have always defined chamber music very broadly, as any music that sounds at its best in a chamber,” says David Alpher, artistic director of the Chamber Arts Festival of Marbletown. The series, which is entering its third year, takes place over two weekends (May 25-26 and June 2-3) at SUNY Ulster’s Quimby Theater.
Famed songwriter and pianist Dave Frishberg will perform on June 2. Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, he reached New York City in the late ’50s, where he played with jazz legends Ben Webster, Zoot Sims, and Gene Krupa before going on to write such classics as “My Attorney Bernie” and “I’m So Hip.” But he is probably best known for 1973’s “I’m Just a Bill,” the first song he wrote for the TV show “Schoolhouse Rock.” This song narrates the process whereby a bill in Congress becomes law: “Yes, I’m only a bill / And I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill.” Recently, Frishberg learned that incoming senators and congressmen are shown the animated short as part of their orientation. “When I heard that, I was very complimented, of course, but at the same time kind of appalled,” Frishberg says, in reaction to elected representatives getting civics lessons from a cartoon.
Frishberg’s once-flat Midwestern accent has been syncopated by long exposure to jazz. As he speaks, he is a fountain of self-deprecating humor. “I seem to appeal to audiences of all ages, which is kind of strange,” he says. “There’s nothing remotely commercial or marketable about the songs that I sing. My specialty is that I write songs for which there is no use.”
Baseball fans are especially fond of “Van Lingle Mungo,” which lists strangely named ballplayers from the ’30s and ’40s. One new composition, “Who Do You Think You Are, Jack Dempsey?,” about a barroom fight, is “the only song I’ve ever written which actually involves physical combat.” Frishberg will also play one or two solo jazz piano pieces.
On May 27, the Apple Hill Chamber Players will perform for the festival. Based in Sullivan, New Hampshire, this piano quartet tours worldwide on its “Playing for Peace” program, which brings together musicians from diverse backgrounds to promote mutual understanding; one of its recent performances, on the West Bank, included Israeli and Palestinian musicians. The players have also visited Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Jordan, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Burma.
The Philadelphia-based Baroque group Tempesta di Mare will present an all-Vivaldi program on June 3. Vivaldi’s inventive, sprightly melodies inspired J. S. Bach, as well as numerous advertising directors. In fact, Tempesta di Mare will perform several pieces that have been used on TV commercials. The five-person group plays such uncommon instruments as the flautino (a small flute) and the theorbo (a type of lute).
Alpher and his wife, vocalist Jennie Litt, will appear with the Celtic trio Ferintosh on May 26. Litt will sing Scottish ballads arranged by Beethoven. David Alpher will host a chamber music discussion series on Tuesday evenings in May at SUNY Ulster’s Student Lounge in Vanderlyn Hall. The Chamber Arts Festival of Marbletown runs May 25 to June 3 at SUNY Ulster’s Quimby Theatre in Stone Ridge. (845) 687-2687; www.chamberartsfestival.org