Skaneateles Fest: Welcoming the Old and the New

Lauren Cavalli previews the 35th celebration of the Skaneateles Festival.

Skaneateles opens its homes and its town to world-class musicians and music lovers alike for four weeks of Brahms, Debussy, Mozart and other composers in the 35th celebration of the Skaneateles Festival.

The festival, which starts Wednesday, Aug. 6, will offer concerts and programming every Wednesday through Saturday for the rest of in August. Each week focuses on a theme: Many Happy Returns, East Meets West, Gypsy Nights and Encore. Seven thousand people are expected to attend.

The theme for Week 1, Many Happy Returns, features musicians who have been involved with the festival since its inception and performers making their debut.

“In addition to looking to the future, we want to celebrate the past,” said festival artistic director David Ying.

This will be the 10th season as artistic directors for as Ying and his wife,  Elinor Freer. It will also be their last. Festival-goers should expect the same quality of music they have grown accustomed to over the festival’s 35 years.

“The festival should be surprising and invigorating. We try to make it fresh every year so people don’t take it for granted,” Ying said.

The festival was born in 1980 from conversations between musicians and residents. It began as a two-week affair. The town invited musicians from all over the country to play music at Brook Farm, the home on West Lake Road of two of the festival’s founders, the Robinsons.

Skaneateles Fest Brook Farm Rehearsal.

Skaneateles Fest Brook Farm Rehearsal.

Louise Robinson, 90, still opens her home every year to the musicians who come to perform. They sleep, eat, practice and play at Brook Farm, the heart of the festival.

It is the community’s welcoming nature and the hours of volunteers’ work that make the festival possible, said Susan Mark, the festival director. The festival has grown over the years, and residents have followed the Robinsons’ example and opened their homes to musicians, Mark said.

The musicians returning come from different periods of the festival’s history. They won’t necessarily have played together before, allowing the favorites from past years to create musical collaborations this year, Ying said.

The first week begins with a family event, at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 6. It will allow kids to learn about music. Ying and Freer will discuss the celebratory nature of music and how it can be used to communicate joy, and then they will perform for the kids. They’ll then ask everyone to join them in a rendition of “Happy Birthday”. There’s a reception that night at a private home.

Reunion! is the name of the program for Thursday, Aug. 7. The performers include Steven Doane, cello; Rosemary Elliott, cello; Joseph Genualdi, violin; Maria Lambros, viola; Curtis Macomber, violin; Melissa Matson, viola; Stewart Rose, horn; and Robert Weirich, piano.

A highlight will be a piece by Weirich, Steamboat Stomp. Weirich was the festival artistic director from 1990 to 1999.

Before the performance on Friday, Aug. 8, musicians and founders will discuss the origins of the festival and where it is today. Musicians for the performance include Peggy Pearson, oboe; Doane and Elliott, cello; Genualdi, violin; Lambros, viola; Macomber, violin; Rose, horn;  and Weirich and Freer, piano.

The first week will end with a bang on Saturday, Aug. 9. The Fireworks Ensemble will make its debut performance at the festival, with a sound its members call distinctly American, including elements of bluegrass, jazz, rock and American folk. Ying said to be prepared for a reimagining of classical music.

Afterward, there will be a fireworks show. Festival-goers are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and blankets.

Ticket prices are $22 to $28. Season passes and package deals are also available.  For information, visit

Skaneateles Festival Week One:

Wednesday, Aug. 6

— When: 11 a.m.
— Where: First Presbyterian Church, 97 E. Genesee St., Skaneateles
— Program: FamilyFest Cel-e-brate! (Good Times, C’mon). Artistic directors Elinor Freer and David Ying play some celebratory music and mark the festival’s 35th year with “Happy Birthday”. If you play an instrument, bring it; voices are also fine.

— When: 6:30 p.m.
— Where: The home of Ed and Debbie Brennan, 3018 West Lake Road.
— Program: Summer Suite. Gourmet food and drink and a performance by festival musicians. Capacity is limited.

Thursday, Aug. 7

— When: 8 p.m.
— Where: First Presbyterian Church, 97 E. Genesee St.
— Program: Reunion!
Grieg: Sonata No. 3 for Violin and Piano in C minor, Op. 45
Strauss: Andante in C Major for Horn and Piano, Op. posth.
Weirich: Steamboat Stomp
Brahms: String Sextet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 36

Friday, Aug. 8

— When: 7 p.m.
— Where: First Presbyterian Church, 97 E. Genesee St.
— Program: Behind-the-Scenes Event. A pre-concert chat with musicians and festival founders about how it all began. Open to ticket holders only.

When: 8 p.m.

— Where: First Presbyterian Church, 97 E. Genesee St.
— Program: Reflections and Reminiscences
Francaix: String Trio
Reinecke: Trio in A minor for Oboe, Horn, and Piano, Op. 188
Schumann: Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44

Saturday, Aug. 9

— When: 7:30 p.m.
— Where: Brook Farm, 2870 West Lake Road, 2.5 miles south of Skaneateles (rain location is Allyn Arena, 1 Austin Park Driveway)
— Program: “Fireworks” at Brook Farm
Leonard Cohen: Hallelujah
Copland: Hoedown
Bill Monroe: bluegrass
Mercer Ellington: jazz
Bernstein: selections from West Side Story
Fireworks by Pyrotecnico


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