Last August, Peter Terry, a baritone and musical entrepreneur, co-organized a festival of Spanish Baroque music called Iberica. Over the course of four programs and 10 concerts, a group of local musicians explored a lot of obscure repertoire from areas in Spain, Portugal, and the New World. It gave Boston a dose of substantial music at a time when many high-profile ensembles are dormant or out of town.
This summer, Terry is back with another musical gathering during the dog days. But this time, he has set his sights much higher. The Sons of Liberty Festival opens on Friday and comprises an astonishing 27 concerts over 10 days. The programs cast a wider musical net, with much of the programming focused on American music. Above all, the festival is intended to be an accessible and inviting group of concerts with a kind of openness that fits Boston in the summer.
Terry’s original idea was for the festival to include workshops and master classes — “almost like a summer school for music,” he said during a recent interview. “I thought that if we created that kind of environment, we’d get more of Boston’s music students to stick around during the summer. It could be very productive for the cultural life of the city.”
Early on, when Terry was talking to organizations about funding, he was advised to touch base with the organizers of Outside the Box, the large-scale arts festival conceived by Ted Cutler. In early February, Terry says he considered having Sons of Liberty take place at the same time as — and as a kind of sister festival to — Outside the Box, which has little classical programming. Terry booked his concerts at two Boston churches, Church on the Hill in Beacon Hill and Church of the Covenant on Newbury Street, in order to be in proximity to Outside the Box events, then planned for Boston Common and Copley Square Plaza.
Sons of Liberty Festival
The close collaboration between the two festivals did not materialize, though as of this writing, Sons of Liberty is included on the Outside the Box website with a partial listing of concerts under “Other Events.”
Terry has pressed on, drafting a large cohort of musicians, virtually all of them locals, for a series of concerts that has vocal music as a primary, though not exclusive, focus. The repertoire has breathtaking variety. There are three performances of Handel’s early oratorio “Esther,” with organ accompaniment (July 14-16). There is a concert of recent works for countertenor, sung by Von Bringhurst and Terry himself, under his stage name, Yakov Zamir (July 20). “VW200” is a program celebrating the bicentennials of Verdi and Wagner featuring Bringhurst, Zamir, and baritone James Dargan — it may be the first ever concert of music by these two composers featuring two countertenors and a baritone (July 18).
There are two programs by the Redline Brass Quintet, one a selection of Bernstein arrangements (July 14), the other a family-friendly program intended to teach children about brass instruments (July 16). Duo Orfeo plays music from Spain and Latin America on acoustic guitars on July 19, then picks up electric guitars for a program that spans six centuries, from Machaut to Pärt (July 21).
Even concerts that have a familiar focus feature unusual selections. The festival opener, on Friday, is called “Beethoven Rocks!” and features that composer’s vocal and chamber music, as well as music by Schubert. But instead of recognizable Beethoven works, Terry has programmed a wide array of the composer’s rarely performed arrangements for voice and piano trio of folk songs from Russia, Ireland, Scotland, Poland, and elsewhere.
“They’re very charming, very evocative of the different musical traditions of those countries, but it’s still Beethoven,” he said. “He takes them to another level. Each one of those songs has something special because of its traditional qualities but also something special because of Beethoven’s arrangements.”
Another concert explores the American songbook in a novel way (July 17-19). These songs are often treated as templates for improvisation, but Terry himself plans to sing them “straight” — exactly as the composer wrote them. Then, a pair of jazz musicians will “take them and run with them. So that you hear improvisation, but you also hear the original. It’s kind of like a meeting place between the classical tradition and the jazz tradition, where you can see how the two are related to each other.”
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the festival, from an organizational point of view, is that Terry has managed to set up the concerts with a large number of musicians and at two venues where all of them would receive a portion of the ticket proceeds instead of a flat fee. It is, he said, one of the things he didn’t know was possible until he did it.
“This is an important thing for people in the arts to realize,” Terry said. “There’s an alternative to going around and asking everyone to volunteer everything and do things for free, or paying them a lot of money, probably more than you can raise from ticket revenue. There’s a third model: It should be audience-driven. Let’s get some people to come and listen to this music, and then we’ll all share in the profits.”