Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival celebrates 25 years

By: Brendan Losinski | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published June 12, 2018

 Sedona Libero, playing Dinah, and Jonathan Leach, playing Sam, perform Leonard Bernstein’s “Trouble in Tahiti” at the Seligman Performing Arts Center June 9 as part of the 25th annual Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival.

Sedona Libero, playing Dinah, and Jonathan Leach, playing Sam, perform Leonard Bernstein’s “Trouble in Tahiti” at the Seligman Performing Arts Center June 9 as part of the 25th annual Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival.

Photo by Donna Agusti

BEVERLY HILLS — The 25th annual Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival is returning to metro Detroit.

Held in a variety of venues, the festival features world-class musicians performing a variety of beloved classical music pieces.

Maury Okun, one of the founders of the festival and the executive director since its inception, said that anyone with a love of music will enjoy what the festival has to offer.

“The Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival is a collaboration of our organization with three religious institutions, which are Kirk in the Hills (Presbyterian Church), St. Hugo (of the Hills Catholic Church) and Temple Beth-El,” Okun explained. The festival started June 9 and takes place at those three institutions and other locations, such as the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

The festival runs until June 24 and will include locations all over metro Detroit. It kicked off with a performance at the Seligman Performing Arts Center on the campus of Detroit Country Day School.

“The first concert is focused on Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue,’ and it will also include the first opera we’ve ever done, which is (Leonard) Bernstein’s ‘Trouble in Tahiti,’” said Okun.

Ticket prices to the individual performances vary, and information on shows and tickets can be found at or by calling (248) 559-2097.

Chamber music mostly features classical music pieces, but the festival also will include some different selections and variations on classics.

“It’s not like it’s a big draw, and we take a pretty broad view of what chamber music is, but we take world-class music and offer a wide variety of it. People from all over the world partner with us to perform,” Okun explained. “At the Charles Wright Museum, we’re taking a piece from their collection, and we invited four musicians to create new work around it with classical, hip-hop, jazz and techno artists all looking at the same visual piece and coming up with a performance based on what they are inspired by.”

In addition to the performances, the festival will include workshops with professional musicians where aspiring artists can hone their skills or pick up some tips.

“We also have ‘Artistic Encounters,’ where young performers — young adults — can get to work with established artists who can help them develop their skills,” said Okun. “We have four different occasions where that will be happening.”

Paul Watkins, a cellist who is the artistic director for the festival, will be playing in several of the concerts, including the initial concert at Seligman, where he was slated to conduct.

“If people think that chamber music is in any way stuffy or boring, they should come along to any one of our venues and get up close and personal with our artists,” Watkins said. “It’s a very exciting and intimate experience for the audience. It’s a really great thing to do on a summer evening.”

Watkins said a number of fantastic pieces will be played throughout the festival, and everyone can find something to love.

“There are some great performances at the Detroit Institute of Arts, in the Rivera Courtyard, and people can sit and enjoy the art in addition to hearing the music,” he said. “This is the centenary of the great Leonard Bernstein, and we will be performing his ‘Arias and Barcarolles’ in his honor. Our closing night on June 23 at Seligman will feature something particularly excellent: a whole string orchestra playing Tchaikovsky’s ‘Defloration.’”

Okun hopes to provide a great time for fans of the chamber music genre and that the festival will provide an enticing opportunity for those unfamiliar with it to try it out.

“I tell people, ‘If you like music in intimate settings and (that) is beautiful and challenging, this is the kind of thing you might love,’” said Okun. “With a festival like this, you bring a lot of people here at once, so you have a lot of resources here at once. Here you can hear a string quartet one night, or a solo performer another night.”