On a hot afternoon, the sound of a lone violinist rehearsing drifts from an open door in the still air. The campus of Menlo School is otherwise quiet at the moment, but it's just a temporary lull.
Not long before, two small ensembles of young musicians performed a program of dramatic compositions by Beethoven and Hungarian composer Ernő Dohnányi, filling Menlo School's Spieker Center with fiery music.
As the unseen violinist continues to rehearse, the nearby parking lot begins filling up for at least the second time that day, with audiences slowly filtering onto the campus for a late matinee concert.
This was Sunday afternoon on the opening weekend of Music@Menlo, a chamber music festival now in its 21st year. The afternoon offered a glimpse of a unique creative space that will be bustling with young artists and musicians at the top of their field for three weeks, appearing in an array of concerts, master classes, workshops and conversations.
This year's festival, which runs through Aug. 5, features the theme "Beethoven Unfolding," which delves into the venerated composer's works, but also explores the music of the composers who had an influence on him, as well as those he influenced. The performances highlight the range of the composer's music and showcase the festival's broad roster of talent.
"The Music@Menlo experience is an all-encompassing experience of learning. On campus with us every year, we have three generations of musicians: we have senior artists, who perform the mainstage events. We also have international program artists who are college-aged students coming from all over the world — they're an elite group. And of course, we are surrounded by the young performers, who are age 11 through 19," said Dmitri Atapine, who with pianist Hyeyeon Park, is co-director of the festival's Young Performers Program for advanced string players and pianists as part of Music@Menlo's Chamber Music Institute.
"The experience of being all together, of learning together the great art of chamber music, the exchange of ideas between the different generations — how the young ones learn from the older ones and also how much the older ones are learning from the young ones' enthusiasm, their passion for the music and their dedication, is something truly awe-inspiring," Atapine said.
Learning is a key component of Music@Menlo, but not just for the up-and-coming talents who have come for an intensive musical summer: the festival's emphasis on education includes master classes in which audiences can watch young performers learn from experienced musicians, as well as artist talks that offer audiences insights into the music they'll be hearing. The festival program even features a substantial glossary of musical terms.
"Music@Menlo has been a part of my life for quite a while and I keep coming back because this is one of the most spectacular festivals where you can be living and breathing all within music, and chamber music in particular. It's so unique that you learn so much and you get to perform, you get to teach. Really the most all-encompassing experience that you could have at any festival you attend," said violinist Kristin Lee, a festival artist.
Performances and events coming up this week include a master class with violinist Paul Huang and a concert pairing International Program artists and mainstage performers in a program of Mozart, Brahms and Fauré, both on July 21. Festival-goers on July 22 can catch a young performers' concert and an "Inside the Quartets" talk by Finckel. The day also includes mainstage performances by the Calidore String Quartet, which will play through Beethoven's entire quartet cycle. The entire series of in-person concerts has already sold out, but are still available to watch via livestream.
Music@Menlo runs through Aug. 5 at Menlo School, 50 Valparaiso Ave., Atherton. Some programs are already sold out. For ticket availability and more information, visit musicatmenlo.org.