Sunflower Music Festival brings global talent to Topeka

Ryan Thompson

The 30th Annual Sunflower Music Festival brought bands from across the globe to play various concerts from June 10 to 18 at White Concert Hall on Washburn University’s campus.

Each year, the Sunflower Music Festival presents a series of orchestral, chamber and jazz concerts that are free to the public. This year, 17 bands played across 10 days.

One of the highlights of the festival was a jazz trio, consisting of Eldar Djangirov on piano, Luques Curtis on bass and Todd Strait on drums, who performed the festival’s sole jazz concert June 13. Djangirov, a nationally recognized musician, began the concert with a solo performance on piano. All three were talented and energetic and each musician had more than one chance to shine.

The festival featured a flute quartet on June 14. Despite calling themselves a flute quartet, the group consisted of a single flautist, Sarah Frisof, who gave the stand out performance of the ensemble. Because the group focused mainly on the flute in their music, it’s no wonder why they would choose to call themselves a flute quartet. The rest of the group consisted of Robert Schumitzky on violin, Roger Myers on viola and Erin Breene on cello.

A piano quintet played the same evening, performing Dmitri Shostakovich’s Op. 57. The quintet gave particularly emotional performances for the brilliantly composed second and fourth movements. As a twentieth century composer, Shostakovich allows his modern influences to really shine through on the piano. The quintet featured David Allen Wehr on piano, Rachel Stegeman and Eric Tanner on violin, Roger Myers on viola and Claudio Jaffe on cello.

Two string quartets played June 16 including Three Rivers String Quartet, which performed together for the first time Thursday, played “Death and the Maiden” by Franz Schubert, who wrote the piece when he realized he was dying. The quartet, composed of Tobias Chisnall and Gabrielle Faetini on violin, Robert Kaufman on cello and Stephen Weiss on viola, feels that elements of hope can be found even in a piece as bleak as “Death and the Maiden.”

Safira Quartet came on as the second string quartet to play Thursday evening. They performed pieces by Carlos Gomes and Antonin Rejcha. Safira Quartet featured Ana Camila Castillo Bordino and Paola Redivo on violin, Michelle Silva Picaco on viola and Monica Silva Picaco on cello, all of whom are from Brazil. Alex Klein joined Safira quartet on the oboe for Rejcha’s Op. 107. Safira Quartet hoped to play last year’s Sunflower Music Festival, but were unable to get the funds to travel to the United States. Fortunately, they were able to share their talent with Topeka this year.

Overall, this year’s festival made for an enjoyable experience for both audiences and performers.

“This has been the most welcoming, most appreciative audience I’ve ever had,” said Weiss. “We’re really thankful they’ve been as generous as they have.”

Kaufman, who performed Dvorak’s Op. 87 at last year’s festival as part of a piano quartet, extended this appreciation to the faculty who made the event possible.

“It’s been tiring, a lot of work, but the coaches are fantastic,” said Kaufman. “They’re easy to work with and great guys. The facilities are great too. [White Concert Hall] is beautiful.”

The members of Three Rivers String Quartet seemed to enjoy themselves outside of the concert hall, as well.

“We’ve been fueling ourselves at the Flying Monkey,” said Chisnall, an Australian violinist who moved to Pittsburgh to earn his Master’s in violin performance. “PT’s has been a godsend. [Topeka] is a really hospitable town.”