July 8-9 marked the 4th year of the Iowa Great Lakes Music Festival, founded by conductor and cellist Thomas Fortner to share his love of chamber music with the Lake Okoboji community. Fortner grew up in Texas but visited relatives in this northwestern Iowa vacation spot every summer, so he is well-acquainted with the area and the openness of the residents and vacationers to new musical experiences. Local festival sponsors include the Arts at St. Joseph Catholic Church and the Pearson Lakes Arts Center.
Past year’s festivals have featured as guest artists pianists Szy-Ling Wu and Amy Zanrosso, violinists Sean Riley and David Brubaker, and violist Thomas Elliott. This year’s festival showcased a trio of musicians whose performances infuse a classical repertoire with folk, jazz, and contemporary influences. Trio Jinx members Ledah Finck (violin, viola, composer), Louna Dekker-Vargas (piccolo, flute, alto flute), and Yoshiaki Horiguchi (double bass) are all graduates of Peabody Institute in Baltimore. Earlier this year the trio completed a residency in El Paso, Texas (during a residency the musicians perform in schools and other venues in the area and often give classes as well). In June they participated in the Imani Winds Chamber Music Festival in New York City, and later this year they will travel to a residency in Mesa, Arizona.
I arrived in the Lake Okoboji area on Saturday afternoon and checked into The Inn at Okoboji, established in 1896 and situated right next to the lake. I met my older son who had driven in from Cedar Falls and we had time for a stroll along the water followed by a sandwich at the Okoboji Store. The weather was so pleasant that we sat outside on the lower deck beside the marina where we were able to watch the boats and vacationers and listen to live music provided by Nick Hensley (of Love Songs for Angry Men) and Ken Valdez. Here is just a snippet of an one song:
As the sun began to set we drove a few miles to the Wine Bar & Art Gallery in Arnolds Park, where Trio Jinx was performing an informal concert. We sank into a pair of comfortable club chairs and enjoyed the music, which included classical pieces, a great arrangement of Chick Corea’s “Spain”, and member Hariguchi’s arrangement of James Arthur’s pop hit “Say You Won’t Let Go” which sounded very cool played on the double bass.
Sunday was another perfect day in this lake-filled paradise, and we enjoyed a late breakfast at Arnolds Perk Coffee. Since it was our first visit to the area, we decided to take the Queen II excursion boat ride around the lake. The 75 minuted narrated ride was very enjoyable, and afterwards we enjoyed eating lunch at Maxwell’s Beach Cafe just across from the pier.
Next it was time for the Sunday afternoon concert held at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Milford, Iowa, just a few miles south of Lake Okoboji and located right on the main Highway 71 joining the lake cities. There was a good crowd in the church sanctuary, and I recognized two of Fortner’s brothers, who are also accomplished string musicians. Trio Jinx presented a variety of pieces during the concert, including some original compositions by Finck that contained some interesting sounds I’d not heard before on stringed instruments. (Later I asked Finck how she came up with these sounds and she laughingly said “Experimentation!”) Dekker-Vargas swtiched between alto flute, flute, and piccolo on the various pieces. The trio played the Bartok dance shown in this video, as an encore if I’m remembering the program correctly. After the concert the church provided a reception complete with a buffet of cheese, crackers, fruit, veggies and dips, wine and other drinks, and this provided the audience an opportunity to talk to the musicians.
I enjoyed my visit to the Iowa Great Lakes area, including the unique music provided by the Iowa Great Lakes Music Festival, and I hope to return to the festival every year. Many thanks to Thomas Fortner and the leaders and congregation of St. Joseph Catholic Church for bringing these talented musicians to Iowa!