Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society celebrates 40

Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society celebrates 40

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The Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society concludes its 40th anniversary summer with its fifth and final concert this Monday and Tuesday, August 9 and 10.

Founder, resident artistic director, and concert pianist Delores Stevens was the recent recipient of an award from the National Association of Composers for her influence in expanding contemporary music. The chamber music society concerts, now a staple with the summer audiences, had humble beginnings.

It all started when Ms. Stevens and her husband Jim became friends with clarinetist John Gates and his wife, cellist Caroline Worthington, when they were all living in Los Angeles in the late ’60s. The Montagnana Trio was subsequently born, and the trio toured the world for years as the only professional trio of clarinet, cello, and piano.

Caroline’s mother, Eleanor Piacenza, invited them to perform on the Vineyard in 1971. And that’s when it all began. Their first performance was in the Katharine Cornell Theatre at the tricentennial celebration of the town of Tisbury. Then they moved to the Chilmark Community Center for the next 10 years for a series of summer performances. There were no chairs in the center and the audience had to sit on the floor. It wasn’t until a few years after its beginning that the M.V. Chamber Music Society bought chairs for the Chilmark venue so that the audience for the concert could have chairs to sit on.

The Montagnana Trio became the Chilmark Chamber Players during the ’80s, and it was during their years of touring Europe that Ms. Stevens met the accomplished musicians whom she has invited to perform on the Vineyard over the years.

Elaine Pace is a MVCMS board member and immediate past three-year president. “We have a group of music lovers from on and off-Island,” says Ms. Pace. “We have a strong group from New York City and Philadelphia who have been coming here for years and have summer homes on the Vineyard. Many have summer homes in Chilmark so were around when this organization started 40 years ago, and they remain faithful to us.”

Ms. Pace explained that is why today concerts are scheduled on Mondays in the Old Whaling Church, and the same concert is repeated on Tuesday at the Chilmark Community Center. “There’s a very faithful following of people who like one place or the other and who come every week to that place,” she says.

The MVCMS has 18 board members. The core of the board is run by a small team, the newly elected executive committee: president David Rhoderick, vice-presidents Julie Skinner and Jay Sigler, treasurer Dan McCormick, and secretary Elaine Eugster. Diane Hall and Elaine Eugster handle all the school-related interactions.

The Chamber Music Society decided in 1986 to do more than just present concerts for the public. They generally present five or six weeks of concerts in the summer and two off-season concerts for the local residences. In addition, the board elected to use a portion of their budget to provide an instrument for any child who wanted to study a stringed instrument. Also, they give scholarship help for the child to take lessons. Finally, the MVCMS awards a $1,000 scholarship to a graduating senior who is going to study in the area of music. They budget $5,000 for lesson scholarships and occasionally win a grant from a local organization to also help with the school program.

Chamber music is performed by a very small group of independent performers, not more than nine, who perform with no conductor. Chamber music can be jazz, traditional classical, or very modern. Sometimes narrators or singers join the group. The final concerts for 2010 are August 9 and 10. Special guest The Infinity Brass Quintet and Livingston Taylor will perform Peter Schickele’s wild west spoof “Hornsmoke: A Horse Opera.” Tickets are $30; free for students.

Concerts: M.V. Chamber Music Society, 8 pm, Monday, Aug. 9, Old Whaling Church, Edgartown; Tuesday, Aug. 10, Chilmark Community Center. Ludwig Maurer, Joseph Turrin, Antonio Vivaldi, Peter Schickele. mvcms.org; 508-696-8055.

Ginger Duarte is a freelance writer who lives in Vineyard Haven.