Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society brightens off-season

Delores Stevens (assisted by Nancy Rogers) at the piano in the Old Whaling Church last July. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

In summer, the Vineyard is blessed with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the performance arts. Renowned visitors from the worlds of dance, music and theater grace our stages. However, in the fall and winter months, our opportunities to enjoy the talents of off-Island performers are few and far between.

Happily, however, the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society traditionally gives Islanders a wonderful holiday gift in the form of a Thanksgiving concert featuring world-class musicians from all over the country.

This Saturday, Vineyarders will have the opportunity to enjoy a spirit-lifting performance by MVCS artistic director Delores Stevens, who is internationally recognized as a leading piano soloist and chamber musician, and three of her esteemed off-island colleagues.

As always, Ms. Stevens will present a well-rounded selection of music. The five pieces represent four centuries of classical composition and each of the visiting artists — on violin, viola, and cello has been given a spotlight piece. In addition, the works run the gamut of styles. “I think it’s going to be very exciting because there such a wide range of music types,” said David Rhoderick, president of the MVCMS board.

That range incorporates a piece by Baroque composer Arcangelo Corelli, a contemporary work by Philip Lasser, and a piece by 19th-century composer Henri Vieuxtemps. “It will be a very moving piece of music,” M. Rhoderick said of the last piece. “The viola is such a warm and rich instrument.” These lesser-known composers will be sandwiched between works by Mozart and Dvorak.

Ms. Stevens tends to be very enthusiastic when talking of music, and she has a wonderful poetic way of describing the emotional impact of various pieces. Of the concert opener (Mozart’s Trio No. 3 in E Major), she said, “This Mozart trio is the best way to get us going on the winter concerts. Lighten our spirits and get us on the toboggan fields.”

Of the contemporary piece by Philip Lasser, Ms. Stevens said, “The cello has the soul, a beautiful singing quality. This piece is sort of like a moment where you stop and say ‘That’s a beautiful sunset.'” Ms. Stevens calls the quartet by the romantic folk-influenced composer Antonin Dvorak (Piano quartet, No. 2 in E Flat Major) “Ethnic and fun. Dancing, jumping off of roofs and things like that.” The entire ensemble will participate in that energetic finale.

Ms. Stevens comments on the comprehensive nature of the concert saying, “We’ve got meditative, show-off, refinement and kick your shoes off at the end.” The show-off piece she refers is a Corelli sonata arranged by Fritz Kreisler. On the arrangement Ms. Stevens comments, “He wanted to take the melody and just go crazy and let the violinist show off.”

In her 40 years as the MVCMS artistic director, Ms. Stevens has gathered a group of 50 to 70 musicians — friends and associates whom she has played with — and she is able to tap this pool for the organization’s summer series as well as the two off-season concerts (the MVCS also hosts a spring concert).

The three musicians who will be performing with Ms. Stevens this Saturday all have very impressive credentials. Stephanie Chase has been praised as “one of the violin greats of our era” and her recording of the Beethoven Violin Concerto was hailed as “one of the 20 most outstanding performances in the work’s recorded history.” Cellist Scott Kluksdahl has performed as a soloist and chamber musician in venues all over the world and is also a much-lauded teacher of music.

Violist Scott Woolweaver has forged a reputation for his playing of contemporary music and has premiered a number of new works, including some written specifically for him. Ms. Stevens notes that Mr. Woolweaver loves playing with the MVCS, so much so that he has scheduled a boat to take him off the Island in the wee hours of Sunday morning so that he can connect with the Boston Pops for a concert tour.

In demand as a piano virtuoso, Ms. Stevens performs about once a week at venues around her winter home in Los Angeles. (She returns briefly to the Vineyard for the holiday and spring concerts every year.) She is a strong proponent of music education and a champion of contemporary composers. She was recognized with an award from National Association of Composers for “achievements as one of the most important artists to further the cause and influence of contemporary music.”

“We are absolutely blessed with having Delores as our artistic director,” Mr. Rhoderick said. “She is full of vitality and artistic imagination, and her playing is still at the top of her abilities.”

Mr. Rhoderick noted that the MVCMS drops the price for shoulder-season concerts to $20 from $35 for the summer series. “This is a significant gift from the performers and the Chamber Music Society,” he said, noting that the reduced price means that ticket sales only account for less than 20 percent of the concert costs. “We really rely on donations and grants.”

The MVCMS always offers free tickets to students as part of their mission to introduce young people to classical music. The organization also awards a scholarship every year, provides financial assistance for private lessons, and maintains a collection of loaner instruments for students.

“We’re always trying to get young people on the Island interested in making music and learning more about classical music and instruments,” Ms. Stevens said.