The Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society has an exciting new concert premiering March 20, with a quartet of young musicians from the New England Conservatory of Music. They include Geneva Lewis and Zenas Hsu on violin, Eunghee Cho on cello, and Zhanbo Zheng on viola. This will be a virtual concert premiering exclusively on MVCMS’s new YouTube channel.
The Society is now in its 51st year. It was founded by Delores (“Dee”) Stevens, who came to the Vineyard and would play with a trio she was in during the late 1970s and early 1980s. She would bring musicians together from different places, and with the allure of the Vineyard, Stevens was very successful in creating the M.V. Chamber Music Society and promoting the music in a summer festival.
Dee and her husband Jim have a house in Chilmark, and originally housed the visiting musicians. People would come for the weekend, play, and then move on. For a number of years, it was just the summer festival, until the late 1980s, when the public schools stopped providing string instrument lessons. At that point, the MVCMS decided to get involved.
President and education coordinator Kim Baumhofer says, “We started loaning instruments free of cost to students who were playing in the public schools at the end of the 1980s. Then the public schools picked it up again, and we continue to loan instruments, and also give a high school scholarship every year to a senior who is graduating and planning to do something in music or music education. We likewise have some funds for lessons. A couple of the years past we have had a cello instructor who came from off-Island because there isn’t one who teaches in the public schools; the string teachers happen to be violinists. We added an artist-in-residence program, and we did that twice a year through 2019, giving lessons, teaching orchestra, and playing for the schools.”
With COVID last year, once the schools closed down, Baumhofer says, “The cellist gave lessons through Zoom until May or so. This year we are offering a virtual ensemble and private lessons through the schools with Eunghee Cho, who is a Ph.D. student at the New England Conservatory. The Chamber saw that I was able do something with students virtually, and so they felt they should get back into the business of offering music as well.”
The Chamber had concerts planned for last summer, and a 50-year retirement celebration for Stevens, who had finished as the artistic director. The plans for a fine farewell were blown apart by COVID. They were dark for the entire year, feeling that so many people were pretty much “Zoomed” out. But now the Chamber is trying its hand at its first virtual concert. Because they already had a relationship with Cho, he put together a winning quartet of musicians and spoke with David Rhoderick, who is the Chamber’s vice president and a musician in his own right.
They put together a concert around “Variations on a Theme,” including Haydn’s “Emperor” Quartet, a Florence Price work that reimagines and creates variations of African American folk melodies through the lens of a Bach-inspired counterpoint, one that recreates the cyclic nature of particular stanzas inspired by poetic forms and Mediterranean folk melodies by Giovanni Sollima, and one that is itself the original form of several different variations in orchestration by Samuel Barber.
“As we have moved back into doing live music, we have reached out to both musicians and possible venues in the hopes of providing live music again in the near future,” Baumhofer says. “We are really working on being a year-round organization, and offering things to the local community.”
As with everything else right now, time will tell as we move forward into unknown territory.
The Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society program “Eunghee Cho and Friends, awardwinning musicians from the New England Conservatory” will take place Saturday, March 20, at 5 pm when its YouTube channel goes live. Subscribe to the MVCS newsletter at its website, mvcms.org, to receive an email with the concert details and links.