Honoring an icon

Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society will celebrate Delores Stevens in a weekend concert.


By any stretch of the imagination, Delores Stevens, co-founder of Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society and its artistic director until 2019, is a vital force and is being feted through a concert and reception on Sunday, August 15, to celebrate her 50 years of leadership and participation in the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society.

Stevens has been quite a powerhouse in her field as a leading piano soloist, chamber musician, and music educator in the Vineyard classical scene and well beyond. In addition to co-founding and serving as artistic director for the Society, she was co-founder and co-artistic director of Chamber Music Palisades in Los Angeles for 23 years. Stevens taught young classical artists for more than 30 years in her role as director of Chamber Music for the Young Musicians Foundation in Los Angeles, 29 years as head of Piano Studies at California State University-Dominguez Hills, chair of Piano Performance at California Institute of the Arts, and 33 years as head of Piano Studies at Mount St. Mary’s University.

David Rhoderick, vice president of the Society, says, “I always like to call Dee a force of nature. She is an indomitable, determined artist who has built the Chamber Music Society from zero to a very well-established classical music organization for the Vineyard. Probably thousands and thousands of people have been to her concerts in the last 50 years. We’ve had all sorts of famous musicians, composers, and she has commissioned lots of works as well as being a very fine musician in her own right.”

The concert will have some classical luminaries flying in to perform a program designed to showcase musicians from her fold, as well as the creativity and inventiveness of chamber music. Scott Woolweaver, principal violist of the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra and artist member of the Chameleon Arts Ensemble of Boston, says “Dee is one of my dearest friends, and for fifty years she has brought world-class artists and performances to Martha’s Vineyard. I immediately thought of inviting a few of her other friends to join me for the performance. I was delighted when all four of the musicians accepted the offer! All have a long history of performing on the series: violinists Stephanie Chase and Melissa White, cellist Scott Kluksdahl, and Delores’ son, Paul Stevens, on French horn. The repertoire revealed itself immediately: ‘Terzetto’ by Antonin Dvorak, the ‘Quintet in E-flat Major’ by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and a personal tribute from the string players: four movements of solo Bach. Paul Stevens will open and close the program with solo horn pieces from the ‘Serenade’ by Benjamin Britten. Representing the future of the Chamber Music Society is the young violist Noah Fields, who will make his first appearance on the Series.”

The Society originated in 1971 as the Montagana Trio. Stevens, cellist Caroline Worthington, and clarinetist John Gates were rehearsing for an upcoming European tour when it occurred to them that they would love to perform on the Vineyard. They continued to play four concerts each summer and then began to invite their professional musician friends to join them. This annual summer concert festival, known as the Chilmark Chamber Players, eventually became the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society, with Worthington and Stevens as co-artistic directors until 2002 when Stevens continued as the sole artistic director for the next 17 years.

In 1986, they began an after school strings program, which has continued to expand into the Island school system, including two scholarship funds: one for private lessons for students, and another to honor the outstanding musician of the high school graduating class. This program has remained an important contribution to music education for more than 34 years.

“Although Delores has passed the baton of artistic leadership, her vision, knowledge of chamber music of all genres, personal connections with composers and instrumentalists from all over the world, her wit and wisdom, have established an organization with a bright, exciting future,” Woolweaver says.

Stevens’ daughter, Vicki Stevens, emphasizes the uniqueness of her mother’s contribution. “The fact that she has sustained, has kept it going at the highest level without compromise, for fifty years, especially without massive amounts of funding, is extraordinary.”

Tickets are available for the Sunday, August 15, 4 pm concert at the Old Whaling Church, with the option of attending the catered reception afterwards, at mvcms.org.