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The Commons
The Arts

Music for everyone

Wisteria Chamber Music Society plans free concert series at Centre Congregational Church

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Originally published in The Commons issue #215 (Wednesday, August 7, 2013).

BRATTLEBORO—This month, David Perkins, artistic director of Wistaria Chamber Music Society, and the Rev. Carra McFadden, pastor of the Centre Congregational Church in Brattleboro, are co-producing “Music at Centre Church,” a new series of classical music by Wistaria under Perkins’ direction.

Over three Sunday afternoons — Aug. 11, 18, and 25 — Music at Centre Church will present three unusual programs of music: “From Fields and Mountains,” “Friends and Lovers,” and “America Singing.”

Admission to the shows is free, but donations are welcome. Perkins and McFadden say they want to make sure that anyone who would like to see the concerts will be able to attend, regardless of their financial situation.

“David is quite passionate about what he calls ’the un-gentrification of music,’” says McFadden. “The event will also be family-friendly, and we are greatly encouraging the attendance of young people.”

A portion of donation proceeds will benefit the Brattleboro Centre for Children, the day care center in the rear of the church, organizers say.

According to McFadden, the mission of Brattleboro Centre for Children is to provide quality day care for all families, no matter their economic level.

“There are around 40 children [in the program] now,” says McFadden. “And for those facing financial challenges, scholarships will be available to help the needy. There is a first-rate staff. The teachers keep abreast of education needs through certifications in child care.”

Focus on music

Each of Wistaria’s “Music at Centre Church” concerts has a specific focus and theme.

The first concert, on Aug. 11, “From Fields and Mountains,” has Sarah Briggs and Kaila Graef on violin; Delores Thayer on viola; Hassan Haghighi on cello; Gregory Hayes on piano; Peter W. Shea, tenor; and Diana Brewer, soprano. They’ll perform music by Jay Ungar, Mark O’Connor, Antonín DvoÅ™ák, and Harry T. Burleigh.

Selections on the program include Ungar’s Ashokan Farewell, O’Connor’s Appalachian Waltz, two spirituals arranged by Harry T. Burleigh: Didn’t it Rain and O Rocks, Don’t Fall on Me; selections from Burleigh’s “From the Southland”; and, from Dvorak’s opera “Rusalka,” Moravian Duets and Song to the Moon.

The concert concludes with Stephen Foster’s “Slumber My Darling.”

On Aug. 18, “Friends and Lovers” celebrates the music of Clara and Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms.

On Aug. 25, “America Singing” showcases composers with ties to New England: Amy Beach, Charles Ives, Aaron Copeland, and George Gershwin.

Home at Wistariahurst

Wistaria Chamber Music Society was launched in 2005 as a performing ensemble with two or three annual performances at the Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke, Mass. Wistariahurst is the former home of two generations of the prominent Skinner family, manufacturers of nationally renowned silks and satins.

Now separately incorporated, Wistaria has a roster of 20 professional, semi-professional, and skilled amateur musicians, most of whom reside in Western Massachusetts and give six to eight concerts a year.

Performances of Wistaria include a series of “Schubertiads,” salon-style concerts of Franz Schubert’s music performed in period costume, now in their eighth year. The ensemble also has fashioned concerts around seasonal visits to the circle of Clara and Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms.

David Perkins, Wistaria’s artistic director, founded and leads most concerts by the group, and writes about classical music, theater, and dance for The Boston Globe and other publications. A senior lecturer at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst journalism program, he says that the nine-year-old Wistaria Chamber Music Society is a family of musicians who enjoy performing chamber music in unusual formats and across genres.

“The series in Brattleboro was Carra’s idea,” says Perkins. “She came to one of our concerts in Greenfield and invited our group to perform at her church. Since Wistaria has been trying to expand its venues beyond the Holyoke area, we were very glad to accept.”

For her part, McFadden says when she first heard Wistaria she was “simply blown away.”

Wistaria made its first attempt to bring the chamber group to Southern Vermont at the Vermont Jazz Center with an ambitious 2012 concert that fused classical, popular, and jazz music. Unfortunately, Perkins had to cancel the concert.

“I am sorry about that previous Brattleboro engagement but I had not a single suggestion of interest, and a lot of people to pay. Perhaps it was because of the jazz space.

“On the other hand, Centre Congregational Church promises to be a great place to perform. It has wonderful acoustics, as well as that incredible piano Rudolf Serkin donated to the church. Also, with its BMC classical music series here at the church, as well as the Yellow Barn and Marlboro festivals in the area, Brattleboro has a reliable audience for this kind of music,” he said.

Perkins and McFadden say they hope to make a yearly event of these concerts. Indeed, McFadden is already sketching out improvements for next year. The concerts came together quickly this year, she said, and there was not enough time to get in place all the things she looks forward to in future years.

“I hope to incorporate the concerts in our schedule throughout the year,” she says. “And at intermission time of each performance, I want to invite the concert-goers to our parlor for refreshments and to stretch and chat. Perhaps we can get [BCTV] to tape the concerts – and community sponsorships, well, they’re for next year, not this year.”

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