JAMAICA—Southern Vermont is a rich place for music in the summer. Along with the well-established Marlboro Music and Yellow Barn, a relatively recent festival originating in Jamaica is becoming an eagerly anticipated part of the musical scene.
Pikes Falls Chamber Music Festival will celebrate its eighth season with the music of Caroline Shaw, Joan Tower, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, and more.
The Grammy-nominated and awarded musicians of PFCM, along with the Pikes Falls Baroque Ensemble and NakedEye Ensemble, will perform concerts in Southern Vermont beginning Wednesday, July 31, and concluding on Saturday, Aug. 10.
In the summer of 2012, Susanna Loewy founded this summer festival emphasizing music and visual art. In the foothills of the Green Mountains, Pikes Falls Chamber Music Festival was born. Since then, PFCM has performed 49 concerts in Southern Vermont, commissioned 12 world premieres, and shown 11 works of visual art.
This year, PFCM will add 10 concerts, another world premiere, and the continuation of the Pikes Falls Visual Art Residency.
“The festival has developed over time,” Loewy says. “For instance, we now have expanded from one week to two. And we don’t play merely in Jamaica anymore.”
Roots in Jamaica, VT
Loewy teaches and performs throughout the country, but she has a lifelong connection with Jamaica. As she told The Commons eight years ago when she first came up with the idea for this event, Loewy loves the area so much that she wanted to give something back to the community.
“My family owns a cabin on Pikes Falls Road, and I have been coming here all my life,” she said. “Both of my parents are academics and would have the summer off, so we could spend at least a month each year in Vermont.”
She says that she “always tells people that this is my favorite place on earth.” That is why she wants “to get more involved in the community. I always felt bad that I never contributed anything, and then I thought up this festival.”
“PFCM is my passion project,” Loewry recently told The Commons. “My Mom and Dad met in Jamaica. My Dad’s family had owned a cabin on Pike’s Falls since he was a child. My mom’s family also summered in the area.”
Loewy has embraced the opportunity to deepen her involvement with a community that means so much to her.
“Over the past decade, I’ve come to wholeheartedly understand the importance of the artist as citizen. As musicians, we have a responsibility to look at the communities we love and contribute within those existing fabrics. The hope is that, as we invest in our surrounding world through our artistry, the art will in turn become a stronghold in our societies. I love Jamaica, and I hope that I’m able to show that through the Pikes Falls Chamber Music Festival.”
For many years a teaching artist for the Philadelphia Orchestra, Susanna Loewy recently handed that post over to younger musicians. She nonetheless remains deeply involved in the musical world.
’A portfolio career’
Loewy is Flute Faculty at Kutztown University. She is also the co-founder of the Ellipses Ensemble, a nonprofit ensemble dedicated to raising awareness of mental health issues through the intersection of chamber music and documentary storytelling.
In addition, she is the principal flutist and project manager for Inscape, a chamber music group based in the Washington, D.C., area that was nominated for a Grammy for its debut CD, Sprung Rhythm. She also is a member of Naked Eye Ensemble, with which she will perform at PFCM.
On top of all this, Loewy is program director and lead teaching artist for Project 440. Based in Philadelphia, but with outreach all across the country, Project 440 engages, educates, and inspires young musicians, providing them with the career and life skills they need to develop into civic-minded, entrepreneurial leaders.
“I guess I have what they call these days a portfolio career,” she confesses. “My musical life is not meant to be about me, but about how I am able to share. I hope that all isn’t too cheesy, or on the nose. I really mean it. Practicing in solitary can be beneficial as a flutist, but as a person, we have to figure out how to best align with our worlds.”
Yet, even amid all this activity, Loewy’s commitment to continuing Pikes Falls Chamber Music Festival remains strong.
“Money is always a big contingency in making PFCM a reality, and raising it takes a lot of time each year,” she says. “Luckily, I now have two fantastic staff members helping me with this endeavor. Raising money for the festival is always tricky, but this year we have been lucky by having been awarded a Music USA grant. It feels really great going into this year’s festival being fully funded. All the money we raise now will go to next year’s events.”
Loewy is especially excited about what PFCM has to offer this year.
The 2019 season will showcase musicians from New York City, Washington, D.C., San Antonio, Texas, and Philadelphia. Besides the resident performers, the festival includes guest artists who will give concerts in the Jamaica Town Hall: Amphion Baroque Ensemble and NakedEye Ensemble.
The Amphion Ensemble is made up of musicians who specialize in music of the baroque. Using historically-informed technique and instruments of the period, Amphion seeks to capture the true spirit and sounds of the 18th century.
NakedEye Ensemble is an eclectic, eight-member electro-acoustic ensemble that performs classical, rock, and jazz. Presenting music of the imagination utilizing acoustic, electric, toy, kitchen, and noise-making instruments, NakedEye’s repertoire reflects the group’s mission to innovate and explore musical expression outside of convention.
“I think everyone will be interested in checking out a brand new work that NakedEye will be playing at PFCM,” says Loewy. “The piece was written by six different composers for a clock museum. Each of the composers recorded sounds made by the clocks in the museum and then incorporated them into music. No composer chose the same sounds, but each took what he or she wanted to become part of the fabric of the music composed.”
The second week of the festival will welcome Composer-in-Residence Nathan Lincoln-Decusatis, who will present a world premiere.
From its inception, PFCM has been committed to presenting world premieres at the festival.
“We are excited about being able to present our 13th world premiere this year,” Loewy says. “Every year we have presented at least one and sometimes two or even three premieres. However, I think this year is extra special.
“Composer-in-Residence Nathan Lincoln-Decusatis has taken New York photographs by Vermont photographer Rebecca Lepkoff and will provide a sort of sound track which will be shown alongside the presentation of these images. Actually, it is the second part of a similar project. Earlier they did the same thing to Lepkoff’s Vermont photographs.”
Natasha Loewy will once again lead the Pikes Falls Visual Art Residency that runs alongside the music festival. The residency will be from Monday, Aug. 5, through Sunday, Aug. 11. The artists will give a public talk about their art practices on Saturday, Aug. 10, from 3-4 pm. For more information, visit www.pikesfallsvisualartresidency.com.
“We try to mix the arts in the festival, some in established ways, but others in more experimental ways,” says Susanna Loewy.
Initially, PFCM was exclusively a Jamaica festival, but over the years it has become a larger event. This summer, PFCM musicians will tour Southern Vermont with performances at the Jamaica State Park, the Jamaica Town Hall, the Jamaica Community Church, Valley Cares Assisted Living, the Brattleboro Music Center, and the Grafton Community Church.
All concerts are free to the public; donations to help the festival run are accepted and appreciated.
While Loewy enjoys all of these venues, she is particularly pleased to be playing in the Brattleboro Music Center’s new concert hall.
“The hall is so lovely that it is a treat to be able to perform there,” she says. “And the people at BMC treat us so well. We all are looking forward to our performances there this August.”
Despite all the travel, Loewy hasn’t forgotten her special bond with the community of Jamaica.
PFCM will celebrate the Jamaica Community on Sunday, Aug. 4. The Community Day will kick off with an instrument-making workshop for kids and young adults at 10:30 a.m.
From 2 to 4 p.m. at the Jamaica Community Church, the Pikes Falls Chamber Ensemble will hold an open rehearsal. Closing the celebrations, there will be an open mic and potluck at the Jamaica Town Hall from 6 to 9 p.m. The open mic will be led by the Jesse Loewy Band. Community members are encouraged to bring their favorite dish and perform.