Norfolk Chamber Music Festival a mini-Tanglewood in the Northwest corner of Connecticut
NORFOLK-Nestled in the Northwest hills of Connecticut is the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival-truly one of the best kept secrets in New England.
This festival, overseen by the Yale School of Music, is in its 105th season. Only an hour’s drive from the Manchester area, it is like a mini-Tanglewood, without the traffic and the crowds.
In fact, it is the precursor to the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer series in Lenox, Mass.
Ellen Battell Stoeckel started it all with tea parties in her music room in the late 1800s, according to Paul Hawkshaw, director of the Yale Summer School of Music and the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival.
"She knew how to throw a tea party," Hawkshaw said. In her day Battell Stoeckel and her husband, Carl Stoeckel, son ofGustave Stoeckel, the first professor of music at Yale, brought many famous musicians to perform, including Fritz Kreisler, Jean Sibelius, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and even the Metropolitan Opera in their 35-room family home called Whitehouse. As the popularity of the performances grew, the family commissioned architect E. K. Rossiter to design the acoustically superior Music Shed, made out of redwood, which can seat 800.
Stoeckel left her entire 70-acre estate in a trust to Yale University,with the stipulation that they hold a summer music school for aspiring young musicians every year, something they have faithfully continued.
While there are cottages on the campus for faculty, all the studentsstay in homes of area residents."A great strength of the festival is the synergy between the studentsand the community," Hawkshaw said. The faculty performs concerts on Friday and Saturday nights, while free student concerts are given each Thursday night and Saturday morning.
The faculty and visiting artists enjoy the relaxed environment, Hawkshaw said, and although they don’t get paid an exorbitant sum, they get the luxury of rehearsing for a week before performances.
"A week’s rehearsal is a blessing you almost never get," Hawkshaw said. "They know when they come they will have lots of time to rehearse."
And just as at Tanglewood, guests can arrive early and enjoy a picnic on the expansive and well-maintained grounds of the estate. Also, for the first time this year, they will sell wine from The Land of Nod, a local winery.
Young artists audition to be able attend the highly competitive music program, Hawkshaw said, with 35 musicians participating this year from around the world, including England, Canada, Ukrainia, Russia, and Korea, as well as the United States.
Brittany Harrington, 23, from Texas plays bassoon and is participating with the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival as a fellow for the first time.
"It’s phenomenal," Harrington said, adding that she has attended many other summer music programs but really loves the rigor of the schedule withthe serenity of the landscape.
"It’s sort of laid back, but they take care of you," Harrington said-freeing them to focus on nothing but their music.
Emily Westell, 26, of Calgary, Canada, plays the violin and is attending for her second summer.
"We get coaching every day," Westell said. Westell hopes eventually to perform for a living as well as teach at auniversity, while Harrington said she just wants to perform whenever and wherever she can.
"I love to play," Harrington said.
Peter Heller and Barbara Glasser work at Tanglewood Music Festival as ushers, but Friday night they were enjoying the Norfolk Chamber MusicFestival as patrons.
"It’s heavenly," Heller said, adding that the Music Shed is equivalent to Seigi Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood."The acoustics are wonderful," Heller said.
He especially enjoys the tradition at the end of intermission of bringing the audience back into the hall with a brass ensemble fanfare, which they did Friday.
From 1 until 5 p.m. on Sunday, July 31 they will hold their Family Day at the festival, starting with the Norfolk Fellows’ performance for the children, followed by a free ice cream social and children’s games in the Music Shed, sponsored by the Battell Arts Foundation. After the ice cream social the United States Coast Guard Band, conducted by Commander Kenneth W. Megan, will perform in the Music Shed at 4 p.m., all for free.
Tickets for the visiting artists and faculty performances on Fridays and Saturdays are $15 to $50 and $15 to $30 for youths age 18 to 25.
The Young Artists’ Performance Series held Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings, as well as the New Music Recitals are free. Children under 18 years old can attend all the events for free.
For more information visit their website at:www.norfolkmusic.org
Photos by Jessica Hill