By JOHN FLOWERS
SALISBURY — For 30 years now, the Point CounterPoint chamber music camp on Lake Dunmore and the nearby Salisbury Congregational Church have played a sweet symphony together.
The musical relationship began back in 1979, when the Salisbury church was preparing to mark its 175th birthday. Then-pastor Wayne Holsman secured a $500 grant that the congregation decided to use for a celebratory performance series.
Longtime parishioner Glenn Andres recalled the performance preparations coincided quite fortuitously with a request from Point CounterPoint to use the church facilities for occasional music recitals and performances. Knowing Point CounterPoint attracts talented faculty performers from far and wide, church leaders decided to pitch a quid pro quo.
“If you perform, we’d be happy to have you use (the church) for your recitals,” Andres recalled.
And perform they did, to the pleasure of scores of spectators of all ages and backgrounds who attended the concerts. It was a 175-year anniversary event that spectators didn’t want to end.
“Everything came together so well that summer, people said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have it continue?’” Andres said.
Such a scenario seemed problematic, at first, because the congregation had no funds to underwrite an annual free concert series. Undaunted, parishioners — led by Andres — proceeded to reach out to regional and local talent to make the concerts an annual series. Thus was born the Salisbury Summer Performance Series, which this year will feature six musical events, including two delivered by Point CounterPoint musicians, as well as a broader range of music that includes a unique pairing of piano and literature as well as lively Franco-Canadian music.
It kicks off on Friday, July 3, at 7:30 p.m. with the faculty ensemble from Point CounterPoint playing Beethoven’s string trio in G major, Kodaly’s duo for violin and cello, and Mendelssohn’s piano trio in D minor.
“It’s our little miracle, and as long as the miracle works, we’ll keep doing it,” Andres said.
Miraculous may not be too grandiose a word to use in describing how Andres and company have been able to keep the series going with such great talent on such a modest budget.
“The whole thing survives on generosity,” Andres said, adding, “We live in an area with a lot of talented performers and they love the acoustics (of the church).”
Year after year, Point CounterPoint faculty have loaned their talents — as well as a baby grand piano — to the Summer Series. Accomplished musicians Emory and Diana Fanning, the Green Mountain Horn Club, the Shrewsbury Wind Quintet, gospel singer François Clemmons, the late cellist Elsa Hilger of the Philadelphia Orchestra, the folk group Atlantic Crossing and the Maiden Vermont chorus have all performed at the Summer Series. The series recently hosted a world premiere of a musical piece written by Addison County-based composer Jorge Martin and performed by acclaimed musicians Dieuwke Davydov and Diana Fanning. The Middlebury Community Players also used to take to the stage with performances of plays they had staged at Middlebury’s Festival on-the-Green.
But perhaps the Summer Series’ biggest annual “get” has been a performance ensemble from the Vermont Symphony Orchestra. That appearance is made possible by a donation from an anonymous benefactor.
Yes, the Summer Series has come a long way from its humble beginnings, when the congregation would patch together banquet tables to fashion a makeshift performance stage.
The church, with a current flock of around 50, can comfortably seat 150. Some of the Summer Series performances have drawn as many as 195 people.
“We have had people coming (to the performances) for all 30 years,” Andres said, noting the folks visit from as far north as Shelburne and as far south as Rutland.
And thankfully, spectators have made enough in donations to sustain the series through the years. Of course, the musicians in most cases waive their usual fee.
Jenny Beck, director of Point CounterPoint, said faculty and students have felt very fortunate to have use of the Salisbury Congregational Church in a relationship only briefly suspended in 2007, when the camp closed for sale to new owners. The venue provides space not only for practicing but also for three session-ending student recitals that are attended by many parents.
“It’s critical,” she said of the space. “Without it, I’m not sure where we would go.”
Faculty, as has been the custom, will share their talents for two concerts in this year’s series. In addition to this Friday’s performance by the Point CounterPoint faculty, a second chamber concert by Point CounterPoint will be staged July 17. In addition, the piano and cello music of the Davydov-Fanning Duo is on the bill for July 10; July 24 will feature “Piano Stories,” famous short stories narrated by Ethan Bowen with classical piano accompaniment by Larry Hamberlin; July 31 will have lively folk music of Atlantic Crossing; and this year’s series wraps up Aug. 3 with a string and flute trio from the Vermont Symphony Orchestra.
Andres said that aside from enjoying great music, spectators are able to get a glimpse of a very lovely and historic church.
“This concert series is one way to let people know we are still alive,” he said of the congregation.
Salisbury’s 30th Summer Series
Fridays at 7:30 p.m.
July 3 Faculty ensemble of the Point CounterPoint Music Camp perform Beethoven, Kodaly and Mendelssohn
July 10 Davydov-Fanning Duo perform piano and cello music
July 17 Point CounterPoint play Haydn, Beethoven and Shostakovich
July 24 “Piano Stories,” short stories narrated by Ethan Bowen with classical piano accompaniment by Larry Hamberlin
July 31 Atlantic Crossing plays lively folk music
Aug. 3 Vermont Symphony Orchestra string and flute trio