Flutist brings popular music series to county

CORNWALL — Celebrated flutist Karen Kevra has always drawn a crowd, particularly when it comes to the popular Capital City Concerts (CCC) that have brought world-class chamber music to the Montpelier area since 2000. And like the legendary Pied Piper of Hamlin, Kevra is confident that CCC enthusiasts will follow her to the Middlebury area, which will now host some of the concerts thanks to her relocation to Cornwall.
“It occurred to me that this is my home now,” Kevra said on Thursday. “It is important for all of us to contribute to the community.”
Under Kevra’s artistic leadership, there will be three Capital City Concerts performances at the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society hall at 2 Duane Court in Middlebury, beginning with a program called “The Dove and the Hawk” on Sunday, Sept. 18, at 4 p.m. That concert will feature works by Shostakovich, Schumann, and featuring Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings performed by six musicians including violinist Theodore Arm, cellist Edward Arron and pianist Jeewon Park.
Kevra has taken a winding and interesting road to Middlebury.
She became interested in music — and specifically, the flute — as a 4th grader. Karen and her sister Susan both played in their school band.
“My older sister was musical, and I think you always want to be like your older sister,” Kevra said of Susan, who plays clarinet.
“I wanted to play the trombone, but my parents wouldn’t let me,” Kevra said with a smile.
But in retrospect, it all turned out for the best for Kevra, whose mastery of the flute has earned her many accolades, including a Grammy Award nomination back in 2003.
Kevra practiced and performed with zeal as a youth before subordinating her career as a flutist to her love of gardening.
“I am an avid gardener,” said Kevra, who raises a variety of vegetables in her spacious plot. “Growing things is as important to me as playing music.”
She did some internships at some farms in Western Massachusetts and New Jersey. Kevra liked getting her hands into the soil and seeing her work pay nourishing dividends.
“I loved it,” she said. “That has always been a part of me.”
But she started to miss making music. So she dusted off her flute and began performing Celtic music and at contra dances.
“It got a little boring, after a while,” Kevra acknowledged. “Thirty-two bars of the same thing over and over again.”
It was the day after her son was born around 27 years ago that Kevra resumed serious practice on her flute. She went to Westport, N.Y., to find her longtime teacher and mentor, the famous French flute player and composer Louis Moyse, who was a co-founder of the Marlboro Music Festival. Marlboro Music includes a widely acclaimed center for leadership training in music. It offers an annual, seven-week summer camp at which promising young musicians and master artists come together to form a closely-knit family on the campus of Marlboro College in southern Vermont.
“(Moyse and his associates) invited their friends to come and make music,” Kevra said of the birth of the Marlboro festival and music programs.
And that recipe, in turn, provided a catalyst for the Capital City Concerts, said Kevra, who had been looking to increase performing opportunities for herself and fellow Vermont musicians. Kevra, like other artists in the Green Mountain State, has made her living through a combination of in-state and out-of-state performances, along with teaching aspiring flutists. Some of her students travel two hours each way to soak up her knowledge. She’s also on the faculty of the Middlebury Community Music Center.
“Louis said to me when I was in Montpelier complaining about the paucity of work and performing opportunities in the state of Vermont, ‘Why don’t you do what we did, and invite your friends to come here and play?’” Kevra recalled. “So we started doing that 17 years ago, and we are still doing it.”
The concerts offer high-quality chamber music and small orchestral performances featuring accomplished musicians from throughout the country and beyond. The long list of artists who have been involved with the CCC throughout the years includes violinists Jaime Laredo, Laurie Smukler and Eugene Drucker; the Paris Piano Trio; the Borromeo Quartet; the Talich Quartet; the Whiffenpoofs of Yale; soprano Hyunah Yu; mezzo-soprano Julie Boulliane; pianist Jeffrey Chappell; and composers Mohammed Fairouz, Jorge Martin, and Evan Premo.
Kevra annually puts together a program of diverse musical offerings that include popular classical mainstays as well as some unusual surprises. For example, the renowned Formosa Quartet, along with Vermont pianist Paul Orgel, will perform the Hungarian composer György Ligeti’s String Quartet No. 1 Métamorphoses Nocturnes, as part of a Middlebury concert next March.
Kevra has forged friendships with her fellow artists, with whom she will break bread and talk shop during the series.
Some of them are repeat performers, having become audience favorites and enamored with Vermont.
She said the Capital City Concerts differs from most other concert series because the performers rehearse a program that is specifically tailored to the audience it is attracting. Many other concert series feature touring musical groups that might perform the same musical selections from venue to venue, according to Kevra.
“You have a sense in these concerts that you’re playing for the hometown crowd,” Kevra said. “There’s a sense of ownership.”
It has proven to be a winning formula through the years, she said.
“We routinely have full houses in Montpelier,” Kevra noted. “In a town of 8,000 people, to sell out a classical music concert, is really amazing.”
The CCC came to a sort of crossroads last fall, when Kevra relocated from Montpelier to Cornwall to reside with her partner, Middlebury College Professor Bob Cluss. This is not her first experience living in Addison County; the New Jersey native’s first landing spot in the Green Mountain State was in Bridport, more than two decades ago. She ultimately laid down roots in Montpelier.
“It took something really compelling to get me to leave Montpelier, because it was my home for 21 years and I was very established there,” Kevra said. “I suppose in the end, relationships trump all.”
It might have been easy for her to end her involvement with the concert series due to geography, but Kevra wanted the band to play on. So she decided to divide the performances between Montpelier and Middlebury. She found a willing partner in the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society, which has a magnificent facility that offers great acoustics and, as Kevra noted, a very good piano.
“They have been very welcoming, and great to work with,” she said of CVUUS leaders.
She and Cluss reside in a recently remodeled farmhouse that will provide enough space to accommodate themselves and the visiting musicians who will be performing in the 2016-2017 Capital City Concerts.
And she believes the CCC can gain the same solid foothold in Middlebury as it has achieved in Montpelier.
“It’s something of a dream come true,” Kevra said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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