Rochester Chamber Music Series celebrates 25 years

ROCHESTER — Choosing to live in Rochester, a town of just over 1,000 people, is choosing to live a small-town way of life — very small. With all the benefits of knowing your neighbors, and living a quiet, rural life, there are also (as you might expect) some drawbacks — especially for a professional musician.
When Cynthia Huard moved to Rochester 27 years ago, she was coming from her fast-paced life in Boston as a pro pianist and harpsichordist. Huard holds advanced degrees from Indiana University and The University of Music and the Performing Arts in Graz, Austria. She had been performing chamber music as a featured soloist throughout the U.S. and Europe.
“When you’re in a city, you can always play with a high-caliber performer,” she said in an interview last month at her home in Bristol, where she now resides. “Here you have to create that.”
So why move to Rochester?
The simple answer Huard gave, is to raise her two kids. But it was clearly a life choice she needed to make.
“If I were a city person, I would have done really well,” she said, visualizing her path not taken. “I spin at the speed of my environment (or a little faster).”
True. So, what did she do when she arrived in Rochester in 1992? Why she made quick friends with Marguerite Schenkman — a violinist who studied at the Julliard School and the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau, France — a fellow big fish in a small pond.
Schenkman met her husband, Edgar, at Julliard and they were married in 1934. In the late ’40s they moved to Virginia with their five children (all musicians). Under Edgar’s baton, Schenkman was concertmaster of the Norfolk Symphony and principal violist of the Richmond Symphony for nearly 20 years.
In 1959, the Schenkmans began coming up to their home on West Hill in Rochester for the summers. Known as “G.P.” (for “grand pause,” musician’s lingo for a long rest or silence in the midst of a noisy composition) the Schenkman’s property was home to many informal concerts.
“When I met Marguerite in 1993 she was 83 years old and she thought she was done with music,” Huard said, adding that Marguerite’s husband had just passed away. “But then we started playing together at the Park House elder home in Richmond and people said you should start a series.”
So they did. And that’s how the first Rochester Chamber Music Series concert came to be.
“Marguerite new everybody,” remembered Huard. “She had connections from Julliard, from the trio she used to play in with her sisters and from her husband’s orchestras… Over the years, we transformed it into something that’s lasted now 25 years.”
CYNTHIA HUARD, ARTISTIC director of the RCMS, practices at Middlebury College where she’s been an affiliate artist, instructor and accompanist for the past 21 years.
Independent photo/Steve James
Schenkman passed away in 2003, at the age of 93.
“Our cofounder and co-artistic directory, our soul, our violin, my mother, Marguerite Schenkman died Christmas Eve 2003. The Rochester Chamber Music Society was, and will continue to be, her legacy,” wrote her son Joe Schenkman in the 10th anniversary season program for the RCMS.
Since Schenkman’s death 15 years ago, Huard has been the solo artistic director for the RCMS and has seen the series grow each year.
“Usually we do four concerts,” she said. “But this year we have seven! It’s big.”
This year’s 25th anniversary series will open this Saturday, June 8, with a memorial concert for Joan Hutton Landis, a professor from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philly who passed away two years ago.
Following Saturday’s concert the RCMS will continue on Sunday, June 23, with a free concert by the Inora Brass Quintet at the Rochester Town Park Bandstand. Then weekly performances continue through Aug. 11.
All concerts are based on a free-will donation.
“From the very beginning we didn’t charge admission,” Huard explained. “We want people to be able to put a dollar in and feel good about it.”
Funding for the RCMS does come from donations, but Huard, who lived in Rochester for 14 years before moving to Bristol, said that raising funds isn’t usually a problem. “Everybody wants us there,” she said.
After all the RCMS has brought a lot to the White River Valley including the Green Mountain Suzuki Institute — an educational program of the RCMS now in its 15th year, for students ages 4 to 16 — RCMS Music Education Programs in the area public schools, and the annual Bach Bash — a chance for amateur musicians to play with the pros at the Hancock Town Hall.
Looking back over the years, Huard (who, by the way, has also worked for 21 years at Middlebury College as an affiliate artist, accompanist and instructor, as well as maintaining her own professional career as a pianist, harpsichordist and private instructor) is pleased.
“Being a solo performer, moving on from one show to the next — that would not feed me,” she said. “What I really like is communicating with people and creating new communities — and music is how I do that… It’s taken me so long to figure out that I am doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Whether that’s connecting her individual students, an audience or a performer to the music, it doesn’t really matter.
“Playing music for me is all about how you can serve,” she said. “How you can help people make connections dancing, singing… whatever. It’s not about you.”
This is a season you don’t want to miss. Mark your calendars (consider leaving your cell phone at home) and take time this summer to connect with the music of Huard and the incredible talent that comes to perform for the RCMS.

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