Arts & Leisure

Trio bringing Vienna to Lincoln Library — live

MARY ROWELL, MARY Jane Austin and Frances Rowell play a socially distanced classical music concert in South Burlington last month on the “Chamber Wagon,” a portable stage that Fran Rowell designed.

Spring 2020 was pretty depressing for critically acclaimed, Grammy-winning violinist Mary Rowell. “I went from being the star, the performer up on stage, to being a non-essential worker,” she told the Independent. “And we were really non-essential.”
When the pandemic brought the performing arts to a grinding halt, Rowell, who lives in the Northeast Kingdom town of Craftsbury and performs regularly in Addison County, found herself suddenly unemployed. She managed to collaborate here and there on music, recording and video projects, but performing live music was out of the question. So she spent a lot of time with family cutting firewood, she said with a laugh.
Rowell and her sister Frances Rowell, a cellist who splits her time between Craftsbury and New Jersey, are members of the Craftsbury Chamber Players (CCP), a partnership of musicians founded in 1966 that’s dedicated to making live chamber music an enduring part of our culture. The Players’ core musicians perform in various combinations for different programs. They typically offer a six-week summer music series each year. This year, however, with physical distancing limitations, they decided to whip some programs together and take them on the road — and keep them outdoors.
There was only one slight hitch.
“String players do not like playing outside,” Mary Rowell confessed. “There’s nothing for the instruments to resonate with, the sun melts the varnish, the rain ruins the varnish, the wind blows and it’s hard to keep your bow on the strings.”
So Frances designed a mobile stage for them. “My sister really should have been an engineer,” Mary Rowell said with a laugh. “My brother found an old trailer out in the woods in Greensboro, paid a few bucks for it, and Fran designed a mobile stage for it.”
The “Chamber Wagon,” as Rowell calls it, consists of old pieces of sound shell and a tent, which can be erected on a flatbed trailer and broken down and towed away for use again elsewhere. “We have to erect the performance space each time,” Rowell said. “We’re the crew and the performers.” When performances are over, they break it all down again, although members of the audience will often come up after shows and offer to help with that, she said.
So far this summer, CCP has played three different musical programs for a dozen outdoor performances in Hardwick, Plainfield, South Burlington and Glover. Their first outdoor performance was on July 18 on Craftsbury Common. “People cried,” Rowell said. “They hadn’t heard live music in five months. And I was playing and I was thinking to myself, I haven’t heard live music in five months, either — hey, this feels pretty good.”
Rowell’s favorite performance so far was one CCP played in a light rain in a South Burlington field last month. “It was really special,” she said. “We were all there because we wanted to be, and the little things that might upset it just didn’t matter.”
Chamber music fans Kathleen Kolb and Lisa Nading of Lincoln and Missy Holland of Bristol attended that performance, and decided they would try to get the Players to perform in Lincoln. “We were missing live music and were moved by the performance and the financial challenges that COVID has presented to performing artists,” Holland told the Independent in an email.
Lincoln librarian Wendy McIntosh and the Lincoln Library board offered Birch Lawn as a performance space, and CCP will bring its Chamber Wagon to town on Saturday, Sept. 19, at 4 p.m. (after being rained out this past Sunday).
Mary Rowell (violin), Frances Rowell (cello) and East Montpelier resident Mary Jane Austin (piano), will present a socially distanced concert of classical music entitled “A Viennese Salon,” including works by Brahms, Beethoven, Dvorak, Fauré, Schubert and Tchaikovsky. Masks are required. The concert is free, but at-will donations to CCP are encouraged.
The three musicians, all Vermonters, are already familiar to Addison County classical music fans. Austin appears with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra and the Opera Company of Middlebury. She and Mary Rowell are both on the faculty at Middlebury College and perform often in the county. Fran Rowell, who is music director for CCP, joins the group every summer season from New Jersey, where she is a member of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.
Fran Rowell has described CCP’s distinct role in three words: heritage, tradition and connections.
“We are OF northern Vermont and deeply rooted in the traditions of this place,” CCP says on its website. “Our weekly concerts are much like the kitchen junkets which draw neighbors together to enjoy music and each other’s company. Each program is an opportunity to be immersed in a wealth of music shared by talented musicians who are part of our extended family. Our audiences find a special joy in watching and hearing artists whom we call friend and neighbors.”

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