Thriving on the efforts of its musical community: the Manchester Music Festival
Photo: by Ilona Oltuski – GetClassical – Banner of the festival at its concert’s summer home at the Southern Vermont Arts Center’s Arkell Pavillion
Not unlike its esteemed neighbors, Marlboro Music, which has, for decades, built itself upon its master-performers’ reputation, or Yellow Barn, with its annual workshop geared to foster artistic growth, the Manchester Music Festival counts on Vermont’s bucolic Mountain views for its splendorous atmospheric stage-scenery.
During its six-week full scholarship summer program (this year from July 3 – August 14), young musicians are coached in chamber music performance by the festival’s capable faculty, members of its own Michael Rudiakov Music Academy– and an impressive roster of attending guest artists, who are also presented in weekly concert performances. Concerts are filled to capacity which has helped to build the festival’s thriving reputation and its opportunity to feature fresh and consummate musical talent.
With a demographic of ca. 4,500 all year round residents, an amount that triples during those music filled summer-months with a swelling population of second home owners, it is no surprise that the summer highlights of the festival meet with an especially high enthusiastic support.
In its 40th year now, the festival relies on unyielding support by its local and visiting patrons of the arts, some of whom not only help financially to sustain the festival’s programs, but open their home to visiting artists, as part of their residency.
In accord with the spirit of the festival’s founder, pianist Eugene List and his wife, violinist Carroll Glenn, who initiated the Southern Vermont Arts Center Music Festival in 1974, Peggy Telscher, a current festival board-member and chair of its artistic committee, explains, ”We have an obligation to foster the love for music and reach out to the next generation.” A professionally trained singer herself, her interest focuses on bridging the gap between the instrumental and a voice syllabus of concerts. Last year the festival featured the prominent singer/actress Audra Macdonald.
After attending the series’ Young Artists concerts with her own children, when she moved to Vermont a few years ago, Telscher held her first house-concert, in passionate support of professional singers, in 2012. Since last year, the concert-hall-like acoustics of Tom Snopek’s and Peggy Telscher’s’house has led them to host some of the artists for private recording sessions, while enjoying their home’s equally exquisite mountain views. Returning festival’s artist-in-residence, and co-founder of LP Classics record label, pianist Vassily Primakov, brought in his recording team for two of the performing artists of the festival. Photo: Ilona Oltuski-GetClassical Vassily Primakov after a coaching session with “his” group of students saying they sounded amazing
Primakov also has been invited for the second year in a row as “artist in residence,” a weeklong performance and teaching position at MMF. “Attending the festival now for a number of years, it has from the beginning felt like home away from home. MMF always attracts great artists, so I am always grateful and humbled to be among the performers and now also to be part of their guest faculty,” says Primakov.
When recently taking over the chair of the artistic committee, Telscher followed Mary Miller, whose own pianistic background and passionate engagement for the festival made her an advocate for finding and bringing great pianists to the festival. Says Telscher,”I had big shoes to fill, Mary did a fantastic job! The biggest challenge is that the costs of presenting can never be fully paid through ticket sales alone, and people have to understand that we have to pay living wages for the artists, which don’t just cover the performances, but endless hours of preparation.”
Board member or not, Mary Miller and her husband Walter Miller, made it their mission to look out for “their” artists. “We love it as much as they do,” says Mary Miller, whose renowned hospitality includes filling most of her many rooms with visiting artists and their entourage, during the summer months. “To be surrounded by so much talent is amazing,” says Miller, who met the current artistic director of the festival, violist Ari Rudiakov and his wife, violinist Joana Genova, on the occasion of their daughter’s wedding in 2003. “It is just fantastic, what they have helped to build here, for the community,” says Garry DuFour, and enthusiastically vouches his future support.
”We have work that is still unfinished,” says Ari Rudiakov, the festival’s artistic director. “My job is to not only put together a great festival, but to build our endowment fund, guaranteed to support our Young Artist program. We are half way there now, with activities that go well beyond the summer, and we are incredibly thankful for the support of all our members through their own personal efforts, hosting house concerts and benefits, to profit the organization. Right now, I am looking to unify all the varied elements we already have in place,” he says.
Photo: www.Manchesterjournal.com Ari Rudiakov, Artistic Director MMF.
But perhaps it is exactly these special, personal efforts that create small sanctuaries for the arts in intimate environments which contribute to the festival’s great communal success, as well as providing a unique setting for visiting artists. “There are always great hosts and wonderful performances and it is quite a unique experience, to create, perform, study and teach surrounded by nature – it feels like a retreat,” says Primakov. Photo: Cottage at the Miller’s residence, hosting a MMF-student dinner.
Two years in a row, Primakov has been performing trios with cellist Ben Capps and violinist Joana Genova at the festival. Last season it was Rachmaninoff’s PianoTrio élégiaque in D minor, Opus 9, and this year Chopin’s Piano Trio in G minor, Op.8. Primakov describes these experiences as one of the highlights of the season for him and they are soon to plan the repertoire for next season’s program. ”It’s a wonderful feeling to return to a place where you feel welcomed and harmonize with the performers. I am equally thrilled to have the opportunity to coach the students in chamber music performance, it always creates excitement and a special bond,” describes Primakov.
In 2000, Ari Rudiakov inherited his father’s, Michael Rudiakov’s, mission to give more definition to the loosely organized festival that its founders had created, with an emphasis on a streamlined, full scholarship program for young artists that includes a strong, communal outreach program.
The philosophy of the festival was built on different premises than those of its eminent neighbor at Marlboro. While there was a fair amount of crossover participants between Marlboro’s and Manchester’s stellar performers, the Manchester Festival focused on giving students their separate curriculum and stage experience, while Marlboro’s concept integrated its students’ and professionals’ performances. A student of Bernhard Greenhouse, member of the famed Beaux Arts Trio, Michael Rudiakov was a veteran cellist, principal cellist of the Indiana Symphony Orchestra and had administrative experience from running a chamber music series at Sarah Lawrence. Invited by List to join him in Manchester, he took on full leadership of MMF in 1985, after the passing of the festival’s founders.
Their son, violist/conductor Ari Rudiakov and his wife violinist, Joana Genova, continue to pass on the tradition of great, classical music, taught and performed in an environment geared to enhance the music’s outreach, as well as the personal maturity of its performers. Some travels are taking place, sometimes as a string orchestra, sometimes as chamber music tours and the faculty varies from year to year.
“We are building on the previous year’s teacher’s faculty, but also have some new additions every year; the only truly constant are Joana and me. That way we keep it fresh, but still make it possible for musicians to return and build a wider community. What’s great is that students always have more than one opinion, we break them up into groups, switch coaches, change repertoire and put them back together again – often they have already become different players.”