In 1981, pianist-composer David Alpher, soprano Lila Deis, and businessman Paul Sylva joined forces to create a chamber music festival in celebration of Rockport as one of America’s oldest art colonies. For the past 26 years, Rockport has honored the vision of the Rockport Chamber Music Festival’s founders by kicking off the summer season with a full month dedicated to the presentation of world-class chamber music. Now led by artistic director David Deveau, the festival has reached remarkable heights. The June 7 opening night gala concert features the Blava String Quartet and Daedalus String Quartet; the Atlantic Brass Quintet closes the season on July 1. (Complete calendar is available on rcmf.org)
With its wide range of programming, the annual festival unites both classical and contemporary chamber and solo compositions performed by musical ensembles of superlative quality. However, a conversation with Kirsten Bowes, the general manager of the RCMF, makes clear that there is far more to the festival than just the music.
“Arts, music, and community are synonymous here in Rockport,” says Bowes. The culmination of the annual festival is but one reflection of the Rockport community’s immense passion and dedication to the classical arts. “As soon as one festival is over, you’re gearing up for another; booking artists, marketing, and keeping people engaged through programs,” Bowes stresses.
Since its birth, the festival has been held in the Rockport Art Association’s Hibbard Gallery, selected for its historical significance as well as intimate setting. Located in the heart of Rockport’s art community, the Hibbard Gallery displays the work of local painters at the musical performances. Seating a mere 240, the Hibbard Gallery provides an unparalleled intimacy between the musician and the audience. By definition, the word “chamber” suggests that the music can and perhaps should be performed in a small room. Whether it be between performers alone or performers and audience, chamber music is about conducting a musical conversation.
The RCMF prides itself as being a family affair, hosting free concerts where the audience can meet the performers afterward. When music is performed in a small setting, the barrier between the performer and the audience automatically drops. A personal relationship is suddenly created.
While the Hibbard Gallery has provided a comfortable home for the RCMF for a quarter of a century, the program continued searching for a permanent home to grow and prosper.
The festival took a big step September 13, 2006, by purchasing a three-story former shop on 37 Main Street. The Haskins Building will be transformed into a glorious concert hall with a breathtaking view of Sandy Bay by June 2009. Bowes says that although the festival is completely vibrant as it exists, the Haskins Building will not only be a hall, “but a true cultural resource.” The space provides the festival with incredible opportunities not only for chamber performances, but for school programs and civic use as well.
All this ensures that fans will keep making pilgrimages from near and far. Jerry and Carol Holland, a clinical pharmacist and attorney, make an annual trip from their home in San Francisco to Rockport for the festival. The couple inadvertently discovered the festival in 1997 and instantly made the trip a tradition.
“We were so impressed with the quality of the artists, the intimacy of the seating, and the enthusiasm of the attendees,” says Carol. “We fell in love with the scenic beauty, the warmth of the locals, and the delicious seafood in Rockport.”