For the Love of Chamber Music: South Mountain and Elizabeth Sprague Cooldige

SouthMountainConcertHall3:00 pm • Sunday, September 10th 2017
South Mountain Concert Hall • Pittsfield, MA

Nestled in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts, just east of the Hudson River, is the concert hall at South Mountain. It was specifically designed for chamber music in a colonial style using timber from an old textile mill. The hall seats 440 (how appropriate) and provides fine acoustics and an intimate setting for the genre. Built in 1918 to host what was then the Berkshire Festival of Chamber Music, it is now on the National Register of Historic Buildings. The mover and shaker behind what is now known as the South Mountain Concert Hall for the Berkshire Festival was the American patroness of music, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge who brought her vision and her generosity to the region.

Today this wonderful concert hall is maintained by the South Mountain Association, which presents an annual chamber music series that typically highlights the work of one of the leading string quartets of the day. This Sunday’s South Mountain concert, the second of its 2017 series, features the Orion String Quartet [Daniel Phillips and Todd Phillips, violins; Steven Tenenbom, violist, and Timothy Eddy, 'cellist].

Elizabeth_Sprague_CoolidgeBefore getting to the program, it’s worth giving a nod to Elizabeth Sprague Cooldige. She was not just a patron of music, but a musician in her own right who was a champion of and for chamber music. She was a serious pianist well into her 80s as well as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In addition to funding The Sprague Memorial Hall at Yale University, commissioning numerous compositions from practically every leading composer of the early 1900’s— primarily for chamber ensembles, coming to the aid of various chamber groups, establishing the Berkshire String Quartet in 1916; Liz Coolidge, as she was known amongst friends, often introduced American radio audiences to chamber music in partnerships with major networks and underwrote concerts so they could be offered with no admission charge.

Perhaps her greatest endeavor, however, grew out of a her concern for long-term support and interest in chamber music. “In 1924 Mrs. Coolidge submitted a formal proposal for the construction of an auditorium at the Library of Congress. It took an act of Congress (January 23, 1925) to accept this unprecedented gift to the government, and construction lasted only one year before the auditorium was ready for its first performance in 1925.” * In the 500-seat Coolidge Auditorium, the Library of Congress continues to host chamber music performances as none other than Concerts from the Library of Congress. Kudos to Mrs. Coolidge!

But now… getting back to this Sunday’s South Mountain Concert… the program has flutist Tara Helen O’Connor  joining the Orion String Quartet to perform:

  • W.A. Mozart – Flute Quartet No. 3 in C Major, K. 285b
  • F. Joseph Haydn – String Quartet in B Minor, Op. 33, No. 1, Hob III:37
  • Ludwig van Beethoven – String Quartet No. 8 in E Minor, Op. 59, No. 2

If the traditional string quartet is your thing, this concert certainly will offer some delightful music-making that you won’t want to miss. If not, chamber music abounds throughout the region this weekend. There is a wide range of repertoire choices and instrument combinations to choose from, albeit the flute is taking center stage in a number of works being performed … especially at the Leaf Peepers Concert on Saturdayfeaturing the Imani Winds. Regardless of what you decide to take in … happy musicking this weekend!

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