or the first time in its nearly 40-year history on the Island, the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society will open its summer concert series by offering free admission to the first two shows. The series is a gift from Sam Feldman to Vineyard music lovers in honor of his late wife Gretchen. The performances of William DeRosa and Friends on Monday night at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown, and on Tuesday at the Chilmark Community Center will be open to the public free of charge.
“It’s the only time we’ve had such a thing,” said artistic director and concert pianist Delores Stevens. She should know.
Over four decades ago, Ms. Stevens made her first visit to the Island en route to Europe to perform with Caroline Worthington and John Gates, the other two members of the Montagnana Trio. Caroline had a house on the Vineyard, and the two women decided that the Island would provide the proper solitude for two weeks of intense rehearsal.
“The day before we went on tour, we looked around and said, ‘Hey, you know what? We should start a series here because there isn’t really anything going on.’ So we started in the Chilmark Community Center and that was the beginning of our series. The beginning of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society,” she said.
Initially, Ms. Stevens and her fellow founders handled the publicity for the music society, then called the Chilmark Chamber Players, by themselves. After 10 years, the society assembled a board of directors and chose a new name to reflect their cross-Island performances.
Today the society hosts five different musical ensembles per summer, with two performances by each ensemble. Monday night concerts are held in the Old Whaling Church; Tuesday night concerts are in the Chilmark Community Center. The musicians come from all over the world.
“They are so well trained and so used to playing with each other that they play without a conductor. They feel the music together. It is ensemble music playing at the highest level,” said Ms. Stevens, who also performs on piano for most shows. This year’s lineup includes musicians from Berlin to Argentina, with a special return visit from the famous former principal clarinetist for the New York Philharmonic.
There is an abundance of musical talent scheduled for the season, but the society’s first performance is especially significant this year.
“It’s a commemorative concert,” explained Ms. Stevens.
Gretchen Feldman, who died last November, was a lifelong lover of music and the arts. She enjoyed gardening and ballet, and was an accomplished painter.
“She did her art all the time. She woke up in the morning, left the bedroom, and went into her studio and started painting. She just loved it. That nurtured her life,” said Mr. Feldman.
The Feldmans moved to the Island full-time in late 1980s, and have long been active in the Vineyard art and music scene.
Mrs. Feldman was also especially passionate about chamber music, and was a chamber music society board member. “She wanted to make sure that the board of the chamber music society was strong, and that it sustained itself. She was head of the nominating committee for several years to choose the people who were on the board, and she did that very actively. She was very interested in diversifying the board in all ways, with different kinds of people, different ethnicities. She believed in having diversity and diversity of opinions,” said Mr. Feldman.
He fondly recalls his first exposure to the classical music that his wife loved so dearly. “When we were first married, she dragged me to concerts. I had never been exposed to them in my life. I just didn’t have that kind of upbringing,” he explained. “So she really brought music into my life.”
To honor his wife’s memory, he would like to extend that favor to all Islanders with the opportunity to experience the music themselves.
“I thought it would be a nice thing if [the concert] wasn’t a commercial event, and that anybody who wanted to come and hear the wonderful chamber music, and be exposed to the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society . . . could come without having to pay,” he said. “So that’s how it came about.”
He and Ms. Stevens took extra steps to make the season opening concerts a special tribute to Mrs. Feldman. They contacted cellist William DeRosa to request that he headline the show.
“He came last summer and did a fundraiser for us, and Gretchen was well enough to go to that concert, and she loved it. So we asked William to return and play this first concert,” said Ms. Stevens.
Mr. DeRosa agreed to attend, and will be joined by Ms. Stevens, violinist Yoon Kwon, and violist Carrie Dennis for next week’s concerts. In the show, Ms. Stevens and Mr. DeRosa will perform a Rachmaninoff movement in Mrs. Feldman’s honor.
“It’s a very beautiful, sort of evocative piece. I don’t know how to say it any other way. This particular movement for cello and piano, it just seems to contain all of life in it. It has gorgeous melodies and rich harmonies, and everything is just beautiful. It sort of symbolizes Gretchen to us. It makes us feel like she’s still here, so we wanted to do that for her.” said Ms. Stevens.
“I feel honored that [the concert] is happening, and that it’s something Gretchen would have wanted to do,” said Mr. Feldman. “We were just as much in love the day she died as the day we met 55 years before that. It’s really a testimony to wonderful loving relationships and caring for people.”