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December 07, 2016
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Change-up at Weekend of Chamber Music; Founder passes the baton

Flutist Judith Pearce brings out the piccolo during a rehearsal at the Eddie Adams Barn in Jeffersonville in 2010.
Contributed photo by Dana Duke

BETHEL, NY — Performer that she is, Judith Pearce started this press conference with a touch of theater. She leaned on the long, gleaming bar now located in the Catskill Distillery tucked behind the Dancing Cat Saloon. In 1994, she said, when she founded Weekend of Chamber Music (WCM), the bar was located in a hotel in Jeffersonville, and she sat around the bar with members of the Lions Club, thinking, “I have never sat in a bar with only men.” It was worth it; she left with a check for $100.

In the 20 years since then, Pearce and the Weekend of Chamber Music have become institutions in Sullivan County and the region. At the press conference on January 18, Pearce announced that she was handing over duties as artistic director to American composer Andrew Waggoner and his wife, cellist Caroline Stinson, who have been associated with the organization for several years.

In remarks that summarized WCM’s activities over the past two decades, Pearce said that from the beginning, WCM has had an extensive program of events with children, having done projects with and played for every school district in Sullivan County.

Over the years, the organization also has scored some impressive achievements. “We’ve had two world premieres, at least four U.S. premieres, and we’ve introduced at least six composers,” Pearce recalled.

She also talked about collaboration, which is central to the arts these days. “Practically all grants are asking you to collaborate,” she said. “This is something that as chamber musicians is entirely natural to us. In fact, I’m going to stick my neck out; after all these years, not only with WCM but throughout my entire life, I would say that collaboration reaches one of its highest levels in art in chamber music performance. We have to assume many different roles; we have to be soloists and we have to literally switch on a dime to come to a supporting role. We ourselves know that within an ensemble, if you really get on well, it is a marvelously exciting experience.”

She also touched on the open performances WCM often holds on the day before performances. She said, “I know that people have come up to me and said, ‘To hear you rehearsing and discussing the balance of voices, what should be louder what should be softer, I really felt I could hear it,’ and I know for personal friends that these open rehearsals have given people confidence in their listening.”

Now, however, while she will stay on as board president and as a performer, Pearce said it was time to turn over the artistic director reins.

Waggoner said most of the traditions of WCM will not change under the watch of the new artistic directors. He said, “It’s a very special thing starting a chamber music festival and it usually grows out of a very specific relationship with a place, and that’s the sort of thing that can’t be forced, can’t be imposed; it really has to feel organic, which is why I think this has worked so well, because Judith’s relationship to this place is so profound.”

The couple does want to build on what has been created, however, and one new element that will be introduced this summer will be a composer-in-residence. According to a WCM press release, “Noted American composer John Harbison will be the first one to come, and Waggoner and Stinson have centered the festival programming on his music and Pearce’s stellar career, and the festival will celebrate her tenure as WCM’s director.”

Further, the couple will take steps to expand the WCM’s audience base. One way they are going to do this is by hosting a series of get-togethers with some of the major supporters and fans in the region. Stinson said, “We will connect with big fans in the area, and have them host a tea, and introduce us to their friends and acquaintances, and we’ll improvise and play one piece.” She said the couple would like to do several of those gatherings.

From a WCM press release: “Stinson and Waggoner are known for their innovative work with improvisation, contemporary music and school music residencies. They are co-founders of Open End, a new music and improvisation ensemble, and as husband and wife, they are no strangers to working together as a team. Stinson, a cellist, performs internationally with the acclaimed Lark Quartet, and Waggoner is an award-winning composer-in-residence on the faculty of Setnor Music School at Syracuse University. He has enjoyed commissions and performances from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Winnipeg Symphony, the Academy of St. Martin’s in the Fields, and the Cassatt, Corigliano, Miró and Degas Quartets, and many others.”