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Change-up at Weekend of Chamber Music; Founder passes the baton

Oboist Matt Sullivan talks about and demonstrates the English horn to students at the Catskill Art Society during the 2010 Zuber wallpaper project in Livingston Manor.
Contributed photo

By Fritz Mayer
January 23, 2013

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.