A Romantic Celebration


Manchester Music Festival marks its 50th Anniversary with a remarkable season!

As Manchester Music Festival (MMF) readies for its 50th Anniversary season, there is a palpable feeling of excitement and anticipation in the air. With Philip Setzer of the world-renowned Emerson String Quartet leading as Artistic Director for his first full season and Jenny Lin stepping into her role as the new Executive Director, MMF is poised to embark on another unforgettable musical journey. Building on half a century of stellar classical music programming and performances, MMF stands as a beacon of cultural elevation in Southern Vermont. “The 50th Anniversary is more than a milestone – it’s a testament to MMF’s enduring commitment to the community,” says Lin. “The impact MMF has had goes beyond the music. We see it in connections with our lifelong patrons, as well as the young donors who have become outspoken community ambassadors.” This year, MMF is embracing the Romantic era, diving into a rich tapestry of gorgeous and captivating music. From the passionate majesty of Beethoven to the timeless lyricism and harmonies of Brahms, Barber, and Debussy, MMF’s exploration of Romantic repertoire will be manifested through a series of enthralling musical performances and accessible community events. 

While crafting the musical narrative for MMF’s landmark 50th season, Setzer drew on his decades of experience as the musical programming curator and violinist of the Emerson String Quartet. “We wanted to create a thematic journey through music, art, and literature with this summer’s programming that explores the depth and beauty of Romanticism,” says Setzer. To that end, Setzer’s musical selections include well-known masterpieces from lauded giants of the Romantic era, as well as an event that highlights works by historically neglected composers. 

The season opens with the first of MMF’s five Thursday night concerts at Southern Vermont Arts Center’s (SVAC) Arkell Pavilion on July 11: “Lighting the Torch.” The program will feature Beethoven’s “Piano Trio in B-flat, Op. 97 (‘Archduke’)” and Schubert’s “Piano Trio No. 2 in E-flat, Op. 100 (D.929).” Setzer will perform these marvelous masterworks alongside cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han, the former of whom played alongside Setzer in the Emerson String Quartet for 34 years. As a husband-and-wife musical duo, Finckel and Wu Han run the Chamber 

Music Society at Lincoln Center. “It’s always wonderful when we get to play together,” shares Setzer. Reflecting on the program, he adds, “These works represent a turning point in musical history, where Beethoven’s legacy was passed onto Schubert before their respective passings a year apart.”

Continuing the journey, the second Thursday night program on July 18, “Passing the Torch,” delves into carefully-selected works by Schumann, Mendelssohn, and Tchaikovsky. It begins with Schumann’s “Fantasiestücke, Op. 73,” played by gifted pianist Jeewon Park and her husband, Edward Arron on Cello. The program progresses into Mendelssohn’s “Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor, Op. 66,” where Park and Arron are joined by Setzer on violin and ends with an evocative rendition of Tchaikovsky’s “Souvenir de Florence, Op. 60.” The Tchaikovsky finale will be performed by Setzer, Arron, and four of the MMF Young Artists string players. “One of the most significant changes that I’ve made since coming to MMF is integrating the Young Artists into the main concerts,” says Setzer. “It was a conscious decision to bring them into the fold. I didn’t want to have a situation where the programming was completely divided. I wanted everyone at the same table.” Setzer also extended an invitation to the young artists to return for a second year at MMF. “I’ve been coming up to Vermont for decades, and the time I spent at Marlboro Music Festival early on in my career played a big part in my artistic development. I built lifelong friendships and collaborative relationships there, and I want to encourage similar connections here at MMF by extending their stay.” 

Week three in the Thursday SVAC performance series on July 25, “Brahms and Lyricism,” focuses on Johannes Brahms’ influence on the Romantic period. The night begins with MMF Young Artist pianists Andrew Cannestra and Hang Zhong playing 16 Brahms Waltzes (Op. 39.) “They’re tiny, wonderful, salon pieces that are just exquisite,” says Setzer. “They offer a glimpse into one of Brahms’ happier musical moods.” The Brahms Waltzes will be followed by a series of Lieder by Robert Schumann, Clara Wieck, Brahms and Strauss. Jenny Lin, a phenomenal pianist and Steinway Artist, will step away from her role as MMF’s Executive Director to accompany the talented mezzo soprano, Sara Couden, an alumnus of the prestigious Lindemann Program at the Metropolitan Opera. After a brief intermission, the evening will conclude with Brahms’ “Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115.” Setzer will be joined by award-winning clarinetist David Shifrin, Stony Brook University cello professor Colin Carr, Emerson String Quartet violist Lawrence Dutton, and violinist Hannah Corbett, an MMF Young Artist. 

In a timely departure from Central European Romantic repertoire, week four of the Thursday night performance series on August 1 ventures into French and English Romantic and Impressionist compositions. Setzer will collaborate with renowned harpist Nancy Allen for a mesmerizing performance of Debussy’s dances and violin-harp duos, including a special harp arrangement of the beloved Impressionist favorite, “Clair De Lune” by Setzer and Allen. “She’s the Principal Harpist for the New York Philharmonic, and I honestly believe that she is the greatest harpist who has ever lived,” shares Setzer. The program also includes “Elegy,” a moving original composition by Setzer dedicated to the late headmaster from Milton Academy, Arthur Perry. Leading up to the intermission, Allen and Setzer will perform a powerful piece from the contemporary composer, Sarah Kirkland Snider, “Drink the Wild Ayre,” in a world premiere of a new arrangement for small string orchestra, harp and bass. The evening will conclude with Edward Elgar’s “Piano Quintet in A Minor, Op. 84,” a personal favorite of Setzer’s, which he will perform with four MMF Young Artists.

The fifth Thursday performance, “The Grand Finale,” on August 8 features celebrated Metropolitan Opera soprano, Christine Goerke, in a captivating program that celebrates Barber, Brahms, Dvořák, and Respighi. “We’re incredibly lucky to have her,” shares Setzer. “She took the summer off from her headlining operatic performances to focus on more intimate events, and her performance of the two Brahms Alto Songs with viola and piano and Respighi’s ‘Il Tramonto’ for mezzo-soprano and string quartet will beautifully showcase her mezzo-soprano range.” 

In addition to the Brahms, Barber, and Respighi selections, the evening will be bookended by Antonin Dvořák pieces, beginning with two “Slavonic Dances,” that start the program. It will conclude with a grand finale of Dvořák’s “Piano Quintet No, 2 in A, Op. 81.” Setzer will be joined in the quintet by his Stony Brook colleague, Matthew Lipman, on viola, who also plays the viola part in the earlier Brahms songs, as well Gilles Vonsattel on piano, Metropolitan Opera violinist Sarah Crocker Vonsattel, and Estelle Choi on cello. Coincidentally, Choi studied with the Emerson String Quartet at Stony Brook. “The program and featured musicians are deliberately interwoven in a manner that reflects the arc of Romantic music on a larger scale – and also my personal musical journey,” says Setzer.

MMF is also providing a platform for audiences to discover the incredible works of lesser-known Romantic composers through a special event entitled “Given a Chance” on Sunday, July 28 at Arkell Pavilion. Throughout the program, MMF will honor the composers whose voices have been overlooked due to gender and/or skin color. Setzer passionately advocated for the inclusion of works by Clara Wieck Schumann, Rebecca Clarke, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Florence Price, and George Walker. “Their contributions to Romanticism are invaluable,” affirms Setzer. “It’s time to shine a spotlight on these composers and give them the recognition they deserve.”

FROM TOP TO BOTTOM: Edward Arron, David Finckel & Wu Han, Gilles Vonsattel, Nancy Allen, David Shifrin.

Throughout the season, collaborative events with Green Mountain Academy for Lifelong Learning (GMALL), Northshire Bookstore, and the Manchester Community Library, will extend MMF’s reach beyond the music. “These partnerships enrich the festival experience,” says Lin, echoing Setzer’s thematic approach. MMF is partnering with GMALL and Northshire Bookstore to bring a panel of authors to Arkell Pavilion for an ‘MMF Talks’ event on August 3. Panelists will include the composer, writer, and Bennington College faculty member, Allen Shawn; Gail Newman, Harold J. Henry Professor of German and Comparative Literature at Williams College; and Judith Lochhead, Professor of Music Theory & History at Stony Brook University. “We’re going to discuss the cultural, musical, and intellectual impact of Romanticism,” adds Setzer. Northshire Bookstore will bring a thoughtful selection of books for purchase, which will correspond to the topic of discussion at the event. 

Additional programming highlights include MMF’s Young Artist Concerts at Arkell Pavilion on Sunday, July 21 and Sunday, August 4, and family concerts at SVAC, Manchester Community Library, and Northshire Bookstore. On July 13, Manchester Community Library will host “MMF @50,” which will feature a talk by Setzer and performances of solo works by MMF Young Artists. This event will be closely followed by a performance by the virtuosic pianist, Vassily Primakov, at Arkell Pavilion on Sunday, July 14. On the afternoon leading up to Primakov’s performance, the first of the three “MMF Family Program” events, “Music & Art with Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition” will take place on the SVAC grounds. Children and families are invited to join Primakov for an open dress rehearsal of the Mussorgsky piece, and attendees are encouraged to bring art supplies and create their own masterpieces inspired by Primakov’s performance. 

On Saturday, July 20, Northshire Bookstore will welcome cellist Edward Arron and the MMF Young Artists for the second MMF Family Program event, “Strings & Things: A Musical Playdate.” Arron will lead the MMF Young Artist string players in a vibrant exploration of songs that showcase the wondrous magic of string instruments. Jenny Lin will bring the MMF Young Artists to Manchester Community Library for the third MMF Family Program event, “Melody’s Mostly Musical Day” on Saturday, July 27. It will feature fun performances from the Steinway Musical Picture book, with live music, illustration screenings, and storytelling narration from Mary Anne Van Degna, President of the Dorset Theatre Festival’s Board of Trustees.

At the end of the season, a marvelous gala celebrating MMF’s 50th Anniversary will be held on August 21 at the Wilburton Inn. Lin describes it as a “Golden Gala Anniversary,” a special occasion dedicated to honoring MMF’s legacy and artistic achievements while looking towards the future. Lin adds: “We work hard at MMF, and we’re excited for the party! There’s a lot to celebrate this year. We’re welcoming the whole community through our programming and events, and there’s going to be something for everyone to enjoy.”