1958 – Present
In 1958 six professional musicians living in Cleveland’s western suburbs formed the Rocky River Chamber Music Society (RRCMS) for the purpose of making a difference in the community through the presentation of high quality chamber music concerts. From the beginning, these concerts featuring local, national, and international artists have been presented with no admission charge in order to involve as much of the community as possible and to avoid the complications of selling tickets and staging benefits. The founders also emphasized the importance of commissioning new works, cooperating with other cultural organizations, and urging artists to choose their own repertoire in order to insure a wide diversity of styles. During its early years RRCMS’s concert venues have included the Koch School of Music, Lakewood Presbyterian Church, Rocky River Public Library, and Rocky River Memorial Hall. Its final home, since October 1964, has been the acoustically excellent sanctuary of West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church in Rocky River. Since the beginning, an all-volunteer board of trustees has managed this unique concert series.
This history was first written in 2008 upon the 50th anniversary of the Rocky River Chamber Music Society. In 1958, the RRCMS was founded by six professional musicians living in the Western suburbs of Cleveland:
— Dr. Frederick Koch,* pianist, composer, founder of the Koch School of Music (the Studio) and the West Shore Concert Series.
— Mary Louise Emery, pianist, who taught at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and later at the Studio and the Music School Settlement.
— Walter Mayhall, flute, performer in many chamber music groups and teacher at the Koch School and the Music School Settlement.
— Jean Geis Stell, concert pianist.
— Harlan Thomas, * educator, supervisor of music at Rocky River High School and presently involved in teaching adult programs at both Tri-C East and West campuses.
— Boies Whitcomb,* organist, pianist, music director at the Lakewood Presbyterian Church and teacher at the Studio and the Music School Settlement.
Our goal was to make a difference in the community through high artistic standards in stimulating performances by resident artists, composers and young people; by commissioning new works; and by planning programs with other cultural organizations.
In order to be free from the pressure that can result from selling tickets, soliciting money from foundations, and staging benefits, the decision was made to not charge for admission. It was equally important that artists choose their own repertoire assuring that a wide range of diverse styles could be explored in planning the programs without concern about box office revenue.
Our funding decision meant that the budget would have to be met by voluntary contributions from members of the community. Invitations to participate financially have long been sent in the Spring and the Fall. At times, we were borrowing from funds received for the following year in order to pay current expenses. Nevertheless, in order to create an equitable scale of payment and to act in a fiscally responsible manner, we adopted the slogan: “We don’t spend what we don’t have”. Thus in May, 1963, we could report that we collected $1,401.90 and had spent $1,392.24 for that season. One-third of the expenditures covered operating costs (piano rental, tuning, hall rental, printing, stamps and publicity). The remaining two-thirds paid artist’s fees. In these early years, we were fortunate to have the aid of the Cleveland Federation of Musicians through their Recording Industries Trust Funds, so that performance fees could be enhanced by a small supplement of $25.00 to $50.00. This subsidy was devised as a way to “seed” new projects and was limited to ten years. So, by our ’68-‘69 season, we became completely independent, relying thereafter solely upon our community for financial support.
Concerts were held first at the Studio. In l959, we moved to the Lakewood Presbyterian Church and then the Rocky River Public Library. From 1961 to 1963, we were at Rocky River Memorial Hall. At that time, Wallace Teare invited us to hear the remarkable acoustics at the newly built West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church which became our “home” in October, 1964. This can be attributed to the design of the architect, Mr. Teare, who is a member of the Church and is an avid music lover. The Church administration has certainly cooperated generously in every manner to make each of our subsequent concerts a success.
The First Ten Years (1958-1968)
Some of the outstanding programs during the 60’s included artists from the Cleveland Orchestra, the Cleveland Institute of Music, Oberlin, Baldwin Wallace, and performances by our founders and other resident artists in Cleveland: Daniel Majeske, James Barrett, Kurt Loebel, Elmer Setzer, Tom Brennand, Tom Liberti, Albert Michelson, Esther Pierce, Guilford Plumley, Arthur Reginald, George Poinar, Giorgio Ciompi,. B. Chernin, Frederick Cohen, Seth McCoy, George Vassos, Michael Grebanier, Arnold Steinhardt, Felix Kraus, M. Morris, Alice Chalifoux, Warren Downes, Leonard Samuels, Robert Zimmer, Edward Ormond, Lucile Soule, Harry Herforth, Frieda Schumacher and Jerome Gross among so many others. It was really a decade of excellence!
In 1961, Harlan Thomas organized a Madrigal Group that he directed for eleven successive seasons. Among those members were: Beverly Alphin, Barbara Bell, Peg Powell, Kent Bacon, William Hendricson, Robert Jayes, Marilyn Ashbaugh, Carol Schuele, Elaine Wolcott, Paul Powell, Clarke Whinery, Evan Wolcott, and Natalie Welty. A String Orchestra, directed by violinist James Barrett of the Cleveland Orchestra, performed several times in our series. Those members included: Donald Allen, Mrs. L. Corina, Mrs. W.C. Crews, Odin Hovde, Nancy Hazelton, Mrs. J.L. Horton, Robert Meier, Alex Philip, Robert Schenk, Marion Schenk, William Tibbetts, Mrs. William Tibbetts, Emma Wiley, Evan Wolcott and Robert Zavasnik.
Cleveland composers were well represented. We heard music of Cumberworth, Koch, Beglarian, Bain Murray, Bubalo. Marie Kraft, mezzo soprano, was featured in Herbert Elwell’s “Blue Symphony.” In 1965, we commissioned Frederick Koch to compose a work for String Quartet and Voice featuring mezzo Peggy Ann McMurray. The following year, Linda Mulhert Frumker was commissioned to write a “Quintet for Winds”.
We also scheduled the “Liebeslieder Waltzes” of Brahms and the “Coffee Cantata” of Bach directed by Pauline Thesmacher. We offered a concert for Two Pianos and Percussion from Oberlin (tympanis, xylophone and gongs) with Emil Dannenberg and Wilbur Price (pianos), and Jack Bell, Cloyd Duff, R. Weber and R. Kirestad. Internationally known saxophonists Sigurd Rascher and his daughter Karin appeared in 1966. Then in 1967, we booked the La Salle String Quartet.
A most memorable evening was a collaboration of the legendary composers Henry Cowell and Herbert Elwell. Mr. Elwell sat at the piano pressing down chords without sounding them while
using the pedal to sustain the vibrations from the strings inside the piano which Mr. Cowell plucked.
We also invited Chou Wen Chung, long-time student and executor of the Edgar Varèse archives, to talk about the trends of composition in the 60’s.
During the early years, our concerts were often covered in the Cleveland Plain Dealer by Ethel Boros. We owe her such a debt of gratitude for first recognizing the sincerity of our endeavors. The Lucy Ralls Fund sponsored the Oberlin String Quartet and pianist Jean Geis Stell in a concert in memory of David Robertson in 1962. The American Guild of Organists co-sponsored a Madrigal concert in 1964, while, late in our first decade, we booked a concert from Young Audiences, featuring Felix Kraus that was a delightful event
The Second Ten Years (1968-1978)
Beginning in 1973, RRCMS concerts were more frequently reviewed in the Plain Dealer. Reviews by Robert Finn, Leonard Tartaglia and Wilma Salisbury helped to make our mission known to people from other than our most immediate community.
In 1975, Raymond Weiss Artist Management began helping us find wonderful artists at affordable fees. Raymond Weiss and his assistant, Jeffrey Dimmerman, made it possible for us to offer two outstanding chamber music programs during this period. We found that it was possible to find artists who would accept an “en route” fee for those who wanted a Cleveland date.
Each yearly series included internationally known soloists and ensembles. Local groups included the Cleveland Brass, Cleveland Baroque Soloists, Cuyahoga Valley Arts, Cleveland Woodwind Quintet, Madrigal Singers, faculty and students from the Cleveland Institute of Music, Kent State University, Baldwin Wallace and Oberlin Conservatories.
Among the presentations were:
11/18/1968 Jean Stell**, piano
12/16/1968 Madrigal Singers: Harlan Thomas,** director
3/3/1969 The New Percussion Quartet
1/20/1969 Concord String Quartet with Mary Louise Emery**, piano
2/9/1970 Marianne Mastics**, piano
2/15/1971 American Music, Past and Present with Fred Koch**, piano
10/18/1971 Bowling Green String Quartet playing George Crumb’s “Black
Angels” for an electronically amplified Quartet
3/4/1974 Cleveland Baroque Soloists including Felix Kraus, oboe
1/12/1973 Janet Alcorn, soprano and Boies Whitcomb**, piano
10/21/1974 The Cambium Trio, violin, cello and piano
12/2/1974 Cleveland Brass Quintet
3/24/1975 David Cerone, violin and Boies Whitcomb,** piano
2/9/1976 Renaissance Consort, Baldwin Wallace
10/10/1977 Trio d’Anches Cologne, Germany: oboe, clarinet and bassoon
5/1 7/1978 The Zagreb Quartet, Croatia
**RRCMS Board member
The Third Ten Years (1978-1988)
Concerts continued to be held in the West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church where the Church administration remained extraordinarily helpful. In 1984, the church purchased a new piano which was used initially by the Ambache Piano Quartet of England. Artists have expressed appreciation for the opportunity to play in West Shore’s lovely sanctuary in comparison to other performance venues that are somewhat spartan.
With the continued help of Raymond Weiss Artist Management, every Concert Series presented an internationally known string quartet or musical ensemble. Weiss Management exclusively managed most of these groups. Memorable concerts included:
5/7/1979 Razoumovsky String Quartet – earlier engagement on 12/2/74 was cancelled due
to a snow storm.
11/3/1980 Franz Schubert Quintet, Vienna
10/19/1981 Lindsay String Quartet, London – featured Sir Michael Tippet’s Quartet
10/11/1982 Kodaly String Quartet, Budapest
4/9/1984 Amphion String Quartet, London
10/1/1984 Abegg Trio, Germany
4/1/1985 New Budapest String Quartet, Budapest
9/30/1985 Eder String Quartet
10/6/1986 Cavani Quartet, Cleveland
10/12/1987 Ambache Piano Quartet, England
5/2/1988 Penderecki String Quartet – founded in Poland; residence in Canada
A Plain Dealer Music Critic was present for each of the above concerts. Reviews by Robert Finn, Wilma Salisbury and Leonard Tartaglia were enthusiastic and helped spread the news of our concerts.
In 1980, Loris Chobanian was commissioned to compose a work for the RRCMS. Mr. Chobanian had been a Composer-in-Residence at Baldwin Wallace since 1970. Using a guitar as his instrument, he composed “Les Trois Amis” which premiered at the 5/11/1981 concert with the Laval Guitar Trio of Quebec, Canada.
During this decade, two RRCMS Board Members gave the following concerts:
12/3/1979 Piano Four Hands: Marianne Mastics and Jean Geis Stell
10/24/1983 Jean Geis Stell, piano
Co-sponsorships were an important part of the work of the Board. The Fortnightly Musical Club co-sponsored the l1/22/1982 concert by tenor Donald Doig. Grants from the Ohio Arts Council help to support concerts by Tower Brass Quintet (5/13/1985) and Cleveland Duo (2/11/1985). The Cleveland Composer’s guild of the Fortnightly Musical Club and the Poet’s League worked with us to showcase Cleveland musicians and poets in a collaborative program. Co-sponsorships additionally included the Sigma Alpha Iota Music Fraternity and the Bascom Little Fund.
The Fourth Ten Years (1989-1998)
During this decade, we had ten string quartet performances: Montclair String Quartet (10/1989), Bowling Green String Quartet (4/1990, their second RRCMS appearance), Travnicek String Quartet (11/1991), Myriad (quartet, et al. 10/1992), Wallinger String Quartet (3/1993), Bowling Green String Quartet (12/1994, third appearance), Kyncl String Quartet (10/1995), Anacapa String Quartet (11/1996), St. Petersburg String Quartet (11/1997), and the Martinu String Quartet (3/1999).
Various quintets graced our stage during this period: El Calido Viento Woodwind Quintet (4/1993), Carilion Brass Quintet (5/1996), Pennsylvania Woodwind Quintet (9/1996), and the Heritage Brass Quintet (5/1998).
We have had memorable trios of varying combinations play for our audiences too: Arcadia Trio (11/1990), Dolce Trio (4/1992), The Plymouth Trio with John Mack on oboe (2/1993), Samaris Piano Trio (10/1994), Wellerstein Trio (4/1997), Jacque Thibaud String Trio (3/1998), and the Czech Trio (10/1998).
RRCMS strives to bring a wide variety to its concert series. Examples of this openness include: The Percussion Group (4/1991), Renaissance and Celtic music (3/1994), Zhao Rongchun on the arhu (2/1995), Battu percussion, Laudisti acapella Medieval and Renaissance vocals (11/1998), and Howie Smith on the saxophone and synthesizer (5/1999). Several soloists performed during the 1990’s, including: Kevin Laurence, violin (3/1992), Alain Trudel, trombone (11/1992), our own Jean Geis Stell, piano (3/1996), Jocelyn Chang, harp, et al. (3/1997), Dimitri Teterin, piano (1/1998), and Hakan Rosengren, clarinet (2/1999).
We sponsored several concerts during this decade focused on specific themes. The Fischer Duo and Friends provided an all Shostakovich program dedicated to Wallace Teare on 11/1989 (Mr. Teare had died on 3/18/1989). As noted earlier, Mr. Teare was a supporter of the arts and the architect of RRCMS’s performance venue, the West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church. He designed the sanctuary to have beautiful acoustics for both instruments and voice. Richard Luby played an all Bach program on his baroque viola in 2/1990. Justin Wustman, piano, played “The Songs of Franz Schubert” in 10/1991. Of equal note, were performances by the Cleveland Chamber Symphony with Edwin London, director (9/1993) and the University Circle Chamber Choir with Susan Davenny Wyner, director (5/1994).
Skilled management sources helped bring talent from around the world to our local stage. Raymond Weiss Management had a long connection with RRCMS. In the decade under consideration, Weiss Management was responsible for nine concerts. Affordable Arts Management, Jane Music Management, and Lisa Sapinkopf Management were instrumental in bringing two concerts each. And, the Great Lakes Performing Artists Management brought us one concert.
This decade also witnessed the world premiere on February 12, 1996 of one of the six works commissioned by the Rocky River Chamber Music Society in its first fifty years. Composed by Frederick Koch and entitled Sonnet, it was orchestrated for flute, cello, harp duo, and baritone and based on a work by e e cummings.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer has been very generous in providing reviewers for our concerts. In this decade, Robert Finn critiqued nine performances. Wilma Salisbury covered seventeen concerts, beginning in 1992 and Donald Rosenberg reviewed ten, the first of which was March 8, 1993. The Plain Dealer also included an article about the death of Betty Sprague, a board member of RRCMS for 30 years (1961-1991). We would like to thank the Plain Dealer for their continuing support of our concert series. Their articles effectively spread the word about our high quality concerts which have no admission charge.
The Fifth Ten Years (1999-2008)
This decade is a milestone for seven of the present twelve members of the board of Rocky River Chamber Music Society. Vicki Lewis, Judy Pendergast, Martha Thomas and Emeritus member Richard Herr Kauffman joined the board for the 1998 season. Liane Bliss joined the following year. Thomas Geist was added in 2002, Michael Garrison in 2002 and 2008, May Ciemins in 2003, and John Rowland in 2005.
The Plain Dealer continues to provide superb coverage of our concert series. Since the 1999-2000 season, Wilma Salisbury provided seven reviews and Donald Rosenberg critiqued 25 performances. An article was published about Ulah Gilmore’s death. She was a member of the first String Orchestra (directed by James Barrett, violinist with the Cleveland Orchestra) to perform for RRCMS.
You may be interested to learn how extensively the board advertises our concerts to the public. Many of you are on our mailing list and receive our famous ‘refrigerator card’ each summer (first sent in 1997) listing performance dates and times. We regularly send notices to specific groups if we have a concert coming which we feel would be of interest to them and those who track concerts online will find us listed on Calendar Cleveland. You also may have heard some recent announcements about our concerts on WCLV. And the Sun Herald also reviews selected concerts to remind readers of our musical offerings.
Several quartets performed in this decade: Lipatti String Quartet (10/1999), Oxford String Quartet (3/2000), Ciompi String Quartet (10/2000), as a replacement for the Leipzig String Quartet, and (11/2005), Auryn String Quartet (3/2002), New Zealand String Quartet (11/2002), Alexander String Quartet (3/2004), Venner (5/2004), Vlach String Quartet with Jean Geis Stell (2/2005), The Biava Quartet (11/2006) and Chiara String Quartet (5/2008).
Noted trios have also graced our stage since 1999: The St. Petersburg Trio (4/2001), Hour Glass (10/2003), Janus (10/2004), Gaede String Trio (11/2004), The Seneca Trio (1/2006), Kaleidoscope (9/2006), and Diana Cohen with her Trio (9/2007).
Four quintets came to play for us during the last ten years. We began with the Solaris Woodwind Quintet (5/2000) and continued with The Paragon Brass Quintet (1/2003), Ma’a lot Quintet (2/2004), and Prairie Winds Quintet (4/2007).
RRCMS was especially proud to commission two works during this decade. Margaret Brouwer composed “Stopped” to commemorate the September 11 tragedy. It was debuted by the Cohen family (Franklin/clarinet, Lynette/bassoon, Diana/violin and Alex/percussion). Then last season, we commissioned Dr. Halim El-Dabh to compose “Pomegranate Concerto” for saxophone, quartet, and bass. It was first premiered on 11/19/2007 with the composer himself performing in the concert that night .
We had some weather excitement during the 2006-2007 season. Our 3/12/2007 concert was changed to 3/19/2007; then the appearance of the Aureole Trio was cancelled due to a snow storm. Caroline Goulding, a 14 year old violinist from Gilmore Academy, saved the day with a memorable performance. We also had to move to the Rocky River Senior Center for several concerts during our 2005-2006 season due to the extensive renovations in progress at the West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church.
As many of you know, RRCMS likes to ‘stretch the envelope’ at times and bring you concerts that will expand your experience. One such concert was a collaborative event between the Cleveland Composer’s Guild and the Poets and Writer’s League entitled “Heart’s Almanac—the Seasons of the Heart” which included a panel discussion (3/2003).
Solo performances are often a part of our wonderful concert series. During this decade we have heard: Orion Weiss/piano (2/2000), Jason Vieaux/guitar (2/2001), Michael Habermann/piano (1/2002), Halida Dinova/piano (11/2003), Spencer Myer/piano (1/2005), and Gerard Reuter/oboe (4/2006).
Four duos were featured during this decade as well: James Wilson/cello and Joanne Kong/piano (11/2099), Oleh Krysa/violin and Tatiana Tchekina/piano (10/2001), Hakan Rosengren/clarinet and Anne Epperson/piano (4/2005), and Martha Guth/soprano with Spencer Myer/piano (1/2007).
Our board continues to appreciate the assistance given over the years by various management agencies. Raymond Weiss provided us with three concerts between 10/1999 and 3/2008 and this last engagement marked the thirtieth concert that Weiss Management has booked for RRCMS! Erika Shupp Management helped arrange seven concerts during this decade while Jonathan Wentworth Management was instrumental in bringing two concerts to us. In addition, Lisa Sapinkopf Management, Besen Arts Management, Jane Management, and Marilyn Hartman Management each brought us one concert.
Lest we forget, we wholeheartedly thank you, our loyal and generous audiences, for your continued support. We truly appreciate you as faithful attendees and your regular financial support helps us bring this quality series to the West Side year after year while maintaining our
artistic independence. We hope you will be able to help us carry forward on this worthwhile work throughout our second half century.
Along with the support of regular contributors, we received special gifts and bequests from Ulah Gilmore, Dorothy Teare, Lucille Shaw, Ethelyn Connelly, Leonard C. Hanna, Jr., and the Cleveland Museum of Art.
The Sixth Ten Years (2009-2018)
During this decade RRCMS gratefully received significant gifts and bequests from Marianne Mastics, Richard Herr Kauffman, Natalie Welty, and Martha S. Collins. Thanks to these gifts we now have an endowment fund and have embarked on a conservative investment program shepherded by our new treasurer David Wilhoite and our previous treasurer John Dunning.
New board members appointed during this decade to date included Daniel McKelway (2009), Carol Jacobs (2010), Lauren Mueller (2013), David Wilhoite (2014), and Amanda Bekeny (2015). Regretfully we said goodbye to founding board member Jean Geis Stell, who still regularly attends concerts.
As part of its efforts to forge into the future and be more responsive to the times, the RRCMS completed a thorough revision of its bylaws in 2012 and in that document drafted a new official mission statement as follows: “The Rocky River Chamber Music Society provides the highest standard of outstanding chamber music to our community with no admission charge. The Society has an independent volunteer Board which allows 100 percent of contributions to support our concerts.”
The digital revolution and the pervasiveness of social media have resulted in hard times for print media and as a result RRCMS concerts have been receiving far fewer reviews and publicity opportunities. We are attempting to respond to the times and explore other avenues of publicity such as our website and online advertising. We make many online publicity submissions to media, which includes newspapers, radio & TV stations, and “born digital” sources such as CoolCleveland.com and ClassicalCleveland.com. Most of those receive the traditional mailings of flyers and letters that are also sent to senior centers, assisted living homes, libraries, schools, and other organizations that we think may have an interest in our concerts. There still seems to be a need for both digital and print publicity. Also, advertisements of our concert series appear in the Cleveland Chamber Music Society programs and in the programs and operas of the Oberlin Recital Series. In the winter of 2015 the board embarked on a complete revision of our website and hired a website designer and developer to help us accomplish this.
RRCMS has also instituted a new type of concert—a biennial children’s concert—in the effort to broaden our appeal and find new audiences. So far, we have presented two children’s concerts, in 2012 and 2014, both featuring the talents of Max Mueller, a young California composer, conductor and pianist who got his start at nearby Lakewood High School (his grandmother was now deceased board member Natalie Welty and his mother is current board member Lauren Mueller). Audiences for these two concerts were enthusiastic, but not huge. We hope to build and develop these concerts further.
Other concerts during our sixth decade have included the Penderecki String Quartet (4/2011), Moscow String Quartet (10/2011), Tapestry (11/2011), Utrecht String Quartet (1/2013), and the Capitol Saxophone Quartet (3/2013). To kick off our 55th season in October 2013, we presented members of Apollo’s Fire (still no admission to this concert), which resulted in a more than full house and numerous traffic problems. After that concert we paid more attention to safety issues. Succeeding concerts included Verve Chamber Players (2/2014), the Africa→West Percussion Trio (3/2014), and the Piano Four-Hand Duo of Thomas Labé & Hyunsoon Whang (10/2014). Several concerts have featured members of The Cleveland Orchestra such as Trio Nord (5/2013), principal horn Richard King and friends (12/2013), and a woodwind octet (5/2014) featuring a world premiere by composer and assistant principal oboe Jeffrey Rathbun. The latter work was commissioned by RRCMS in memory of longtime board member and pianist Marianne Mastics. 2015 began with an unusual concert in January featuring eight bassoons (two from The Cleveland Orchestra), two vocalists, and a harpsichordist in a concert intriguingly titled “Men Who Don’t Bite.”
As always, RRCMS strives to expand the horizons of its audience while at the same time adhering to its original mission of presenting professional, high-quality chamber music from local, national and international sources to northeast Ohio audiences.
MEMBERS OF THE RRCMS BOARD, 1958 – 2015
Mary L. Emery
Jean Geis Stell
Written by Jean Geis Stell & Judy Pendergast, 2008; revised by Carol Jacobs, January 2015