Like all of its neighbors, the city of Rocky River is known for top-rated schools, a popular public library, beautiful homes, and thriving businesses. Several things set it apart, however, including the Cowan Pottery Museum, and a prominent chamber music concert series. Since 1958, the Rocky River Chamber Music Society (RRCMS) has been presenting concerts featuring professional musicians from around the world. In recent years RRCMS has hosted the Moscow String Quartet from Russia, the Vienna Piano Trio from Austria, the Penderecki String Quartet from Poland, Cuarteto Quiroga from Spain, the Brazilian Guitar Quartet, and the Bennewitz Quartet from Prague. Of course the Society also presents many ensembles from Ohio and the United States as well.
In addition, RRCMS has benefitted from its close proximity to one of the world’s greatest orchestras. Over the years more than 40 musicians from The Cleveland Orchestra have performed in RRCMS concerts including Daniel Majeske, John Mack, Arnold Steinhardt, Felix Kraus, Alice Chalifoux, Lembi Veskimets, and Dan McKelway. The latter two are Rocky River residents and Dan also serves as RRCMS’s invaluable Music Director.
Musicians from all over the world have lauded the high quality of our concerts, our fabulous concert venue, and our wonderful audiences. The amazing thing is, RRCMS has never charged admission to its concerts. How is that possible? Here’s how: The Society relies heavily on donations, it has no paid staff, and it is able to take advantage of ensembles on tour from coast to coast that are able to play an extra concert somewhere in the approximate middle of the country. Rocky River happens to fit that bill. Since there is no paid staff, an all-volunteer, hard-working board of trustees manages the business of presenting this unique concert series.
It all began nearly 60 years ago when six professional musicians living in Cleveland’s western suburbs formed the Rocky River Chamber Music Society for the purpose of making a difference in the community through the presentation of high quality chamber music concerts. These six professional musicians included Jean Geis Stell (Rocky River resident and concert pianist), Dr. Frederick Koch (prominent composer, founder of Koch School of Music, and graduate of Rocky River High School), Harlan Thomas (educator and supervisor of music at Rocky River High School), Mary Louise Emery (pianist and teacher at Cleveland Music School Settlement), Walter Mayhall (flutist and teacher), and Boies Whitcomb (organist and pianist at Lakewood Presbyterian Church). As of 2020, the only surviving founder is Jean Geis Stell.
These musical pioneers emphasized the importance of commissioning new works, cooperating with other cultural organizations, and urging artists to choose their own repertoire in order to ensure a wide diversity of styles–all of which are still among our goals today. During its early years RRCMS presented its concerts in several different venues in Lakewood and Rocky River. Its final home, since October 1964, has been the acoustically excellent sanctuary of West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church on Hilliard Road in Rocky River. The renovation of the church’s sanctuary, completed in November 2017, has only improved the acoustics to the delight of audiences and musicians alike.
During its 60th season and beyond, RRCMS continues and expands what reviewers have called its “adventurous programming.” As stated in the Plain Dealer in the fall of 2016, “West Siders have easy access to some of the best chamber music in the region…” Actually we know that people come from all over Northeast Ohio to share in the joys of high quality classical chamber music. For more information and photos please see the Society’s website, www.rrcms.org.
Carol Jacobs (RRCMS board member) REVISED 4/2017, 8/2018, 2/19/2020