Driving on Route 23 through the Catskill Mountains, a tourist can pass through Windham, NY in the blink of an eye. One can visit the charming Greene County village, about three hours north of Manhattan, to ski its 3,100-foot summitfrom the look of the place, the village's principal activity. But anyone who makes it there without stopping by the restored 1826 Presbyterian church that houses the Windham Chamber Music Festival is really missing something.
Founded in 1997 by Robert Manno
and his wife Magdalena Golczewski
, the festival has offered several dates a year featuring classical and jazz selections that suit the intimate setting. With a Yamaha CFIIIS concert grand piano in the church and a P22 acoustic upright for rehearsals and receptions in the Windham Fine Arts Gallery across the street, the organization is expanding what was originally a summer schedule to provide entertainment to the area's winter visitors. "Acquisition of our very own CFIIIS has opened up a lot of possibilities," Manno says. "It's made it possible for us to perform at any time now."
The couple are no strangers to fine music; Manno was a member of the Metropolitan Opera Chorus from 1977 to 2001, currently serves the Met as a part-time assistant conductor, and released a CD of his own chamber compositions in 2000; while Golczewski was a violinist in the Met orchestra for 28 years. They began spending summers in Windham 20 years ago.
"They have single-handedly put together a top-caliber music festival for this town, and the response has been phenomenal," says Jim Wooten
, director of Yamaha Artist Services and a former Met colleague of the musical duo. "Bob and Magdalena have fabulous personalities, and the way they pull resources together is just outstanding." For example, each show is accompanied by an exhibition of works by a local artist, displayed in the foyer and performance hall. In addition to the local popularity the concerts enjoy, they are recorded for later CD release and broadcast on National Public Radio.
The festival, whose Web site can be found at www.windhammusic.com
, enjoyed its most expansive and esoteric season to date in 2002. Beginning with an evening of Bach, Grieg and Tchaikovsky on the July 6 Opening Night, the offerings included a visit by Met stars Emily Pulley
, Jane Bunnell
and Steven Eldrege
; a Violin and Piano Extravaganza of Mozart, Saint-Saëns and Chausson with Arturo Delmoni
and Yuri Funahashi
; An Evening of Great Lieder with soprano Judith Kellock
and pianist Arlene Shrut
; a visit from the Aspen Ensemble
for a program of Bach, Martinu, Dohnanyi, Debussy and Faure; and Ensemble Selah in Concert
, for which Golczewski sat in with pianist Nancy Hull
and cellist Nathaniel Parke
on Beethoven's Archduke Trio.
In expanding offerings into the winter monthsthe 250-seat church recently acquired full-time heat and air conditioningthe festival welcomed jazz piano sensation Bill Charlap
on December 28 with bassist Ray Drummond
, and another jazz program is on tap for mid-January.
The former church in which the festival puts on its performances is developing a reputation as an acoustical gem. "It's ideal for chamber music," Manno says. The Yamaha grand is getting similar praise. "Everybody who played it this year just raved about it."