In 1989, Judith Rankin and Leslie Gensburg founded the Northeast Kingdom Classical Series when they became aware that many people in the community had a real interest in classical music. At that time, concerts of this sort were rare to nonexistent in northern Vermont. The new Series quickly filled that void, with audiences steadily growing over the years.
The very first concert was a solo recital by pianist Michael Arnowitt of Montpelier. Other early performers included the baroque musicians of the Benefit Street Chamber Players, the Craftsbury Chamber Players, and a very young pianist, Ignat Solzhenitsyn, now an internationally recognized conductor.
Early on, Leslie and Judy ran the Series under the umbrella of Catamount Arts, but the Classical Series became an independent nonprofit in 2000. It continues to be an all-volunteer-run organization. Judy recently retired from the Board after 32 years. We are exceedingly grateful for her invaluable enthusiasm, dedication, and work on behalf of the Series from day one.
At first the concerts were held at various venues; however, the South Congregational Church in St. Johnsbury, with its outstanding acoustics and just-right size for chamber music, became our permanent home. The building is now part of the St. Johnsbury Academy campus.
Judy Rankin (left) and
It is our pleasure to continue to present these concerts that give so much enjoyment and that lift our spirits through the winter season.
Northeast Kingdom Classical Series
The Northeast Kingdom Classical series is an independent nonprofit organization that presents four chamber music concerts each season in a space acoustically perfect for chamber music. We feature world-class string quartets, piano trios, wind ensembles, duos, solo artists, and more.
The Series engages musicians who are at different stages of their careers—those just starting out as well as seasoned masters. Our concerts reflect the wide range of music styles and eras, from Baroque, Classical, and Romantic to Modern and Contemporary, and feature chamber music's most-loved pieces as well as lesser-known works that deserve to be heard. During the performances, held at South Church Hall in St. Johnsbury, the connection between the musicians and the audience is remarkable, as the space fosters the intimacy that is best for chamber music.
"I just loved it in St. Johnsbury. People have a certain attention that doesn't exist in New York."
— Romie de Guise-Langlois, Clarinetist
The Series is run by dedicated volunteers who believe that fine music should be accessible to everyone—and to the delight of music lovers from the region and beyond, we present national and international artists at the highest level of performance while keeping ticket prices affordable.
South Church Hall
Board members, from left: Amy Wheeler, Leslie Gensburg, David Askren, Andrea Otto, Leslie Fredette, Linda Bishop
As the Series began to present more nationally and internationally acclaimed artists, it became obvious that a very fine piano was needed. It was agreed that a Steinway Model B, somewhat smaller than a concert grand piano, would be just the right size for the concert venue—the sanctuary of the South Congregational Church in St. Johnsbury (now South Church Hall).
The Board began to look into purchasing a piano in 2005, The price, even for a used instrument, seemed prohibitive at nearly $45,000. But in 2006, two things happened to make the dream start to look possible: A pair of long-time Series supporters, Cheong-hwan and Doreen Kim of Danville, Vermont, donated a piece of property to the Series. When the Series sold this land in January 2007, the Piano Fund was born. Following that land sale, the Arpad Elo Jr. Classical Music Trust made a sizeable donation to the Piano Fund. Now, with the target goal in sight, the Board felt it was time to contact Vermont's Steinway dealer, Frederick Johnson Pianos in White River Junction, to inquire about a used Steinway B.
To their dismay, the Board learned that these almost never come on the market. To complicate the situation, an upcoming concert was to feature the great pianist Jean-Claude Pennetier of the Paris Piano Trio. Monsieur Pennetier had performed on the Series before and had begged to play a good instrument for his next appearance. To fulfill this promise to him, the Board was looking at a very expensive piano rental—a real budget breaker!
Amazingly, about three weeks before the concert, Frederick Johnson Pianos offered the Series a brand-new Steinway B for a very good price. The Board was ecstatic, as was M. Pennetier, for the piano was delivered in time for the Paris Piano Trio concert!
Throughout 2007, the Board carried out a fundraising effort in order to complete the purchase of the piano. Pianist Bernard Rose kicked off the campaign by giving a benefit concert, and many local businesses and individuals made donations of all sizes. When fundraising successfully concluded in January 2008, the Series became the proud owner of their Steinway B.
From left are board members Leslie Gensburg, Judy Rankin, and Lucy Haworth with the new piano.
Since its acquisition, individuals and groups (like First Night North) have been given permission to play the piano. Additionally, the St. Johnsbury Academy uses the piano for school functions in exchange for housing it in South Church Hall. And ever since its arrival in 2007, audiences have enjoyed and remarked on its rich and impressive sound.