Music News & Reviews

By taking over chamber music fest, Shaker Village stretches itself

At last year's Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass, co-artistic director David Finckel, center, played with, from left, Ani Kavafian, Lily Francis, Jakob Koranyi and Yura Lee in the Meadow View Barn.
At last year's Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass, co-artistic director David Finckel, center, played with, from left, Ani Kavafian, Lily Francis, Jakob Koranyi and Yura Lee in the Meadow View Barn. ©Kirk Schlea

HARRODSBURG — Though there have been four editions of the Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass, Madge B. Adams' favorite memory of the event goes back to the hours before the first note was played.

The musicians from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York were taking their first looks at the renovated tobacco barn that would be their venue at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.

"I just happened to be up there, checking on things," said Adams, president and CEO of Shaker Village. "And they did their thing, and I was standing close to the barn, and David Finckel came over and threw his arms around me and said, 'It's perfect!'"

That was great praise from the internationally acclaimed cellist, particularly since perfection was far from a given. Organizers were simply hoping the musicians and audiences would like the idea of a weekend of world-class chamber music concerts in a barn.

Four years later, the Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass is Shaker Village's second-most popular event, just behind its annual antique show. During the past four Memorial Day weekends, audiences have filled the barn, which seats 400, and meetinghouse for four concerts by musicians from one of the country's most prestigious cultural institutions.

The guests also have filled Shaker Villages's inns and restaurant, and those in Harrodsburg and Mercer County.

"Any time Shaker Village has a big event, it has a positive impact on our business," said Helen Dedman, who owns Beaumont Inn with her husband, Chuck. "We are very blessed to be so near Shaker Village," she said of the inn, which is 9 miles away.

With all that positive impact, when the original co-presenter, Centre College's Norton Center for the Arts, pulled out in December, Adams was determined not to end the festival. Shaker Village took over in January.

"It wasn't a hard decision," she said. "In year one, this is not something that we could have done. This is not the business we're in, putting together performances and venues. So year one, the thought wouldn't have occurred to us.

"But once we were in the site, and it was such a good mix of things, and we had the good foundation that Centre had started, we felt that we could continue."

Norton Center's director, Steven A. Hoffman, who took the post in July, said the Danville venue pulled out of the event to focus on its own programming and fund-raising.

Next weekend's presentation of the Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass will be the first produced solely by Shaker Village.

It's an adventure, but not one in uncharted territory.

"The wheel has already been created," said Shaker Village publicist Aimee Reed Darnell. "So it's not like we're starting from scratch. We're just transitioning into something that is a little out of our comfort zone."

Adams added, "We were paying close attention in past years, even though we weren't responsible for ordering the lights and ordering the stage."

Previously, Shaker Village was essentially the presenting venue and Norton Center handled most of the logistics, including selling tickets and raising money.

Adams said Shaker Village is working with most of the vendors the festival used previously, particularly because of their familiarity with the barn and its peculiarities. And selling tickets actually has proved advantageous for Shaker Village.

"We are able to go ahead and make people's meal reservations and room reservations all at the same time," Adams said.

One aspect Shaker Village leaders were glad to keep in other hands is the festival's artistic direction, which is handled by Lincoln Center's Finckel and his wife, pianist Wu Han.

Since the first year, the couple have spoken rapturously of the festival and its location.

"The combination of the setting, the audience, the repertoire and the musicians, it really has the potential to become a world-famous festival," Finckel told the Herald-Leader last year. "It doesn't have to be huge, it doesn't have to be long, it doesn't have to be fancy. But if it's something that takes root, it could become internationally known."

The couple won't be here this year — though Wu Han is coming in for Friday night's patrons party. They encountered scheduling conflicts when they had to commit to other dates because of uncertainty about the continuation of the festival. This year will mark the return of the Orion String Quartet, which played the second year of the festival. Adams says Wu Han and Finckel have committed to coming next year.

One of Shaker Village's long-term goals is to lock in Finckel, Wu Han and the event for many years.

"I would like to explore expansion — and that might not be possible — in the length of the festival and the number of artists," Adams said. "That's an exciting concept to try to explore."

But first, Shaker Village wants to present this year's festival without missing a beat.