Shaker Village provides chamber music in an old-fashioned setting

Violinist Daniel Phillips and cellist Timothy Eddy of the Orion String Quartet played during the chamber music festival.
Violinist Daniel Phillips and cellist Timothy Eddy of the Orion String Quartet played during the chamber music festival. Mark Ashley

HARRODSBURG —The Meeting House at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, with its plain plaster walls and open windows with sun streaming in, might seem a strange concert hall.

When the musicians paused between pieces by Brahms and Haydn on Saturday morning, the sound of birds chirping outside could be heard. It was the first of four world-class chamber music concerts that are part of the Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass.

Musicians from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Orion String Quartet are performing for the annual festival's fifth year.

Sandor Klein of Louisville has been to the concert for the past three years and was one of 200 people in the audience for the sold-out concert. "You can go to Paris or China or Berlin or New York City," he said, but "it is absolutely the highest quality music you can get."

Klein said the acoustics in the Meeting House were "absolutely perfect" — an important detail that keeps musicians coming back.

The Shakers wrote 20,000 hymns and used the Meeting House to perform music and to worship, said Susan Lyons Hughes, museum and special programs manager at Shaker Village.

"It's so different from what these performers are used to," said Aimee Reed Darnell, a spokeswoman for Shaker Village. "They're used to controlled concert halls."

The Meeting House has no air conditioning, and the doors were left open during the performance. Natural light provided the only spotlights for the musicians, who were seated just a few feet away from the first row of the audience.

But the lack of climate control did not have much impact on their instruments, said Todd Phillips, a violinist in the Orion String Quartet. Phillips and Steven Tenenbom, a viola player with the quartet, said the small venue allows them to connect with the audience in a way they can't in larger halls.

"It sort of has this feeling that everything comes together," Phillips said.

Tenenbom said getting to know returning audience members is one way the festival is different from other concerts he has played and "makes us sort of ambassadors for the composers and their great music."

"This festival has a big following; it has a lot of supporters," Darnell said, "and we see these dedicated people return year after year."

She said the co-artistic directors of the festival, David Finckel and Wu Han, "fell in love with the intimacy" of the Meeting House, as well as the Meadow View Barn where the evening concerts are played.

The barn seats 400. Many concert-goers make a weekend out of the experience, Darnell said, sticking around after the performances to eat or spend the night at Shaker Village.

That's what Klein and his family planned to do.

"It is a magic place," he said, "and a magic concert."