Entertainment » Vol.12

150th Worcester Music Festival

By Bernie Whitmore

One of the region’s finest cultural traditions, The Worcester Music Festival, is marking its 150th anniversary.  This is an amazing event, especially when you consider that its inaugural, 1858, was the year of the Lincoln-Douglas debates and America was bracing for civil war.  The music world was also profoundly different; it had yet to hear the operas of Wagner and Verdi, and just imagine ~ programs were without the works of Tchaikovsky!

Taciturn Yankees filing into their newly built Mechanics Hall in those first years of the festival may have cried, “…The Devil’s work!” if exposed to recording media such as the gramophone or MP3 format.  But what we have in common with them is something very profound:  a love of classical music performed by the world’s premier artists.

On the eve of this year’s event, Stasia Hovenesian, Music Worcester’s Executive Director, took some time to discuss this milestone.

This is, I believe, your 37th year as Executive Director.  What do you find rewarding? What keeps you going?

Opening Night Orchestra (Orquestra de Sao Paulo) with Percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie

My remarkable journey began in 1973 and to this day there has never been a boring moment, or lack of excitement or sheer fulfillment.  However, as with so many others in the non-profit sector, we are under staffed and often overwhelmed with the expectations, but when the night of the concert arrives, the beautiful music that is being created on stage has a way of reaching our heart and soul and brings us pure contentment.

150 years… that would be impressive anywhere, worldwide.  Have other cities taken notice of this event?  Have you been asked for assistance/to consult?

The greats of the music world dating back to 1858 have performed here and many times I am called for information relating to their appearance at Festival.  One of the latest was the Director of Archives of the Metropolitan Opera who had heard that Kirsten Flagstadt, one of the Met’s great stars, had made her first American appearance at the 1935 Music Festival and asked me if I could send him any information.

I checked our archives and sent him the program, photos, press review, and other commentaries on her magnificent performance here.  He was thrilled!

Which of this year’s events do you find particularly exciting?  How is the 150th drawing the attention of the community?

Our sesquicentennial celebration includes spectacular performances by internationally acclaimed artists, orchestras and dancers from around the world, all of whom will provide us with the elements of an exciting celebratory season.

Because of the extraordinary response to our Swan Lake performance last season at The Hanover Theatre, we are bringing two fully staged ballets this year as well as two performances of a masterpiece of American Opera, Gershwin’s “Porgy & Bess,” a fully staged production with orchestra, traditionally interpreted.

We will have the traditional opening night pre-concert dinner in Washburn Hall which this year will have a Brazilian theme in honor of the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra who will open our 150th Worcester Music Festival.

Following the dinner, we will move up to Mechanics Hall for a pre-concert talk by Steven Ledbetter, scholar, writer, and lecturer who served as Musicologist and Program Annotator for the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1979 to 1998. The Orchestra will then take its place on stage; the Maestro will appear and begin by playing our National Anthem followed by the Brazilian anthem, followed by a big surprise which I can not divulge!

At this point it was late in a long day for Stasia and I’d taken enough of her valuable time.  But she left me with a book, The Worcester Music Festival – Its Background and History, for further research and, I daresay, entertainment.  In it I found a passage that really gets to the heart of Worcester’s love affair with music:

“In 1912 audiences there were those who dwelt on past glories and compared them to the present; the old ones always seemed brighter as the years went by.  More than one listener whispered to his or her neighbor saying: ‘I don’t blame you in the least for your adoration of the stars of today, but you have lost so much in not having been born earlier!’”

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