Memories, Among Friends
Rockport — In these wired days, it is not that unusual for teens to start up their own businesses and nonprofits. In 1960, however, it was a rare phenomenon. A special concert Saturday night, June 23 at the Rockport Opera House will spotlight one such rarity, a start-up that has led to a Midcoast legacy.
During the Music Among Friends concert program that begins at 8 p.m., Thomas Wolf will perform for the last time with Bay Chamber Concerts, the organization he began with his brother as a summer music series that has grown to a four-season presenting organization with, as of 2010, a Community Music School.
"It's my first summer off in decades," he said a week before the concert.
That's not quite true. Wolf, a respected flutist, author and principal with the Boston-based consulting firm WolfBrown, will be performing around the country this summer, as well as doing the professional consultancy work he has done on a three-season basis for years. But he is leaving Bay Chamber Concerts in the hands-on sense, and concertgoers will not be seeing much of him during the Summer Music Festival that starts in July.
"It's important for a longtime founder/director to leave space for his or her successor," Wolf said.
He knows where of he speaks; Wolf's book "Managing a Nonprofit Organization in the 21st Century" recently came out in a fifth edition. Being a major player in the cultural capital of the Midcoast was not in their sights when the Wolf brothers — flutist Tom, 15, and pianist Andrew, 17, founded Bay Chamber Concerts all those years ago. They just wanted to keep the family-fed tradition of classical chamber music alive after the Curtis Institute of Music, the Philadelphia conservatory founded by philanthropist Mary Louise Curtis Bok, ended its summer colony in Rockport. Many involved remained summer residents of the Midcoast, including the brothers' grandmother, violinist Lea Luboshutz, and uncle, opera impresario Boris Goldovsky.
Many of those summering musicians supported the brothers in their endeavor, and Bok was Bay Chamber Concerts' patron and honorary president. After the third season, though, Wolf thought perhaps Bay Chamber Concerts had run its course. He was 18 and ready for new challenges.
"I'd pretty much had had it and wanted to do other things like spend time with my teacher and mentor Marcel Moyse at the Marlborough Festival. Andy said, 'No, I'll do it' and ran it for awhile," he said.
Wolf ended up returning — "It became a family thing," he said. But there was another time the future of Bay Chamber Concerts was on the line. In 1984, Andrew, a talented and in-demand concert pianist, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and given six to 18 months to live. Running the organization became a job for Wolf then and after his brother's death he took steps to build what had started as a summer lark into a cultural legacy.
"I told the board, there are no more musical brothers — we need to transform the organization into something that will outlive the family," he said.
Bay Chamber Concerts turned 50 in 2010, the same year the Wolf brothers' mother, Irene Goldovsky Wolf, died at age 93. Her death marked a transition for Wolf, not just personally but as artistic director of Bay Chamber Concerts.
"When my mother died, she was the last of the older generation. It would have been very difficult not to be a part of Bay Chamber Concerts as long as the older generation was around, but now it's a job and I think after 51 years, it's time," Wolf said.
The first 25 years of Bay Chamber Concert established a seasonal tradition of bringing world-class music to the Midcoast. The next 25 years were spent building an institution and an endowment and a strong staff, which led to starting the music school. As a consultant, Wolf knows that an arts organization — any organization — needs change and revitalization, and he is enthusiastic about Manuel Bagorro taking over as artistic director on July 1.
"He's an internationally known musician with a great personality and a different take than mine, which I think people will really enjoy getting to know … I leave with absolutely no regrets and lots of excitement about the future of the organization," said Wolf.
For his farewell concert, Wolf has gathered musicians and memories and music he has gotten to know over his long career with Bay Chamber Concerts.
"There's a story about every piece and every musician," he said.
The latter will be Curtis Institute of Music director and violist Roberto Diaz; former Boston Symphony concertmaster Joseph Silverstein; Muir Quartet cellist Michael Reynolds; and Vermeer Quartet members Shmuel Ashkenasi, violin, and cellist Marc Johnson, along with pianist Gloria Chien. Stories of the early days will be shared via "Musical Gifts," a short film directed by D’Arcy Marsh that will open the evening. The film explores the 50-year history of Bay Chamber Concerts. Five years in the making, it also gave Wolf an insider's view of filmmaking.
"It ends with the exciting conclusion of a performance that had the audience cheering and bravo-ing. But when he originally filmed it, the room was so dark you couldn't see the audience," Wolf said.
The following year, at a sold-out concert, Wolf asked the audience if they wanted to be in a movie. At his signal, they gave a standing ovation, a clip of which is woven seamlessly into the previous performance footage.
The Music Among Friends audience may find themselves wiping their eyes while applauding the evening's final work, Shumann’s Piano Quintet in E-flat major, Op. 44.
"When Andrew was alive, this was our traditional season-ending piece, so what an appropriate way to end my final concert," Wolf said.
Tickets are $50 and include a champagne and dessert reception following the concert at the nearby Rockport Opera House. For more information or to purchase tickets, contact Bay Chamber Concerts at 236-2823, toll-free at (888) 707-2770; or visit baychamberconcerts.org.
Courier Publications' A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or firstname.lastname@example.org.