[ In the Press ]

Norfolk Chamber Music Festival Celebrates 75th Year, Says Goodbye to Longtime Director

August 23, 2016

YaleNews | Karin Shedd (August 9, 2016)

This summer, the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival in Norfolk, CT, celebrates its 75th anniversary and bids farewell to longtime director Paul Hawkshaw.

The festival’s roots lie with Ellen Battell Stoeckel and her husband, Carl Stoeckel — son of Yale’s first music professor, Gustav Stoeckel. They dedicated their lives to supporting musical excellence in Norfolk, establishing a local music society in 1899 that eventually became the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival.

The festival in its modern form began after the death of Ellen Battell Stoeckel in 1939. In her will, she left the sprawling, bucolic estate in northwestern Connecticut to Yale for the purpose of extending its music, art, and literature classes into the summer. The first official festival, which brought musicians of all ages to practice and perform for the town, was in 1941.

“The early festivals were much closer to what you’d expect from a liberal arts college experience,” said director Hawkshaw. “Along with practicing music, students took courses in literature, fine arts, etc.”

Today, the festival differs from its origins by offering world-renowned tutelage to graduate students who aspire to be professional musicians. The students are selected from a highly competitive pool of applicants from around the world. Those who attend spend their days learning from tutors who have spent their own lives as both musical performers and professors. They also form small ensembles of four to eight people — in the traditional style of chamber music — and perform in the Young Artists Performance Series, which are concerts that are free and open to the public every Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 10:30 a.m. during the summer.

Each festival has its own musical focus or theme. For its 75th summer, the festival is focusing on its history: the many musicians who have performed and studied there, as well as the ongoing renovation of its historic performance hall, the Music Shed.

Much has changed over the last 75 years, but one aspect that hasn’t is the festival’s close connection with the town of Norfolk.

“It’s a symbiotic relationship which is very important to us,” Hawkshaw said of the town. The students live with families in Norfolk, and those same families often attend the concerts to cheer them on.

General manager Jim Nelson credits director Hawkshaw for this close town-gown relationship. “[Director Hawkshaw] has done an extraordinary job of making a wonderful town-gown relationship with Norfolk and opening up the festival grounds to the town,” Nelson said. “In a time when classical music organizations are seeing their audiences dwindle, we have held steady or improved our audience numbers, which is an extraordinary feat in our business.”

This is the 13th and final year for director Hawkshaw. A professor in the practice of musicology at the Yale School of Music since 1984, Hawkshaw has spent his summers at the Norfolk estate as the director of the Chamber Music Festival since 2004. He will be replaced by pianist and professor Melvin Chen.