CULTURE CLUB: Peninsula music festival through the years

by CHRISTOPH PTACK, President and CEO, Peninsula Music Festival

Now celebrating its 70th anniversary season, the Peninsula Music Festival (PMF) has been hailed as a ‘tradition of distinction’ through which audiences can enjoy world-class performances year-round in the form of three series, all nestled along the beautiful shore. of the Door Peninsula in Wisconsin.

Symphonic series: Presented in August, performances in this series feature world-renowned conductors, acclaimed guest artists and an 80-piece Festival Orchestra who represent major symphony and lyric orchestras from around the world, including those in Calgary. , Toronto, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Boston, Milwaukee, Omaha, St. Louis, Houston Grand Opera, Dallas Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Concerts are held every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Door Community Auditorium, 3926 Hwy 42 in Fish Creek. Designed and built specifically as a performance hall for the Festival Orchestra, the 750-seat concert hall offers rich acoustics and unobstructed sightlines.

Chamber Music Series: Members of the Festival Orchestra and special guest artists present solo and small ensemble repertoire throughout the season through this series.

Recital Series: Leading luminaries from the worlds of classical music, opera and Broadway are spotlighted throughout the season through star performances.

But to celebrate where we are, we must first understand how it all happened.

In 1951, founder and conductor Thor Johnson dreamed of organizing a festival built around a chamber orchestra and the rich repertoire that was written for small orchestras and is rarely heard. He shared his idea with Mr. and Mrs. Lorenz Heise, who were extremely interested in the idea due to their love for classical music. After a few years of budget planning and committee meetings, an organization was formed and the inaugural performance of the Peninsula Music Festival was heard on August 6, 1953.

Initially, a budget of $10,000 was proposed, but it had to be secured before the start of the festival. Although there were mixed feelings about the likelihood of raising this amount of money, a team of enthusiastic volunteers went door-to-door to help fund Johnson’s musical dream. Plans were made to begin the first performances of the festival in August 1953 with eight chamber orchestra concerts, including one especially for children.

The first performances of the festival, held in the Gibraltar school gymnasium, were a great success and paved the way for future development efforts. Thor Johnson, Lorenz Heise and Kay Wilson of Ephraim continued to run the festival during its formative years.

Until his death in 1975, Johnson proudly remained at the helm for 22 years, guiding the Peninsula Music Festival on its journey as it became an established Door County institution. The loss of its founder was particularly difficult, but new leaders continued what Johnson had started in 1951.

In 1978 Michael Charry was appointed Music Director, and after his resignation in 1982 Byron Hanson became PMF’s Music Coordinator, bringing in many guest conductors to help direct the Festival orchestra and fill the ditch until the next music director can be named.

It was not until 1985 that the festival board decided to appoint Victor Yampolsky as the new music director and conductor of PMF. Under Maestro’s 34 years of leadership (1985-2019), the orchestra has grown from a chamber ensemble to a full festival orchestra with a roster that will proudly feature 80 orchestral players during this year’s symphony series. year, which will run from August 2 to 20.

Since the summer of 1991, symphonic concerts have been held at the Door Community Auditorium (DCA). Praised as “a setting for an exceptionally intimate and acoustically exceptional concert hall”, DCA was built specifically for the Festival Orchestra and is ideal for symphonic music.

Although long-time festival patrons may have ‘nostalgic’ memories of unair-conditioned summer nights on folding chairs in Gibraltar’s gymnasium, patrons now greatly appreciate the comfortable seating, air conditioning and ideal acoustics that make PMF so proud to be in residence at DCA every summer.

In 1998, the Peninsula Music Festival added a few chamber music concerts that orchestra members gave during the winter. Now called February Fest, this boutique event series brings together members of the Festival Orchestra and adds special guest artists so patrons can enjoy specialty concerts in a more intimate setting at the Kress Pavilion in Egg Harbor.

Upon the announcement of Maestro Yampolsky’s retirement in the spring of 2019, a special committee was formed to conduct an international search to name the next music director of PMF and the conductor of the symphonic series. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic of March 2020 not only interrupted this process, but it was also responsible for the decimation of several seasons of performance.

Now, however, with a renewed sense of hope and excitement, everyone involved with the festival is looking forward to resuming the selection process when the Festival Orchestra returns for its residency at DCA in August.

To celebrate its extraordinarily high level of artistic excellence and the presentation of unparalleled musical experiences in near-perfect settings, the PMF administration, staff members and many volunteers continue to be dedicated to ensuring the great success of this ” tradition of distinction”.

Peninsula Arts and Humanities Alliance, which contributes to the Culture Club throughout the summer season, is a coalition of non-profit organizations whose purpose is to enhance, promote and defend the arts, humanities and natural sciences in Door County.