Chamber Music Columbus one of the oldest arts groups in the city at 75

In the early 1970s, Columbus flautist Katherine Borst Jones first attended a concert presented by Chamber Music Columbus.

Jones, then a graduate student at Ohio State University and later a member of the Columbus Symphony and ProMusica Chamber Orchestrawent to hear a string quartet perform a work by Claude Debussy.

“Here I am, a flautist, listening to a string quartet,” said Jones, 74, now chairman of the board of Chamber Music Columbus.

“It opened my eyes to the beauty of chamber music that wasn’t with flute,” said Jones, also a professor at Ohio State University.

By the time Jones attended one of his presentations, Chamber Music Columbus – then known as Prestige Concerts – was already more than two decades old: the organization had brought in national chamber music ensembles and international since 1948.

This season, the group will celebrate an even bigger milestone: this season will be Chamber Music Columbus’ 75th, making it one of the city’s most enduring arts organizations.

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“It speaks volumes about the spiritual quality of chamber music – that it is so essential to life that people are willing to give their time, money and effort to keep it alive,” said Jones, reflecting on the longevity of chamber music. voluntary enterprise.

The new season will debut Thursday at the Southern Theater with the American brass quintet, one of countless high-profile bands the organization has invited to Columbus. Other notable sets to perform over the decades include the Chamber ensemble of the Academy of Saint-Martin in the fields, Imani winds and Tafelmusik.

Definition of chamber music

Distinct from music intended for orchestras, chamber music includes between two and 12 musicians who perform without a conductor, Jones said.

“It’s kind of like a good tennis match,” Jones said. “You have to play with people who have the same basic level for it to be really fun.”

The close collaboration is a big part of the appeal of the genre, she added.

“Everyone has an equal voice no matter what role they play,” she said.

Called the “Yo-Yo Ma of the Harp,” Bridget Kibbey will perform Nov. 5 as part of the 75th season of Chamber Music Columbus.

Humble beginnings

Prestige Concerts, as the organization was called for many years, grew out of the head of 17-year-old West High School graduate and all-around gofer for the now defunct Columbus Philharmonic Orchestra, James N. Cain.

The young music lover and future Ohio State student managed to invite the Walden String Quartet for a series of performances in late 1948 and early 1949 at what was then the Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts (now now the Columbus Museum of Art). Cain died in 2011.

“I’ve met (Cain) many times,” said Sally Griffiths, a board member for many years. “He was just this very down-to-earth, super nice guy who loved music.”

In the 1940s and 1950s, Cain continued to exploit the contacts he had developed to book talent, including the Berkshire String Quartet, the Hungarian Quartet, and the son pianist of composer Igor Stravinsky, Soulima.

“I feel like there was a great hunger for these kinds of presentations at the time,” said longtime board member Jay Weitz, who co-wrote the story of the organization.

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In 1962 Cain left the organization, which at first was funded in a rather unconventional way.

“They had administrators who pooled their money to fund each season as they went along,” Weitz said. “At the end of each season, they pooled the money and made sure they didn’t have a deficit.”

Grow the group

Over time, fundraisers, donations and grants have made up the majority of Chamber Music Columbus’ revenue, which in 2021-22 totaled $163,000, according to Marketing Committee Chairman Mark Krausz. In the aftermath of the pandemic, ticket sales account for about a third of revenue, he said.

About $80,000 of the organization’s budget is allocated to paying artists invited to perform more than six concerts, Jones said. Each year, a large chunk of the money can go to a single expensive band, she said, with the rest being split among less expensive up-and-coming bands.

“Audiences want to hear pieces they’ve heard of before, but they also want to hear new things,” said Jones, who for the 75th anniversary season has more new music planned than usual: Every concert will feature a newly commissioned piece, beginning with the American Brass Quintet performing a new work by Newark composer Ching-chu Hu.

The organization, which had performed at various venues since leaving the museum, found permanent residence at the Southern Theater in 1999 – a major draw for touring talent, Jones said.

“(The bands) want to come back and play there because I think it’s probably one of the best chamber music venues in the area,” she said.

Intimate touches, such as post-concert parties hosted and attended by fans, are also appealing.

“It’s a potluck; we bring the food,” Jones said.

The Calidore String Quartet will perform on April 1, 2023, during the second half of Chamber Music Columbus' 75th season.

Go to the future

Operated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Chamber Music Columbus has faced headwinds due to the pandemic and an aging audience.

“I (supervised) subscriptions for decades, and the majority of people who bought subscriptions were older,” Griffiths said. “Unfortunately, at this point we are seeing a lot of these people pass away.”

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Griffiths praises Jones’ efforts to make concerts accessible to music students across Ohio State and Chamber music connectiona separate music education organization.

“One of the things we discussed at length . . . was making sure the upper balcony tickets were really cheap,” Griffiths said. “The older generation still dominates, but I see other generations there too. -inside.”

Jones said there are plans to reduce the number of concerts from six to four, with an additional concert co-presented with the VIVO Music Festival — an annual chamber music event hosted by young artists and aimed at young audiences.

Asked about her hopes for the future of Chamber Music Columbus, Jones was candid.

“Another 75 years, I hope,” she said.

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