Geneva Music Festival Celebrates First Decade

2020 Season Features New and Returning Musicians Representing Variety of Genres

Poster from GMF’s first year

This year, the Geneva Music Festival (GMF) celebrates its tenth season of bringing world-class music to Finger Lakes communities. Founded in 2011 by violinist and Geneva native Geoffrey Herd in an effort to give back to his hometown, the Festival has since presented more than 100 concerts to audiences in Geneva, Auburn, Canandaigua and Skaneateles. This year’s season takes place from May 22 through June 14. The theme is, fittingly, “Geneva Music Festival: The First Decade,” and will showcase the diverse musical influences GMF has presented over the years, including Jazz, Latin, African American, and women composers and musicians. Among returning artists are Jinjoo Cho, Clive Greensmith, Eric Wong, Ettore Causa, Michelle Cann, Ani Kavafian, Kirsten Docter, Esther Park, ATLYS quartet, JP Jofre, and La Voz de Tres. The Ulysses Quartet, with returning GMF violist Colin Brookes, will join GMF for the first time.

“We have been very fortunate over the course of the last 10 years to bring highly talented musicians, representing diverse musical genres and influences, to the Finger Lakes,” says GMF Director and violinist Geoffrey Herd. “I’m thrilled to be able to offer our audiences unforgettable performances commemorating that talent and diversity as we celebrate this milestone year.”

The first GMF was only a weekend long and featured a group of gifted musicians that included Geneva natives, violinist Eliot Heaton and cellist Hannah Collins, both of whom have returned nearly every season.  Concerts took place at Hobart and William Smith Colleges (HWS) and musicians presented an educational program in the Geneva City School District. Ten years later, the Geneva Music Festival presents an average of 13 concerts over the course of three weeks. In addition to HWS, venues have included wineries, churches and Geneva On The Lake.

Since its inception, the festival has held within its mission the goal of inspiring and nurturing a lifelong appreciation for classical music, withArtist working with children at Geneva North Street Elementary School. special effort directed at the youngest of audiences. For this reason, concerts have always been free to attend for children younger than 18 and artists present free concerts and classes to children in local schools and music institutes. Community programming also expanded as the festival did, now including free concerts at assisted living facilities in addition to the youth outreach programs. National artists such as pianist Michele Cann and the ATLYS string quartet have joined returning Geneva natives for these events.

One of the most memorable experiences for a young regional artist was in 2017, when 17-year-old violinist Miranda Werner joined professional musicians in concert to perform Dmitri Shostakovich’s Two Pieces for String Octet, Op. 11.

In the festival’s earliest years, the artists ate, slept, practiced and rehearsed at the homes of Herd and Heaton. “There was music in every room in those houses, sometimes including the attic, and Meg Heaton’s grand piano received frequent workouts,” recalls Fran Herd, GMF board member.

Eliot Heaton shares, “I had no idea that the festival would still be going 10 years later, I just thought of it as a fun way to get together and play some music in my hometown. Luckily, Geoff and the Geneva community were able to see the potential for a consistent summer festival, and it has continued to grow every year since then.”

Violist Wong joined the festival in its third year. “My first summer, there were only a handful of musicians, we were all camping out at Geoff and Eliot’s parents’ houses, and the beautiful Gearan Center where we play most of our concerts had not yet been built,” he says. “Seven seasons later, there are more concerts, more musicians and musical diversity, larger audiences, and many more people involved in making the festival a success. As important, in my opinion, is what has remained the same over the years: the goal of showcasing great chamber music from a diverse group of composers to a warm and wonderful audience.”

As the festival outgrew the families’ homes and culinary abilities, GMF’s supportive patrons and board of directors have generously stepped up, providing meals for more than 30 artists over the course of each three-week festival.  The burgeoning housing needs for the growing roster of artists have been provided by many festival friends and board members who annually open their homes, as well as by local hotels.

“The outpouring of support from the community for the Geneva Music Festival is truly heartwarming,” adds Fran Herd.

GMF quickly expanded and nationally and internationally renowned artists stepped off world stages to join their colleagues, and often their former students, in the Finger Lakes.

Geneva Music Festival artists.
Musicians from 2016

Violist Ettore Causa, who taught Herd and pianist Esther Park, noted prior to taking part in the 2018 season, “I look forward to working with these younger players, who are very energetic. There’s a different vibe playing with them. Music is in constant evolution. It’s great to see where the new generation is going with it.”

Violinist Ani Kavafian, a renowned chamber musician who performs with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, has also taught GMF artists and has participated in the festival three times. “It’s a beautiful area, and I like playing in places that give me a special neighborhood or community feel,” she said prior to her most recent concert in 2018. “Everyone is so generous and giving of themselves and their praise during and after concerts and it’s just very special to be in a place that is so warm.”

In 2014, as an established regional festival, GMF affirmed its dedication to showcasing diverse artists and influences with a Latino Cultural Celebration. Argentinean bandoneonist JP Jofre delighted audience members with a Tango Nuevo concert at Ravines Wine Cellars. Amaya Dance was in residence, offering a Latin dance workshop as well as performances.  Then-president of Keuka College, Jorge Diaz-Herrera, played the Venezuelan harp to a full house.

Also in 2014, the new music ensemble Vicennium Void gave festival patrons their first taste of contemporary music; acclaimed cellist Clive Greensmith entertained concert goers in Auburn with a cello recital; and Zahari Metchkov offered a majestic organ recital. The festival has since featured Jazz and Bluegrass concerts as well as week-long themes celebrating the musical influences of African American culture and women’s contributions to music.

Greensmith now counts the region among his favorite places to perform. “There is a love of music in Upstate New York and a lot of music being made there,” he said prior to his return in 2018.

Dashon Burton and Christopher McKiiggan
Dashon Burton and Christopher Janwong McKiggan

The festival’s first vocal concert took place in 2016, when internationally acclaimed and award-winning baritone, Dashon Burton, and pianist Christopher Janwong McKiggan performed an exploration of song, from Strauss and Brahms to Harry Burleigh’s arrangements of spirituals. Since then GMF has showcased the talented vocals of Syndee Winters, Ann Hampton Callaway, April May Webb (SOAR) and Melissa Kate.

The years have also seen mixed media presentations, with images and the spoken word presented alongside musical performances. Additionally, while famed composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Chausson, Dvorak, Mendelssohn, and Schumann have been prominently featured, the work of contemporary composers is also regularly showcased.

“Our most basic desire was to perform in our native and beloved Finger Lakes for the audiences who supported us as student artists, and to inspire other young artists in the process,” says Herd. “The festival that has grown from that small hope is more than I ever could have imagined and I’m truly grateful to the many artists, volunteers and audiences who made that possible.”

Tickets for adult admission to each concert and an after-concert reception are $25 (ages 18 and under are free).  A full schedule will be posted on the festival’s website as soon as it is available.





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