Violinist Louisa Stonehill and pianist Nicholas Burns dedicate their time to bringing people from all ages and backgrounds together to enjoy chamber music through live performance and education.
This was the couple’s goal in forming Ashuelot Concerts (a chamber music series) five years ago, when they moved to Keene from their native London.
In June of 2019, they had completed their second season of 10 public concerts and performances at area retirement communities and senior centers and performed 35 events at Keene schools with plans to schedule 60 more in the Keene and Monadnock districts.
Violin sonatas by Mozart, Beethoven and Schumann; Czech piano quartets; cello works by Debussy, Schumann, Martinů and Chopin and French piano quartets - served as material for the school program and each piece was introduced before it was played to provide context and the story behind it.
Stonehill and Burns (who are also partners and parents) were working on their shared long-term vision to form a foundation to sponsor no-cost music instruction and instruments for dedicated and disciplined children as well as a space to provide that education.
Then the pandemic hit in spring of 2020.
They now had an empty calendar.
“The premise of our nonprofit is about harnessing the electricity in live performance, playing in the same room with people sharing the same vibrations,” said Burns. “We’re trying everything humanly possible to keep that notion going.”
Burns feels while there are fans of chamber music in the region, the vast majority of people are not engaged or enthusiastic about it - chamber music only comprises 1 percent of the music being recorded today, for example. That’s because, he said, they haven’t seen a live performance.
“Ultimately classical music works best when heard in the same room,” he said.
But, the duo, who normally performed at Congregation Ahavas Achim, pivoted quickly and began hosting a series of livestreamed performances. People responded.
“We’re fortunate so many people joined us for our livestreams,” said Burns. “Donations came in from across the country. We were able to reach even more people across the globe.”
In keeping with a normal Labor Day Weekend kickoff for their season, the 2020-2021 official season will close with the first live concert in more than a year on June 6, at 4 p.m. at The Marlborough House featuring a program of Brahms and Chopin piano trios. The event will also be livestreamed.
“We want people to have the choice,” said Burns. “It will be a slow, gradual process getting back to normal.”
The June 6 event will mark the debut of a mobile Hamburg Steinway Piano the couple purchased as part of a fundraising campaign. It will give them much more flexibility as to where they can present events.
“We intend to perform in lots of different places going forward,” said Burns, adding that the plan is to return to performing for live school audiences in June.
In early July, the pair will host an “encore” festival, three live concert dates featuring programs of music what they considered the most powerful, emotive pieces featured during previous livestreamed performances archived on the website. The performances were followed by talks about the pieces played. “We feel very strongly that we should immediately offer concerts to help the healing begin,” written in the Ashuelot Concerts newsletter. The schedule of performances will be:
Encore Festival - Concert 1:
Haydn & Tchaikovsky Trios
Thursday July 1 | 7:30PM
• Haydn Piano Trio in G No. 39
Gypsy Rondo Hob. XV/25
• Tchaikovsky Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50
Encore Festival - Concert 2:
Romantic Violin Works
Wednesday July 7 | 7:30PM
• Tchaikovsky Souvenir d’un cher lieu
• Grieg Violin Sonata No.3 in C minor
• Franck Violin Sonata
Encore Festival - Concert 3:
Smetana & Mendelssohn Piano Trios
Saturday July 10 | 4PM
• Smetana Piano Trio in G minor
• Mendelssohn Piano Trio No.1 in D minor,
The 2021-2022 full season lineup begins Labor Day weekend; details are forthcoming.
“It will be quite emotional for us as musicians to be back in front of an audience,” said Stonehill.
“We can’t thank people enough - the letters, cards and emails people have sent have been such a massive boost for us. It has been so incredible to have that support.”
Visit ashuelotconcerts.org for the most updated information and to reserve tickets to events.