Date: Fri 19-Sep-1997

Date: Fri 19-Sep-1997

Publication: Bee

Author: SHANNO

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(feature on NFoM's 20th anniv & preview for 1997-98 season, 9/19/97)

Take Note: Newtown Friends Of Music Is In Its 20th Season

(with photos)

The Newtown Friends of Music, an independent organization devoted to

sponsoring concerts and programs related to music at Edmond Town Hall, turns

20 years old this fall. The group's first concert of the season will be held

in two weeks at Edmond Town Hall, featuring the pianist Boris Berman.

Responding to the need for serious music in the greater Danbury area, an

organization was formed in November 1977 to present classical music on

occasional Sunday afternoons at the acoustically ideal auditorium of Edmond

Town Hall. The aim of the organizers, according to current NFoM President

Ellen Parrella, was to provide a setting for families and individuals to hear

live musical performances, with a special interest in soloists and small

ensembles, both vocal and instrumental.

The intent was to emphasize classical music representing all musical periods.

In addition, it was hoped to provide younger professionals and area musicians

with a performance setting.

By February 14, 1978, the group of volunteers was incorporated under the name

Newtown Friends of Music, Inc. An inaugural season of three concerts was

planned, with the group's kick-off concert, on May 7, 1978, featuring The

Composers String Quartet. While the first year ended with a fiscal deficit,

the enthusiasm from participants - both audience and performers - warranted a

continuation of the effort.

NFoM continued to present four concerts per season until, for its fifth

season, it expanded to five concerts per year and the season expanded to run

the fall through spring months. Lineups have included a great number of

promising young artists, many of whom have become well-known names on the

concert stage.

Ticket prices have always been kept affordably low. Current prices - which

have not changed for a few years - have individual concerts at $14 apiece, or

$12 for students and seniors. Full season subscriptions are $45 and $35.

From NFoM's inception, the largest financial support has always come from

subscribers, many of whom donate an additional sum of money on top of their

subscription costs. Violist Walter Trampler and violin virtuoso Ani Kavafian

have given fundraising concerts for the all-volunteer organization, and a

special production of Gilbert & Sullivan's HMS Pinafore provided some

additional funding for the 1982-83 season.

Alexander Scourby and Lori March once did a benefit reading from Mark Twain's

"It started with Adam and Eve." Also appearing at fundraisers were Hartford

artist Peter Harvey and, the following year, the violinist Ilya Grubert.

At other times, financial aid has been sought from the Connecticut Commission

on the Arts, as well as various other foundations, businesses and

corporations. CCA is a state agency whose funds are recommended by the

governor and appropriated by the State Legislature.

The commission's awards reflect the quality of programs offered by non-profit

organizations, success in audience development, and of community response and

support. This past spring the CCA awarded a $1,125 matching grant, which was

used to underwrite three concerts of the 1997-98 season, including the October

5 opener by the pianist Boris Berman.

Matching funds from Westinghouse, IBM and Farrel Corporation have also been


`A Fortunate Position'

Ellen Parrella has been the president of Newtown Friends of Music for ten

years, since 1986. The organization is very dear to her, which is immediately

apparent when she begins speaking of NFoM's schedule, its continued success,

and her role in one of Newtown's cultural landmarks.

Ellen's husband, Fred, is vice president of NFoM. Treasurer is Paul Gehrett,

and Ian McMahon is currently secretary. Board meetings are held regularly, and

an annual meeting for the purpose of electing new board members and officers

is held in a public place the third week of May every year. Along with the

aforementioned board of directors, the 14 board members on the current slate

come from Newtown and Sandy Hook, Southbury, West Redding and Bridgewater.

Obviously a music lover, and very dedicated to the Friends and its concerts,

Mrs Parrella has missed only one concert during her decade as the

organization's president. The reason: she and her husband were out of the


But they did not miss the concert entirely.

"My husband and I were in Czechoslovakia at the time, he was working there for

a few months," she explained. "We had a duo piano team playing, and I called

that day.

"The connection was so good, it sounded like we were right in town, when we

were actually in Prague!"

Among her duties, the organization's president runs the meetings, oversees

contract negotiations and signs her name to artists' contracts. She sees to it

that behind-the-scenes plans are laid down and carried out - that the town

hall is rented, that a piano or other instrument arrives on time. She makes

sure the artists are taken care of, and answers most questions audience

members come up with before and after performances. And she keeps records of

those who have subscribed, in case someone forgets to bring their tickets to a


"Although we are totally volunteer and not-for-profit, we run this as a

business," said Mrs Parrella, who has used her background in marketing and

business to continue the organization's administration. "It has become more

and more successful, both from the standpoint of artistic input and from a

financial standpoint.

"Whereas some other organizations have gone under, we are in the fortunate

position where people have given us contributions that help us plan for the

next seasons. And of course, we hope this continues!"

A New Program

NFoM's 1997-98 concerts begin in a few weeks, but the planning for the

upcoming season has been going on for months. Planning for each year begins

the previous fall, in November or early December.

"It's never too early to begin in earnest, but we sit down by December," Mrs

Parrella said earlier this week. "Sometimes we even think two years ahead."

Part of NFoM's technique for programming is to have members attend concerts

and competitions where young and emerging artists are being presented. If

members like what they hear, they approach the musicians to invite them to

perform in Newtown.

"This does two things," said Mrs Parrella. "It gives young artists an

opportunity to perform, and [by approaching the musicians ourselves] it allows

us to keep our budget low." NFoM also has a booking agency it can go through

in order to arrange artists to perform in Newtown, but when artists are still

young and fairly unknown, booking fees are much cheaper and schedules are more

flexible. The artists chosen are always heard in person, through an audition,

by at least one member of the programming committee.

The selection of each concert's program is discussed by a programming

committee carefully to provide a balance of rarely performed old, some

never-before-performed new, and a smattering of well-loved pieces.

In celebrating its twentieth season, NFoM has released a schedule of

performers and dates offering "a bouquet of brilliant performers," says NFoM

publicist Travilla Deming. The breathtaking skills of pianist Boris Berman

will open NFoM's 1997-98 season on Sunday, October 5.

On November 9, a return engagement by the American String Quartet, with

partial support by the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, will continue the

season. Renowned for its impeccable standards, artistic and technical

interpretation, and personal expressiveness that speaks straight to the heart,

the quartet will perform music of Beethoven, Bartok and Dvorak.

Rapidly becoming one of the most sought-after chamber groups (and chosen by

Carnegie Hall as its American "Rising Star"), The Eroica Trio will grace the

auditorium on February 15, 1998. Each member of the all-female group is an

award-winning musician of international prominence, and each has been

performing since childhood. The musicians play together with what has been

described as "an impressive, connective empathy." Their program will feature

the composers Antonio Lotti, Beethoven and Gershwin.

On March 23, the St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble, also with support of CCA, will

present the music of Bottesini, Beethoven and Schubert. Special guest pianist

Diane Walsh will create her dazzling performance of the Schubert "Trout"

Quintet. The multi-faceted organization continues its mission and philosophy

"to bring the beauty of music ... and a fluent understanding of the spirit and

style from all periods."

April 26 will bring to a close the final enrichment of the season, with a

welcomed return engagement of The Audubon Quartet, whose presentation will

feature the works of Mozart, Kodaly and Dvorak. Major concert halls throughout

the United States, Europe and the Middle East have embraced the quartet's

performances regularly. The Audubon was the first American string quartet to

visit the People's Republic of China.

This year, for the first time, the Friends will be presenting program booklets

which will include their full season of performers in one comprehensive

binding. In the past, individual programs have been handed out prior to each

single performance.

The booklets will include program notes, along with information concerning

each concert's performer. Mrs Parrella is nearly finished with writing the

program notes, and says it is now a matter of laying out the pages before the

programs are sent to the printer. This week, Mrs Parrella was making a final

decision on the image that would be used on the 40Á page booklet.

"I hope to have a lovely Newtown scene on the cover," she said.

This Year's Opener

On October 5, the pianist Boris Berman will return to Newtown, an event NFoM

and its audiences have been eagerly awaiting. A Boris Berman concert generates

electrical excitement, yet his music produces unforced and exquisite tone.

Born in Moscow, Mr Berman studied at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory,

performed extensively throughout the Soviet Union, then left a flourishing

career to emigrate to Israel. Since then, he has become known to audiences in

over 30 countries on six continents.

Inspired performances have included piano concertos with the London

Philharmonia; Toronto, Detroit, Houston and Atlanta Symphonies; the St.

Petersburg Philharmonic; and the Royal Scottish Orchestra. He has appeared at

major festivals, such as the Marlboro, Waterloo, Bergen, Ravina and Israel, to

name a few.

Mr Berman has recorded for Deutsche Grammophon, Chandos, and many other

labels. He recently recorded The Complete Works for Solo Piano in Nine Volumes

, on the Chandos label. Copies of this new CD will be for sale at the Newtown

concert. His concert will include the performance of pieces by Beethoven,

Prokofiev and Debussy.

All concerts for the Newtown Friends of Music take place in the auditorium of

Edmond Town Hall, at 45 Main Street, on Sunday afternoons at 3 pm. An informal

reception follows each concert. Due to demand, advance reservations are


Tickets are the door are $14; $12 for seniors and students (season

subscriptions are $45 and $35, respectively). Children between the ages of

five and 14 are welcome, and are admitted free of charge when accompanied by a

ticket-holding adult. For more information, call Ellen Parrella at 426-6470.

Arts editor Shannon Hicks contributed to this story.