The Johns Hopkins Gazette: March 30, 1998
Mar. 30 1998
VOL. 27, NO. 28


Shriver Hall Concerts Poised For Growth

Future: Music series targets younger audiences, additional subscribers

Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

As Jephta Drachman speaks, you get the sense that someone in the distance is waving a baton, bringing her from placid moments of rest to sudden passionate flourishes of both voice and hands.

Perhaps growing up with renowned cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, Drachman's father, contributed in part to her particular cadence.

Jephta Drachman's long-term goal for the Shriver Hall Concert Series is to have a 100 percent subscription-based audience for the 1,100 seats. The current season has a record 530 subscribers.

Yet, it's the topic of chamber music specifically that elicits the most excitement from this current president of the Shriver Hall Concert Series' board of directors. And, according to Drachman, there's a lot to be excited about these days.

The classical concert series, held at Homewood's Shriver Hall since its inception, is currently winding up its 1997-98 season. But even as this 32rd season draws to a close, Drachman and the other volunteer members of the Shriver Hall Concert Series Board are by no means sitting on their hands.

Board members are already lining up performers for the year 2000 and beyond, and brochures were recently mailed out for the 33rd season, which includes such performers as cellist Janos Starker and pianist Helene Grimaud. However, Drachman admits all this current activity is quite a contrast to the series she inherited in 1992, her first year as president.

"Back then some of the shows were three-quarters empty. It was kind of dreary around here," Drachman said. "Nobody believed it could be turned around. But I knew if we [as a board] could get excited about this series again, we could bring the people back."

And with several sold-out shows recently, Drachman seems to be succeeding in her efforts. Part of her marketing effort was a mid-season direct mail campaign of 29,000 brochures that offered the four remaining concerts for $69. Regular single tickets for those concerts would cost a total of $96.

Drachman said her long-term goal is to have a 100 percent subscription-based audience for the 1,100-seat auditorium. There were only 300 subscribers in 1992 when she arrived, compared to the 530 current season subscription holders.

She said the key to the turnaround was putting an emphasis of "fun" into what is perceived as a "snobby" event.

Examples of this new approach are the paper cutout characters of musicians that appear on all Shriver Hall brochures and in the venue's lobby; the encouraging of artists to show more of their personalities on stage; and a push for the younger generation to attend more performances.

"It's a shame, some people are very resistant to coming out to hear classical music," Drachman said. "But in reality this music is for everyone, not just the learned. All you have to do is allow the music to reach you."

For those unfamiliar with chamber music, it's simply classical music played in a small hall by one or several musicians. The word "chamber" arose from its origins of being played in the private chambers of European homes.

The concert series itself was started in 1966 by Ernst Bueding and a committee of mostly Hopkins faculty that wanted to bring world-class classical music to the area. The group was allowed to use Shriver Hall for its opening concert by Jean-Pierre Rampal and Robert Veyron-Lacroix. Due to the concert's success, the group was permitted by Hopkins to continue to use the facility rent-free. The series is currently run by a volunteer group of music lovers that are responsible for attracting the veteran and up-and-coming performers for the seven concerts held each year.

Some of the standouts in this series are names such as the Emerson String Quartet, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, soprano Dawn Upshaw and pianist Murray Perahia.

Many of these performers played at Shriver before they received world fame. Perahia's first performance at Shriver, in fact, found the young prodigy wearing an old pair of brown shoes because he simply couldn't afford new black ones.

J. Woodford Howard, the chair of the concert series' music committee, remembers not only Perahia's first shows, but that of the other young musicians the concert series has discovered.

"The performers we get are not just a bunch of old fossils," said Howard, a retired professor of political science at Hopkins. "We try to give the young performers a moment to shine, too, so we could sit back and bask in their glory."

One such performer is Joshua Bell, the 30-year-old violinist who will be performing with piano accompaniment on April 5.

Eileen Soskin, chair of music theory at the Peabody Institute, will be giving a short lecture an hour before Bell's performance. Soskin has been lecturing before Shriver Hall concerts for three years now and said it's something she truly enjoys doing.

"I love working at Shriver Hall; it's the best chamber music series in Baltimore. And it's great we have it right here at Hopkins," Soskin said. "I particularly love talking about a piece of music that will be played in just an hour or so. It allows people to get involved with the music."

Soskin said the key to appreciating this type of music is involving yourself with the whole piece, even just the simple things such as "one beautiful note held aloft by a violin."

"You look for anything that gives you a way into the music, so that you can get lost in it," Soskin added.

It's the high-level artist the series brings to Baltimore every year that keeps classical music fans like Douglas Poland coming back every year.

Poland, a Hopkins chemistry professor, has attended shows at Shriver Hall for 30 years. Yet, he too admits that it wasn't love at first listen. After hearing live classical music first as a college student, Poland said it was only over time that he "slowly began to appreciate it."

Both Poland and Drachman said they wished that more Hopkins students, and students of other colleges, attended the concerts.

"Music is an important part of life. We want to make it accessible to everyone," Drachman said.

Drachman said she encourages the performers to talk and interact with the audience. However, she said ultimately it's the music itself that will "evoke the most emotions."

"Sometimes it's so beautiful it can bring you to tears. Or it makes you so happy you want to sit up and sing."

Drachman said an appreciation and love of music was something she brought with her to this job; it's the business side of things that she is "finally learning how to do."