Date: Fri 19-Sep-1997
(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
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
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
"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
"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
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.