Born from CFO, founded by conductor Gwen Gould 25 years ago
Posted: Wednesday, June 5, 2013 11:00 am
By Karrie Allen
COLUMBIA COUNTY — On Saturday, ClaverackLanding will host its final concert. But not before giving the audience what they’ve come to expect for the last three years: great music in great spaces.
ClaverackLanding will perform its swan song with the premiere of award-winning composer Sheila Silver’s “Beauty Intolerable — A Songbook,” featuring 15 songs based on the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay, who called Austerlitz home. The performance will also include poems read by Emmy Award-winning actress Tyne Daly. (See sidebar for details.)
Before it was ClaverackLanding, it was the Columbia Festival Orchestra (CFO), founded by Gwen Gould in spring 1988.
Gould’s career in music actually started at age 13 as an organist in Dutchess County, where she grew up. After college in New York City, she served as music director for several churches and gave several recitals. This led to her founding the West Village Chorale in 1971.
“I discovered that I really loved conducting great choral works,” like Mozart’s “Requiem” and Bach cantatas, as well as premieres of works by American composers. She began to hire orchestral musicians to accompany the Chorale and found that she “really loved conducting orchestra as well.”
Gould and her husband, Ed Grossman, ran JSL Computer Services, which they founded together in 1978, and she also worked as a real estate broker, founding her own company in 1985.
But then the market crashed in 1987. Her husband told her, “I think you should find a way to do more conducting.”
Thus the birth of CFO. They had their first full orchestra concert in 1989 at the Hudson Middle School, thanks to the “enthusiastic support” of the late Principal Marilyn Barry.
Over the next 15 years, CFO presented chamber and orchestra concerts in many different venues in the Columbia/Berkshire region, as well as NYC. Columbia County venues have included: PS21 (Performance Spaces for the 21st Century), St. James Church and Columbia County Fairgrounds, all in Chatham; The Shaker Museum & Library (SML) in Old Chatham (at the time); Spencertown Academy; Taconic Hills Performing Arts Center; (formerly) North Pointe in Kinderhook; and Hudson Opera House (HOH), Christ Church Episcopal and First Presbyterian Church, all in Hudson; as well as area schools, Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass. and Merkin Hall in NYC.
Gould noted that from 1995 to 2003, CFO presented an annual Independence Day concert at SML in Old Chatham, “my favorite time” because she got to perform “towering works of American composers.” Every concert featured the Columbia Festival Chorale, a community chorus of local singers.
She did admit that it was difficult to sustain programming like this and raise money and was ever so grateful to the board and those who contributed all those years. CFO held its (first) final concert in fall 2003 at St. James Church, featuring internationally-known violinist Ani Kavafian and her student.
“Nearly 400 people attended,” said Gould.
While CFO had ended its run, Gould did not. She was the founding artistic director of Hudson Chamber Opera, also known as Hudson Opera Theater, from 2004 to 2007. Now called the Diamond Opera Theater, it operates out of the Hudson Opera House.
The theater produced two fully staged operas at the Basilica, as well as mezzo-soprano Nina Fine’s performance of “I Remember,” based on “The Diary of Anne Frank” at HOH.
In 2007, Judy Grunberg established PS21. She wanted to celebrate the 50th anniversary of “West Side Story” — a favorite of hers and Gould’s, noted Gould — so the CFO was resurrected, with five professional singers and a 57-piece orchestra presenting excerpts from the musical.
Gould presented another concert at PS21 and also established Take a Seat…in the Orchestra, a student mentoring program, allowing area students to perform with professionals from the CFO. While CFO again disbanded, the mentoring program continued through ClaverackLanding.
Gould then had a new idea: “classical in a club” — and a new venue: Club Helsinki in Hudson. In 2010, when the club opened, ClaverackLanding was born. She presented six concerts there and then expanded to the First Presbyterian Church and the Armory.
During the holiday season, she conducted the annual Messiah Sing, in which the audience participated and Take a Seat students performed with CFO professionals.
In its three years, ClaverackLanding has presented tango, Gypsy music, opera, Tibetan Singing Bowls, string quartets and more. The performers have been many, some internationally known, others local, like East Chatham’s Lincoln Mayorga (who recently performed with violinist and good friend, Arnold Steinhardt). You can see the whole list of past performers at http://claveracklanding.org.
In the past 25 years, Gould has also had the privilege of presenting many premieres, including Silver, Mayorga, David Grunberg and Jonathan Talbot, among others.
In summer 2011, she brought together some CFO members in the Columbia Festival Ragtime Band for a “Celebrate America” concert at the Fairgrounds. “If I could, I would take that band on the road,” she commented.
Now Gould is ready to write poetry, which she has been doing for about seven years. She has also self-published a book, “Luminations,” and contributed to the collection “Java Wednesdays” by her Albany writing group, the Java Poets Collective. She’s had a few poems published in Chronogram Magazine and Our Berkshire Times.
In fact, Silver set one of Gould’s poems, “Black Beauty,” (about her piano) to music and Silver and Fine surprised Gould with it at the last concert at Club Helsinki.
Gould said she may begin playing organ and/or piano again — “a little Bach every day would be good,” she said. “It has been wonderful to present other ensembles, but I miss my participation as a conductor and performer.”
But wait, you can see Gould in action at least one more time, as Grunberg has invited her to conduct a Summer Sing at PS21 Monday, July 15. Gould will conduct audience members in a community sing of Mozart’s “Requiem” and “Ave Verum” (visit www.ps21chatham.org for information and tickets).
In the meantime, “I may get my kayak out of dry dock on my lawn,” she said.