Midsummer’s Music Festival of Door County, Wisconsin just celebrated its 25th Anniversary. It has been presenting world-class chamber music performances in some of the area’s most iconic and unusual venues. The Festival was co-founded in 1990 by Jim and Jean Berkenstock, long-time Door County summer residents and principal orchestral players with the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Located on Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan is Door Peninsula, 300 miles of picturesque shoreline and one of the most beautiful communities in the Midwest, home to a thriving arts colony. A group of world-class musicians from organizations such as the Pro Arte Quartet, the Aspen Music Festival, and artist faculty from major universities throughout the Midwest join in this cozy environment each summer to form Wisconsin’s premier chamber music ensembles. The name Midsummer’s Music is connected to the summer solstice (a time celebrated in areas of Scandinavian heritage). The Festival presents concerts mid-June to mid-July and the week leading up to Labor Day.
The musicians of Midsummer’s Music Festival deliver outstandingly exuberant performances of some of the finest chamber works ever written. Offering chamber music for winds, strings, and piano performed in intimate and unique settings throughout Door County, venues include art galleries, a quaint community church dating from the 1850’s, a restored barn, a 120-year-old lakeside warehouse and the Ellison Bay Manor, a palatial mansion overlooking Green Bay. From the masters like Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, and Dvorak to some lesser-known but very accomplished composers audiences never fail to be swept away.
“As we became acquainted over the years with our many favorite Door County spots, we thought, what if we could add breathtaking music?” says Jim Berkenstock, the Festival’s artistic director. “For music-lovers used to larger concert halls (we thought) what if they could enjoy that intimate impact that comes from being within reach of the musicians and their rich sonorities?
I came up with a phrase – what we do is radically appealing chamber music. When we started, we had some unofficial focus group meetings, and it became apparent … that chamber music was not appealing, that it was stodgy and aloof. They viewed it as a string quartet playing Mozart or Beethoven in a concert hall that seats 2,000. We realized if we could do something almost 180 degrees different, to go back to the roots of chamber music as it started, maybe it would work.
I guess I’m surprised – and delighted,” Berkenstock says about the festival’s success over the years, “When you start something like that, you never know what’s going to happen. We started very modestly, and over the 25 years, we’ve grown tremendously.
People could see how chamber music could be – not just a concert, but an event. We try to tear down the walls between the musicians and the people by talking about the next piece (between pieces), the receptions after the concerts, that whole package. People come and they feel they’re among friends, not that there’s this divide between the audience and the musicians. We’ve made a very conscientious effort to capitalize on it.
I get a lot of people coming up to me and saying they really enjoy hearing those pieces that are by an unknown composer,” Berkenstock says. “I think a lot of people really like that sense of discovery. There’s a sort of tension, a matter of balance in programs with known and little-known composers.”
There are even performances of several special works by students of the Fine Arts Institute at East High in their annual Instrumental Bootcamp Summer Program. There’s a grand finale concert featuring Midsummer’s Music Festival musicians.
Jean Berkenstock is a former member of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and has performed extensively as a soloist with orchestras and in chamber music performances throughout the Chicago area. She is a graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University, and received additional training in the Civic Orchestra of Chicago while studying with Donald Peck. Jean has also performed on numerous occasions with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Contemporary Chamber Players at the University of Chicago, and many ballet orchestras.
Jim graduated from Northwestern University with a Ph.D. in music history and is co-author of Joseph Haydn in Literature: A Bibliography, published by the Haydn Institute.
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