Model shifts from festival to residencies

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Greg Sukiennik, a reporter for New England Newspapers, wrote this story about Yellow Barn's 2020 Summer Season published on May 21 in the Brattleboro Reformer:

Yellow Barn, seen here during a 2017 concert, will replace its usual summer chamber music festival with Artist Residency performances, which will be streamed online. (Photo: Zachary Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)

Yellow Barn will still be making and presenting music this summer — just not the way the festival has presented chamber music for the past 50 years.

The Putney-based chamber music organization will host a series of artist residencies this summer in lieu of a full summer festival season, and will bring the festival back for the summer of 2021.

The summer residencies, with visiting artists who will be staying locally, will be streamed online free of charge from the festival's Big Barn starting July 10 — the day that its planned summer festival would have begun. The organization's mobile musical stage, the Yellow Barn Music Haul, will continue visiting locations throughout the area, with the hope of presenting live music on its mobile stage when regulations permit.

The news comes as multiple summer classical musical festivals in the region have canceled their 2020 summer seasons in light of the pandemic. Marlboro Music, Manchester Music Festival and Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Lenox, Mass., have all announced they will not operate this summer.

"More than anything else we really do care about the well-being of musicians that come to these places every summer," Artistic Director Seth Knopp said of Yellow Barn's musical community. "We are really sad that we can't continue to grow musically with each other."

While the regular festival concerts and the audiences that come to see them are important, Knopp said, "our initial motivation was to bring people out of isolation and into a place of being able to focus on what they love to do most — which is being in residence, working together. That is what motivated us."

The decision came as the organization's board of directors determined the festival could not continue as panned. Instead, Yellow Barn, which pioneered the first residency program for professional musicians in the U.S., will use that model instead of its usual summer gathering on the campus of the Greenwood School in Putney.

Resident musicians, all hailing from within driving distance of Southern Vermont, will live in separate guest homes and maintain social distancing while working on projects that will be presented at the Big Barn performance space — without an audience present.

Meanwhile, participants in Yellow Barn's Young Artists Program "will explore 'from-a-distance' how we use our inner sense of hearing in interpreting without the benefit of making music together," the group said in an announcement. "We will better understand what we are missing by casting light on the work we can only do alone, striving (while failing) to communicate as fully as if we were with one another."

Knopp said festival organizers feel the pain the COVID-19 virus has caused in human illness and the loss of gatherings. However, he added, for musicians living with the ramifications of the pandemic, the situation has presented opportunities for quiet reflection and artistic expression.

"In the case of musicians who are so used to communicating with audiences through music, it doesn't necessarily represent an empty time. It represents a time that holds possibilities of reflection," Knopp said. "Silence is very meaningful in music, and stopping to think and listen to the world around us has been an unusual opportunity. There's something quite beautiful about stopping and listening to the world."

Knopp said he and Executive Director Catherine Stephan have been in regular contact with other festivals and organizations in the music world, in conversations and in larger online conference calls. The sense of loss is universal, Knopp said.

"People are distraught that they can't do this, not just for the younger musicians but for the whole community," he said. "Nobody is doing this for any reason other than a love of music and making music together ... the sense of absence of that is quite palpable among everyone involved."