Talk only for a few minutes with Thomas Wolf and one realizes this is a person who does nothing by half measure – even an idea in the middle of a global pandemic with two like-minded friends to found a chamber orchestra with a home base in Cooperstown.
After two years of the grunt work – filing as a corporation in New York, forming a 501(c)(3), gathering a board of directors, securing the funding needed to begin, and finding a suitable venue – the Fenimore Chamber Orchestra is preparing its inaugural concert at Christ Church in Cooperstown on August 27. Not just a culmination of logistical preparation, the concert is the beginning of what Mr. Wolf anticipates will be a resounding cultural success adding to the region’s artistic palette.
The trio brings international talent to the task: Mr. Wolf, himself an opera and concert performer in Europe and with 25 years in arts administration, serves as the chair of the orchestra’s governing board. His co-founders are Chief Operations Officer Rosemary Summers, for 25 years James Levine’s private librarian at the Metropolitan Opera, and Music Director Maciezj Zoltowski, a world-renowned conductor of many festival orchestras across Europe.
“The three of us had converged up here,” Mr. Wolf recalled. “Rosemary and I were talking on the phone a year ago February about what we could do now that we’re all here. We said at the same time, ‘we must found our own orchestra!”
“We identified a need and have answered that need for the community at large in presenting orchestral performances at the highest artistic and professional level,” he said. “We knew the pandemic would ease. Many arts institutions closed their doors and musicians lost their livelihood during the pandemic, and yet here we are founding our own chamber orchestra. People we’ve spoken to in Cooperstown say it would be a perfect idea.”
Among the early supporters – Fr. Nathan Ritter and Christ Church in Cooperstown. The historic church will serve as the Fenimore Chamber Orchestra’s performance home. Mr. Wolf set his sights on the venue immediately upon his first visit to the Church.
“I wanted to see where James Fenimore Cooper was buried, I’d never seen it,” he said. “I walked in the Church and thought ‘Oh my God. This couldn’t be more exquisite.’ It reminded me of all the churches I had been in in Austria, Southern Germany, France, where world-famous people would come and give recitals or concerts, or very good local people would give performances. I actually had my business proposal with me, I thought, I’m going to go upstairs and talk to someone.”
“Father Ritter welcomed me immediately,” he continued. “I showed him the proposals, he was interested. He worked with the Vestry, they were very happy and very welcoming. It just came together.”
Tickets are on sale now for the Orchestra’s August 27 debut, a performance of four pieces under the direction of Maestro Zoltowski – Haydn’s “Overture to L’Isola Disabitata,” Mozart’s “Concerto No. 2 in D Major for Flute and Orchestra,” “Five Greek Dances” by Nikos Skalkottas, and Haydn’s “Symphony No. 34 in D Minor.” Renowned flautist Norman Thibodeau will feature in the performance that begins at 3 p.m. Those purchasing VIP tickets receive the best seats in the Main Sanctuary and will enjoy a champagne meet-and-greet following the concert with Maestro Zoltowski, the featured soloist, and the board of directors.
The inaugural concert introduces the Orchestra’s intended repertoire – a mix of the familiar and pieces that may be new to the audience.
“When you say ‘chamber orchestra,’ most people say, ‘Oh, you’re going to be playing baroque music,’” Mr. Wolf said. “I say, ‘Yes, but we also are going to play pre-classical, classical, romantic, modern, and contemporary. Our desire is to commission a new work every season by someone who will write for a chamber orchestra to help expand the particular repertoire.”
The Orchestra comprises musicians invited to join; they also are distinguished members of other well-established ensembles in the area.
“So many of the world’s finest musicians lost their positions at the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera,” he said. “It was devastating for them, of course, and for the entire world. Many of them retired and moved upstate and still play in various groupings.”
“This area attracts world-class artists,” he said. “We’ve really picked the best instrumentalists you can have.”
Mr. Wolf said he and his colleagues envision a 10-month concert season – with one performance each month – once the Fenimore Chamber Orchestra catches the momentum he knows is on its way. It’s a symbiosis with the Glimmerglass Festival and other regional ensembles both in the timing of its season and its repertoire.
“When opera season is over, symphony season can begin,” he said.
The founding trio – along with its board of directors and businesses and individuals who have backed the Orchestra since its inception – see big things for the future. They’ve secured funding for a second concert; its 501c(3) status allows the group to accept contributions that will fuel its future. Along with concerts, the Orchestra’s educational outreach seeks to serve an area comprising Otsego, Delaware, and Chenango counties.
“Look at St. Martin in the Fields,” Mr. Wolf said of the London-based, internationally-famed orchestra. “They started out in a church and then expanded into what they became. They started as just a bunch of musicians who wanted to get together to play because they liked it. Look what happened.”
“At this point in my life I’m not working for a negative,” he said. “The same thing can happen here. We have other, bigger ideas, too, for what could become in Cooperstown.”
The inaugural concert of Fenimore Chamber Orchestra takes place in the Main Sanctuary at Christ Church, 69 Fair Street, Cooperstown, on Saturday, August 27, at 3 p.m. Tickets – including VIP admissions — are on sale now at www.fenimoreco.org, where you also can find out more about the Orchestra, its mission, and how to contribute.