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Peninsula Music Festival Thrives in Middle Age

Like most good ideas, the Peninsula Music Festival (PMF) started small. After attending a Moravian music festival in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the late Lorenz Heise, a summer resident of Door County at that time, returned with an idea to recreate the festival he had experienced. The idea turned into a dream, the dream grew, and with the help of volunteers and friends, became reality.

Fifty-six seasons later, PMF has become quite the impressive reality. The orchestra has moved from the Gibraltar High School gymnasium into the beautiful Door Community Auditorium and now performs a dizzying nine concerts during the August season and three during the “February Festival.” This year’s season saw the launch of a few firsts at the festival, including the first opera, Cosi Fan Tutti, and a change in song for the winner of the Battle of the Baton (It went from the usual “Star Spangled Banner” to the “Washington Post March.”)

PMF was also able to bring in several highly qualified guest soloists from far-reaching locations, including Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud.

Obviously, the cost of transportation for the guest soloists, not to mention the money needed to put on two musical series, puts a strain on the budget. Sharon Grutzmacher, the Executive Director of PMF, says she spends most of the season fundraising, as well as managing PMF.

“My process is to raise the money, sell the tickets,” which is always a bit of a challenge. Although this years turnout was “pretty good…fundraising is slow just like it appears to be for everybody.”

Fundraising has always been a challenge that PMF has met face on. Grutzmacher says that back when Heise approached Thor Johnson, the conductor of the Moravian music festival, to ask if he would be interested in starting the festival in Door County, Johnson agreed only under the condition that $10,000 be raised to fund the program. In the early ‘50s, raising $10,000 seemed like an insurmountable task, but with a great deal of footwork, volunteers got it done.

The quality of the concerts is a testament to such work. I recently attended “Baroque Night” with guest conductor Kenneth Slowik and soloists Paul Ledwon, Anna Burden and Terry Everson, and it was an amazing performance.

The night began with Purcell’s “Suite from King Arthur” or “The British Worthy,” which was based on John Dryden’s drama King Arthur. The music was very fitting of the theme, with regal-sounding chords and use of spicatto (a bouncing bow stroke) making the piece both a vivid evocation of the tales of King Arthur and a very exemplary Baroque piece.

When the soloists started playing the thundering, dramatic opening strains of the “Concerto for Two Cellos in G Minor,” by Vivaldi, it was like a magnetic force was holding my attention to the stage. It was nearly impossible not to be drawn to the powerful, yet beautifully harmonic passages of the concerto and electrifying performances given by Ledwon and Burden.

The “Trumpet Concerto in E-flat major” by Neruda was a complex piece that showcased Everson’s command of his instrument in the intricate runs and soaring high notes.

Though the orchestra only rehearses with guest soloists twice before a given performance, the collective musicianship of the orchestra and guests made it seem as though they had rehearsed together for months.

Other concerts in the series have featured guest soloists Ben Pasternack (piano) Soojin Ahn (piano), Henning Kraggerud (violin), Alyssa Park (violin) and Lynn Harrell (cello), as well as other talented soloists.

The season wraps up on August 23, but the “February Festival” chamber concerts will take place next year February 5, 12 and 16 at 7 pm.

“We do three concerts in the month of February,” says Grutzmacher. "We’ll bring back members of the orchestra or favorite guest artists to do intimate, chamber concerts.” The summer concert series will be in full swing again next August.

The Peninsula Music Festival is proof of the snowball effect that can occur when people are passionate about something. Starting as a simple idea in the mind of one music lover, PMF has become a well-established presence in the county and continues to bring quality classical music to the peninsula.