The New York Times described a concert by the Sherman Chamber Ensemble as "the Platonic ideal of a chamber music concert". Hailed by Danbury News-Times music reviewer Frank Merkling as "a regional treasure," the Sherman Chamber Ensemble is dedicated to presenting the highest caliber professional chamber music to area audiences in the relaxed and intimate performance setting in which it can best be experienced.
The Sherman Chamber Ensemble was founded in 1983 by Artistic Director Eliot T. Bailen and his wife, flutist Susan Rotholz, when it debuted at the Sherman Playhouse to a packed house and rave reviews. Since then SCE has expanded its activities to a year-round schedule of nearly two dozen performances for all ages in a variety of local venues. Starting in 1997 the group has offered a full subscription season of 3 chamber music concerts in both Sherman and Kent, CT. Regular spring concerts at the Jewish Community Center in Sherman and fall performances at the Litchfield Community Center (co-presented with the Litchfield Jazz Festival) bookend the performance season. An annual Thanksgiving weekend series of free matinee concerts in Sherman and Kent mixes classical and jazz favorites to appeal to all ages. SCE offered its first children's workshop in 1995 and continues to schedule several events for youngsters each year. Adults and children alike enjoy the regular appearances of the Sherman Bluegrass All-stars, an offshoot of SCE featuring Ensemble members and local residents. The fall “Live at the Lake” coffeehouse has become a new tradition, where SCE’s classical musicians show their talents in yet another medium, in collaboration with a stellar line-up of pop and rock musicians. A free family picnic pairing food and fun with a sampling of SCE’s musical styles was introduced as a 25th anniversary celebration in 2007 and has become an annual community event. The Sherman Chamber Ensemble also regularly appears on series organized by venues such as the New Milford Commission for the Arts, the Pawling (NY) Concert Series, and libraries throughout the state.
The Sherman Chamber Ensemble’s commitment to developing the next generation of music makers and music lovers is manifest in its activities for children, including participatory concerts in conjunction with its summer chamber music series and a range of school assemble performances, master classes, songwriting workshops and extended classroom residencies for all ages. In 2008, educational programs are scheduled at The Sherman School, the Pawling (NY) YMCA, Kent Memorial Library, Dutchess Day School (Millbrook, NY) and the Kent Center School, in conjunction with Arts Alive.
The centerpiece of SCE's educational outreach activities is “Song to Symphony,” a songwriting residency by Eliot Bailen that culminates in public performance of musical works created by students and arranged by Mr. Bailen for a full orchestra of SCE regulars and others. Developed by Mr. Bailen through work at The Sherman School and elsewhere, this is an intensive project that enhances school curriculum, builds literacy and creative skills, promotes involvement in the arts, and engages the entire community. Following a major production in conjunction with the 2002 Sherman bicentennial, a smaller scale songwriting residency has become a fixture of the spring curriculum at The Sherman School. 2006 saw the latest full-scale production in Sherman, supported in part by a special grant from the state of Connecticut, and SCE is working to expand this model to other communities. In August 2008, SCE will inaugurate a summer songwriting workshop in collaboration with the Dutchess County Y and the Pawling (NY) School District.
A key aim of the Sherman Chamber Ensemble is to foster a sense of closeness between performers and audience that enhances the feeling of community and facilitates a deeper musical experience. To that end, SCE's summer concerts in Sherman take place in the serene setting and excellent acoustics of the Mauweehoo Clubhouse overlooking Lake Mauweehoo. Additional venues such as Cornubia Hall in Cornwall, St. Andrew's Church in Kent, and the Jewish Community Center and Congregational Church in Sherman have been chosen as well for their intimate ambiance and fine acoustical properties. Repeat concertgoers look forward to the informative and entertaining opening remarks supplied by SCE performers, which add an interesting context to its programs.
The unique composition of the Sherman Chamber Ensemble allows it to offer its audiences a wide-ranging mix of the traditional chamber music repertoire and the best of contemporary classical music, along with a generous dash of “crossover” music from jazz and popular genres. Audiences and performers have enjoyed the challenge of works by less familiar composers like Toru Takemitsu; premieres of works commissioned for the Ensemble; and unusual offerings like George Crumb’s “Voice of the Whale.” Twentieth century composers such as Piazzolla, Schikele, Diamond and Ryden are a staple of SCE performances. Recent programs have introduced audiences to the music of the Mexican Baroque and the Sephardic tradition.
SCE's championing of new music has led to numerous commissions and premieres. The Ensemble celebrated its 20th anniversary season in 2002 with the commission of a new work by composer and former Sherman resident Edie Hill as its contribution to the yearlong, community-wide celebration of the bicentennial of the town of Sherman. The 2006 season featured the world premiere of "The Aeolian Harp" by Aaron Grad, commissioned by SCE. Funding from the "Meet the Composer" program has made it possible for these composers to participate in a range of enrichment activities in conjunction with the world premieres of their work. The fall of 2008 will see the premiere of a new work by Ted Rosenthal, commissioned by SCE.
All SCE's musicians are of world class caliber and reputation and have been chosen for their expertise in chamber music, their musical warmth, and their ability to engage with the audience. Regular Ensemble members are Susan Rotholz (flute), Eliot Bailen (cello), Jill Levy (violin), and Sarah Adams (viola). Frequent guest artists have included Kenneth Cooper (harpsichord and forte-piano), Jon Klibonoff (piano), Benjamin Hochman (piano), Adrienne Kim (piano), Renee Jolles (violin), Mary Westbrook Geha (soprano), Todd Crow (piano), Stacey Shames (harp), Peter Weitzner (bass), Paul Woodiel (violin), Josephine Mongiardo (soprano), Ted Rosenthal (piano), James Baker (percussion), and the late Samuel Sanders (piano).
The Sherman Chamber Ensemble has received annual funding from the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism (formerly the Commission on the Arts) since 1995 and in 2006 became one of the first groups to be awarded multi-year organizational support from the Commission. A special grant for "Song to Symphony" was awarded by the state of Connecticut Office of Policy and Management in 2006. SCE received "Meet the Composer" grants from the New England Foundation on the Arts in 1995, 2002 and 2006. Since 1997, SCE has received numerous grants for artistic development, educational programming and infrastructure improvement, including from the Meserve Memorial Fund and the Daphne Seybolt Culpeper Memorial, Ada Howe Kent, Ellen Knowles Harcourt, Mabel Burchard Fischer and George A. and Grace L. Long foundations. Corporate supporters have included Webster Bank, NewMil Bank, Union Savings Bank and First Union Bank. Ongoing support is provided by generous individual donors through an annual membership program and frequent house concert benefits.