#TBT: Corpus Christi Chamber Music Society celebrates 40 years of performances

·5 min read

When a group of classical music aficionados banded together in 1972 to test whether there was interest in a chamber music society in Corpus Christi, they found enthusiastic support. It took another 10 years to get the group off the ground, but this year the Corpus Christi Chamber Music Society celebrates 40 years.

There was an initial attempt at a chamber music society in the late 1930s, but the group had petered out by the time the U.S. entered World War II. Then in 1972, another group gathered together to take a stab at forming a society. An inaugural concert was held on Dec. 2 at the 4600 Ocean Drive condominium's meeting room to gauge interest in a formal society. The concert filled the room's capacity at 175 guests and was a success. Another 10 years passed, but the founding members worked diligently and the nonprofit formed in 1982.

"We tested the market 10 years ago and had a good response, but it's taken until now to get our board together and for everything to work out," Marcia Marks told the Caller-Times in 1982. The society's first official concert took place at the Harbor Playhouse and featured a performance by the Cleveland Quartet. The society sold 400 season tickets, a phenomenal start.

TOP LEFT: An article from the June 20, 1982, Corpus Christi Caller-Times about the debut of the Corpus Christi Chamber Music Society. TOP RIGHT: The Tesla Quartet performs at House of Rock for the Champagne Classics concert series in 2018. BOTTOM: A flyer from the scrapbooks of the Chamber Music Society announcing the 1982-83 debut season.
TOP LEFT: An article from the June 20, 1982, Corpus Christi Caller-Times about the debut of the Corpus Christi Chamber Music Society. TOP RIGHT: The Tesla Quartet performs at House of Rock for the Champagne Classics concert series in 2018. BOTTOM: A flyer from the scrapbooks of the Chamber Music Society announcing the 1982-83 debut season.

Though the number of season-ticket holders fell somewhat after the first year, the group remained undaunted. Tickets continued to sell and the first few years featured a concert series of three performances per year. That expanded to four, then five and now six performances per season.

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Joan Allison became the society's program director in 1986.

"The aim from the beginning was to bring top chamber music performers from all around the world," Allison said. The society's core group of supporters have remained steadfast for more than 30 years, she said, and many of the season-ticket holders are also donors.

During Allison's tenure, she introduced the Champagne Classics, where the musicians play a selection of pieces in a smaller club venue where they can talk directly with the audience, who often aren't familiar with classical selections, all accompanied by a glass of champagne. The first performance was in 2009 at House of Rock in downtown Corpus Christi. In 2013, these smaller performances were rebranded as the Champagne Classics.

"A lot of people have been introduced to chamber music this way, in a smaller, more informal environment," Allison said. "And the musicians were so forthcoming about talking to the audience."

One of the society's core missions is outreach to students. The program both brings the musical groups to the schools in smaller settings and takes larger groups of students to venues like the Performing Arts Center at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and Richardson Performance Hall at Del Mar College to hear the works in a concert setting.

In 2015, Allison mentored the new incoming program director, Susan Sturman, and Sturman took over the following season.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused chaos in much of the live entertainment world, but Sturman said the society has weathered the last two years amazingly well. They had to postpone their spring shows in 2020 but, beginning in January 2021, began hosting performances again by getting creative with their venue options.

To help prevent the spread in indoor environments, the first performance in January took place in the courtyard of the Art Center of Corpus Christi, in beautiful 75-degree weather, and the February concert at the outdoor events tent at the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History. This season, Del Mar College offered the use of Richardson Performance Hall. The venue has seating for 1,700, so there has been plenty of space for attendees to spread out and maintain social distancing.

The 40th season is back on track and rebuilding its audience with performances attendees haven't seen before, including a voice ensemble and the world premiere of a specially commissioned piece.

"We're branching out a little bit," Sturman said of the remainder of the 40th anniversary season. "We've got some top-notch, world-class artists scheduled." The Grammy-award-winning vocal octet Roomful of Teeth, whose members span a five-octave range, performs in February.

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And in honor of the 40th anniversary, the Corpus Christi Chamber Music Society commissioned a piece from Colombian composer Felipe Nieto-Sáchica.

"We've never commissioned a piece before and it's very exciting," Sturman said. The Merz Trio will perform the world premiere of the piece Saturday alongside classics from Strauss, Tchaikovsky and Haydn. The performance begins at 7:3 p.m. at Richardson Performance Hall, with tickets on sale now for $25 at https://www.corpuschristichambermusic.org/. The Merz Trio recently placed first in the 2021 Naumburg Chamber Music Competition, one of the oldest and most prestigious music competitions in the world.

One performance the society is especially excited about is coming in the 2022-23 season. The Emerson String Quartet, one of the most popular string quartets in the world, will perform in Corpus Christi during its final season before retiring. The group, which formed in 1976, first played in the society's 1986 season and has returned many times since.

At the first concert in 1982, society president Herb Madalin said: "The community has shown tremendous support for the group. It's a real success story and very gratifying." Forty years later, that sentiment still stands.

Allison Ehrlich writes about things to do in South Texas and has a weekly Throwback Thursday column on local history. Support local coverage like this by checking out our subscription options and special offers at Caller.com/subscribe

This article originally appeared on Corpus Christi Caller Times: Corpus Christi Chamber Music Society celebrates 40 years

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