The Seven Hills Chamber Music Festival to Return to Lynchburg in August
Photos courtesy of Seven Hills Chamber Music
Like many forms of classical music, chamber music is evocative of the past. Established in the late 1700s, it is deeply rooted in tradition and frequently associated with the great composers of that time: Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi, Handel, and so on. That said, chamber music most certainly does not belong to or in the past; rather, it is an ever-evolving art form that continues to enchant audiences around the world thanks to the contributions of innovative and talented composers and musicians. Luckily for Lynchburg, one such group of musicians has made it their mission to share their art with local audiences for free every summer: Seven Hills Chamber Music.
Seven Hills Chamber Music was founded by Dudley Raine IV, a freelance violist currently based in New York City. Raine established a piano quartet in 2017, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the group to cease performing; ultimately, though, the pandemic also inspired Raine to think bigger—and closer to his hometown. After networking with musicians he had worked with in New York City, met at festivals, and met through school (Manhattan School of Music), Raine established Seven Hills Chamber Music.
“As we were coming out of the pandemic, I was looking to do something for my hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia,” Raine said. “We had 13 artists come together for three concerts, and we were
all really excited to play live music again. After that, the momentum kind of kept picking up!”
Those three concerts comprised the first Seven Hills Chamber Music Festival in August 2021. Following the success of the inaugural festival—which reached about 1,000 people—the group hosted its second annual festival with 23 performers last year and will present its third festival with 31 performers this August. The group has also added standalone concerts to its repertoire.
A chamber music concert is markedly more intimate than an orchestra concert in that each musician who is performing is usually the only person playing that particular part. Additionally, unlike orchestra ensembles, chamber ensembles do not have conductors.
“In an orchestra, there might be ten violinists playing the same notes, but with chamber music, it’s typically one person—or maybe two people—per part,” noted Raine. “Chamber music is also generally unconducted, which means that the musicians are the ones who have to keep time and breathe together. We have to know each other’s parts because there are a lot of things that go on across the ensemble during a performance.”
As such, the group has developed a close camaraderie that imbues their already dynamic performances with a palpable, effortless, and knowing energy. Listening to them play could easily be compared to listening to a conversation among old friends—a conversation built on familiarity and trust and full of seamless transitions as a wide variety of thoughts and feelings are discussed.
In addition to figuratively telling stories with their music, Seven Hills Chamber Music utilizes literal storytelling to help audience members, many of whom may not be familiar with chamber music, connect with the compositions.
“Before we play a piece, we have one of the artists talk about the piece,” Raine stated. “This artist may give little examples of what people will hear, point out what to listen for, tell a story about the piece, and so on. This makes the experience more relatable for those who may not know much about classical music.”
Showcasing new works by living composers and works by lesser-known composers also enables the ensemble to make chamber music more relatable for modern audiences.
“Everyone likes to hear Beethoven and Mozart, but we bring a lot of new music as well,” Raine said. “My co-director, Nicole Brancato, does a lot of the programming. She is an expert in the field of new music and knows a lot of great composers, and I also have my share of experience with new music. We try to program many different styles of music by all sorts of composers.”
In fact, this year’s festival will open with a celebration of female composers, past and present, on August 16.
“Our opening night concert in Lynchburg this summer will be music exclusively composed by women—both women of the past, such as Fanny Mendelssohn and Clara Schumann, and living composers like Missy Mazzoli,” remarked Raine.
The group will also be joined by two composers-in-residence, one of whom is on the faculty at Juilliard Pre-College in New York City, and the other of whom is based in San Francisco and often composes music for movies.
After operating out of Raine’s old 501(c)(3) for his piano quartet for about a year, Seven Hills Chamber Music officially became a 501(c)(3) organization last summer. The group has been awarded two grants thus far—one from the Schewel Charitable Foundation and one from the James River Arts & Cultural District program—and has received a great deal of support from the community at large.
Although the group is currently working on producing a concert for New York City and ultimately hopes to tour throughout the year, Raine stated that “our home base will always be the Lynchburg festival.” He added that he envisions collaborations with other organizations, such as dance companies and chorus groups, and the incorporation of visual arts aspects.
No matter what the future holds, Seven Hills Chamber Music will undoubtedly continue to delight audiences while proving that chamber music is anything but a relic of the past.
“It’s incredible to be able to share our music with people for free!” Raine exclaimed. “We are passionate about what we do and about sharing that passion with others.”
For more information about Seven Hills Chamber Music, including the schedule for their summer festival, please visit sevenhillscmf.org.