MTC director to retire
Ruth Black, husband began classical music concert series 45 years ago
Daily Hampshire Gazette file photo/Gordon Daniels
Honoring Ruth Black Sunday
On Sunday, at 3 p.m., the Ruth Black Memorial Concert at Federated Church in Charlemont will honor the memory of Ruth Black, who with her husband, Arnold Black, was a founding member of Mohawk Trail Chamber Music Concert Series. The program will include compositions in her memory by composers Lew Spratlan and Alice Parker, both her longtime friends. Free. Pictured, Ruth Black sits in front of a painting of her late husband, Arnold. See “Music.”
MOHAWK TRAIL CONCERTS, Federated Church, Route 2, Charlemont. Hope and Joy: “Mary Cassatt: Scenes from Her Life,” Bruce Adolphe (1955-); String Quartet No. 8 in c Op. 110 (1960), Dmitri Shosta-kovich (1906-1975); Quintet in A for Clarinet and Strings, K.581 (1789), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). Performers: Joel Pitchon, Masako Yanagita, violin; Ronald Gorevic, viola; Volcy Pelletier, cello; Michael Sussman, clarinet. There will be a free open rehearsal Friday at 7 p.m. The concert Saturday is at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are $20; $18 students and seniors.
CHARLEMONT — It was in the late 1960s that musicians Ruth and Arnold Black came up from New York City one summer to visit composer Alice Parker’s cottage in Hawley and fell in love with the region as well as the charm and acoustics of the Federated Church.
The Blacks founded the Mohawk Trail Concert series in 1969, bringing many renowned musicians to the Federated Church over the past 45 years. And when its leader, violinist/composer Arnold Black died in 2000, Ruth Black took over her husband’s duties as executive artistic director, winning two “National Award for Adventurous Programming” from Chamber Music America/ASCAP during that time.
She has announced that this summer will be her last season as artistic director.
“When the summer festival is over, that will be my farewell, too,” said Black, who now resides in Amherst and in England.
The summer festival became known for “cutting edge programing,” involving new artists who would later become well-known, according to composer William Bolcom, who, with his wife, mezzo-soprano Joan Morris, was among them. “It’s a very exciting place to play,” he said. “You know the people so well, you want to surprise and charm them.”
After Arnold Black’s death, Alice Parker says, Mrs. Black sought out promising young musicians and “a wonderful mix of chamber music masterpieces with new and rediscovered surprises.”
Black said Mohawk Trail Concerts series “became a natural extension of our lives.”
“We were producers,” she said. “We create the concerts,” while other concert series, she explained, are “presenters” of concerts created by others. “I’m more interested in creating the shape of the concerts and the theme of them.”
Black, who is 85, grew up in Oxford, England, playing piano and organ where her father was a parish priest and chaplain. As a child, she played piano at parties and, after formal lessons, competitions and recitals, entered the Royal College of Music. For a while, Black wrote program notes and reviews for music publications, and produced and presented programs for the BBC. She was head of the music department for the ABC Television Corp. in Britain when she met her future husband.
In the United States, while raising her family, she taught piano and played as accompanist for various schools and music groups around New York City.
In 1961 -62, as a rehearsal pianist for the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Canada, she taught songs to actors, including Katherine Hepburn, Morris Carnovsky and Fred Gwynne.
In the coming season, MTC will celebrate Black’s retirement in programs of “Story-telling through music.”
“If we could pick a piece of music that tells the story of Ruth Black, it would be Strauss’s ‘Ein Heldenleben,’ (A Hero’s Life),” says MTC artistic directors Estela Olevsky and Masako Yanagita.
After Black retires, cellist Mark Fraser of Montague will become the new executive artistic director.
Fraser is a member of the Adaskin String Trio. He holds degrees from McGill University, the University of Montreal and The Hartt School.
For many years he was artistic director of Project Renaissance, an arts festival near Montreal. He has taught cello at the Connecticut Conservatory of the Performing Arts.
“The trio has been widely acclaimed,” said Black. “Mark has very good values, and a lot of community service.”
After she retires, Black will be able to spend more time in England, she said. “I loved the experience and I loved the programing,” she said of her years with MTC. “But you make a transition and you let (your successors) make their mark.”
You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 277.