More than 250 guests celebrated Tuesday Musical Association’s rich 125-year history and looked toward the future at a grand anniversary gala held on the stage of the University of Akron’s E.J. Thomas Hall on Saturday night.
The evening unfolded with a potpourri of musical performances — all of the artists sharing deep Akron roots — and numerous special tributes to the arts organization. They included a short video retrospective on Tuesday Musical’s history as well as a congratulatory proclamation signed by President Barack Obama that had arrived from the White House at 3 p.m. that day, just in time for the celebration.
Tuesday Musical Club was founded in 1887 by 13 young women who were music enthusiasts. Members started out by playing music for each other and soon began evening chorus recitals for the public and afternoon study groups for members. Today, the organization has evolved into an esteemed presenting organization that brings world-class classical artists to perform in Akron.
On Saturday night, teen singers from YEPAW (Youth Excellence Performing Arts Workshop), dressed in black pants and tuxedo shirts to blend in with the wait staff, lined the McCormick Lobby stairs as they burst into the song Everybody Rejoice/Brand New Day. They sang Ease on Down the Road as they ushered cocktail party guests backstage to dinner.
The dinner gala and full evening of musical performances took place on the E.J. Thomas Hall stage — rarely used as a gala venue. Above the dinner tables, huge, orange cylindrical lanterns glowed from within, adorned with images of Tuesday Musical luminaries ranging from soprano Renee Fleming to violinist Joshua Bell.
The elaborate event, the first gala in Tuesday Musical’s history, was spearheaded by co-chairs Mary Ann Jackson and Dan Dahl, who dubbed the party “one night 125 years in the making.”
The evening included a five-course dinner and a steady flow of entertainment, signaled by chimes and gongs played by Matt Dudack, artistic director of the University of Akron Steel Drum Band. The evening kicked off with a Broadway medley arranged by Prescott Griffith, former owner of Carousel Dinner Theatre, who sang Tuesday Musical-specific lyrics with former associate producer Karen Starr from spiral staircases on opposite sides of the backstage. Griffith, who now lives in Palm Springs, Calif., had not sung publicly for 30 years.
The University of Akron and E.J. Thomas Hall were premiere sponsors of the event. UA President Luis Proenza congratulated Tuesday Musical for bringing the most talented musicians in the world to Akron: “The university is very proud to be the artistic home of Tuesday Musical.”
Proenza congratulated recently retired Executive Director Barbara Feld for her 24 years of work with the organization and welcomed Jarrod Hartzler, the new executive director.
Feld, who moved to Akron in 1978 from St. Louis, talked about the joy of bringing wonderful music to Akron.
“This has been a remarkable city … It allows you to make a difference. Through Tuesday Musical, I have been embraced, encouraged, nurtured, mentored by all of you.”
Saturday night, organizers announced the kickoff of the new Barbara A. Feld Educational Experience Fund in honor of Feld. The fund, which has already raised more than $70,000 with the help of a leadership gift of $30,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, will continue Feld’s legacy of educational outreach by enhancing future in-school master classes and workshops with visiting Tuesday Musical artists.
The event, capping off a yearlong celebration of Tuesday Musical’s 125th season in 2012-2013, celebrated the enrichment Akron-area residents have enjoyed since the organization’s concert series began in 1895. Renowned artists visiting Akron have included pianist Vladimir Horowitz in the 1929-30 season, pianist Van Cliburn and violinist Isaac Stern in 1955-56, tenor Luciano Pavarotti in 1974-75 and violinist Itzhak Perlman in 1987-88. The Cleveland Orchestra has performed all but one year for the Akron series since 1918, when it was founded.
Most recent superstars to grace the E.J. stage for Tuesday Musical include violinist Bell in 2010, Fleming in 2009 and Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble in March.
Tuesday Musical President Bob Fischer said the organization is equally proud to have exposed thousands of children to classical music through both its artists’ outreach program in local schools and by providing 25,000 free concert tickets to students.
“One of the things Barbara [Feld] has done best is establish relationships” within the community with individuals, educational institutions and other arts and cultural organizations, Fischer said. “You have touched our lives in a truly amazing way.”
Local artists who entertained at Saturday’s gala included a string trio composed of Corey Smith, Ann Helmus Smith and Gregory Fiocca; unusual table drumming by Dudack, Bill Sallak and Jeff Neitzke; the Kikuchi Trio made up of UA piano faculty member Mayumi Kikuchi and her children, Marina Ziegler on violin and Elena Ziegler on cello; and UA emeritus professor of flute George Pope and pianist David Fisher.
Moscow native Dina Kuznetsova, an Oberlin Conservatory and University of Akron graduate who received the Tuesday Musical scholarship in 1996, regaled the crowd with an aria from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. She is a lyric and coloratura soprano who performs in great opera houses around the world.
The artists, nearly all affiliated with the University of Akron, were specially selected for both their Akron roots and their relationships with Tuesday Musical Association.
“What we were trying to do is reflect the diversity and multifaceted cultural life Tuesday Musical presents on the stage on a yearly basis,” Jackson said of the array of entertainment. “They [UA] should be proud of their people. Their talent pool is immense.”
The evening ended with jazz music by Steinway artist Joe Augustine, an artist-in-residence at the UA School of Music, accompanied by bassist Dave Morgan. Jazz pianist Augustine presented Feld with a composition he wrote for and dedicated to her: Tender Smile.
The grand finale dessert was an Italian almond cake shaped like a grand piano, created by West Side Bakery with an open piano lid by Hartville Chocolates and presented on plates rimmed with piano keys.
The evening ended with a singalong to There’s No Business Like Show Business and guests singing “Happy 125th Anniversary” to Tuesday Musical to the tune of Happy Birthday.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or email@example.com.