Photo and story by Linda Barrett

On a recent Sunday afternoon, I was delighted by the beautiful sounds of The Van Buren Winds, the first of four performances scheduled for the 2019 Middleburg Concert Series and held in the beautiful antebellum Middleburg United Methodist Church.

The music of the wind instruments, accompanied by the piano, filled the air with pure pleasure for all in attendance. The performance was followed by a lovely reception where attendees could meet and speak with the artists themselves.

The idea for the Middleburg Concert Series (MCS) arose when the church music director, along with two of the musicians who had previously performed for church services, met with members Leah Ferguson and Linda Taylor to suggest having musical performances outside church services. That’s when the two women set up a vehicle for a series of secular music of virtuoso performances in a separate 501(c)(3). The series now puts on three performances and one gala benefit each year.

“When we started this, there wasn’t any fine music in Middleburg, and so many people did not want to drive into D.C. for concerts. We also have many visitors here and this gives them something to do as a destination,” Taylor explained. “The church is centrally located and offers wonderful acoustics.

“Our music is not totally classical highbrow,” she continued. “We did an evening on Broadway, a movie theme music concert, and a number of other types of performances. We try to vary the performances so that we offer something anyone can enjoy. But basically, they’re all virtuoso performers with beautiful music played well on gorgeous instruments. That’s what sets us apart.” Each year dozens of artists approach the MCS for the opportunity to perform, and the series is chosen by a music committee.

A permanent highlight of the series is the church’s piano. The 1928 Steinway Model A3 with its original keys and soundboard offers wonderful sound complimentary to any performance. It is a favorite of visiting performers.

This year, the group allied with the Shenandoah Conservatory, where MCS’ third trustee, Dudley Oakes teaches as an adjunct professor. “We are grateful to the Shenandoah Conservatory for their assistance. Top performers come there to offer seminars to the students and the opportunity is there to bring us a concert too while they are there,” Ferguson said.

Although run by volunteers, the MCS must raise funds to cover the costs of the musicians, publicity and advertising. This is done through several means including ticket prices, program ad sales, series underwriting sponsors, and the yearly gala benefit. Season subscribers receive premier seating at the front of the church, although there is not a bad seat in the house. Tickets to regular performances are $20 and are available online or at the door.

This year’s summer gala benefit, An Evening with Gershwin, features American pianist Thomas Pandolfi. A graduate of The Juilliard School, and famous for his interpretations of Gershwin, Hamlisch and Bernstein, Pandolfi has performed with some of the county’s major orchestras, as well as a nationwide recital tour and international appearances.

In honor of this September performance, Oakes will be lending the series his special piano, a Steinway Centennial Concert Grand, a style known as the Centennial after being exhibited at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and winning the gold medal in 1876. According to Taylor, only 100 of this beautifully ornate rosewood piano were ever made, and only 44 remain in existence.

Held in the ballroom of the private estate Elysian Fields, the gala will include dinner and cocktails. The evening’s performance is limited to 100 people. Tickets to the gala and series performances are available through Eventbrite, middleburgconcerts@gmail.com or 540-592-1660.

Future performances for 2019 include the following. Unless otherwise noted, performances take place at the Middleburg United Methodist Church:

A Romantic Afternoon | Sunday, June 2, 4 p.m.

Featuring the charismatic and captivating cellist Julian Schwarz and pianist Marika Bournaki, a former child prodigy. After achieving widespread acclaim in their fields, the two formed an award-winning duo.

An Evening with Gershwin | Saturday, Sept. 7, 6 p.m.

Thomas Pandolfi, a spell-binding classical pianist will delight guests at the annual gala benefit held in the ballroom of the private estate Elysian Fields. Performance includes cocktails and dinner.

A Christmas Spectacular | Saturday, Dec. 14, 4 p.m.

A performance by the Shenandoah University Conservatory Chorale under the direction of Matt Oltman, director emeritus of the Grammy Award-winning Chanticleer chorale, includes classical and contemporary holiday favorites.

This article first appeared in the May 2019 issue of Middleburg Life.