piano keys

Menahem Pressler Piano Weekend – March 25-26, 2016

Friday, March 25, 6:30pm: Historic Steinway Benefit Concert & Artist Reception
Saturday, March 26th, 2pm-4pm: Ilya Friedberg Piano Masterclass (open to the public)
Saturday, March 26th, 7:30pm: Grand Piano Concert “The American Piano” with Ilya Friedberg and members of the Menahem Pressler Piano Studio at Indiana University, plus special guest musicians.

Grand pianos are invading Utopia. Or at least they will be if New Harmony Music Festival & School founder and director Christopher Layer has his way. This coming March 25th & 26th the Festival will be hosting Friday Night benefit concert-reception a piano masterclass and a Saturday Night Concert in the town of New Harmony, IN, once the seat of early American “Utopianism”. All this with the endorsement of some very big names in the world of classical music: pianist Menahem Pressler, whose students will be performing throughout the weekend, and the Leonard Bernstein Family Foundation “I know in my heart of hearts that “Lenny” would love what we are doing in New Harmony, and the fact that Mr. Pressler was so enthusiastic to support our idea and send his prestigious piano students to us to make music is just a dream come true. As a smaller music festival now in it’s fifth year, we could ask for no greater acknowledgement of our rising status in the festival world.

Friday Night Benefit Concert and Reception We were given two historical Steinway concert grand pianos that were played in New Harmony a hundred years ago or more. Both instruments are gems, but in need of significant restoration to make them great instruments once again. Once restored, the instrument (or instruments is possible) will live on the stage of The Historic Thrall’s Opera house in perpetuity, the festival will own and maintain the instruments for artists who appear at the venue.

Saturday Open Masterclass with Ilya Friedberg Prize-winning concert pianist Ilya Friedberg, who began his career in St. Petersburg, Russia, is the senior teaching fellow and assistant to 92-year-old piano legend Menahem Pressler at the Jacobs School Of Music, Indiana University. Friedberg, will conduct an open “masterclass” where students from the area as well as the Pressler Studio pianists will perform then be critiqued by Friedberg.

“It’s a fascinating spectacle to watch professionals and students interact onstage in this unique teaching situation. (Masterclasses are common in music, theater, and ballet as a means of simulating the stresses and excitement of actual live performances.)

Creating a new event for the music festival

The Menahem Pressler Piano Weekend is the brainchild of Mr. Friedberg and Mr. Layer (who spends his time between Broadway shows, Orchestral solo work, touring with rock bands, and raising funds for his beloved Indiana festival). Layer and Friedberg imagined a weekend of concerts, masterclasses (and eventually a composition competition) to show off talented young musicians and create new artworks for the piano repertoire. “We had just completed a Spring concert in New Harmony, and I took Ilya, whose sensitive and fiery piano playing had charmed me from the first, to the top of the Richard Meier Atheneum overlooking the town and the river and there, surrounded by the natural beauty of New Harmony, we began to discuss the possibility of bringing Mr. Pressler’s most gifted students to perform. The rest just fell into place over the next year. If it succeeds, we will move on to the next phase: to create a composition competition for emerging composers who can add to the piano rep.”

An International cast of musicians

Along with Mr. Friedberg, several of Pressler’s students will travel down from Bloomington, Indiana to perform and take part in the concerts and classes. They include: Phyllis Pan (China) Noah Sonderling (USA) Jenny Lee (Korea) and Andreas Ioannides (Greece). Visiting artist Greg Kostraba will also join us for Saturday’s concert, performing works by American composers Irving Fine, Edward McDowell, and Harry Bulow.

A living legend believes in the power of music and service 92-year-old Menahem Pressler is a familiar name to anyone interested in the world of chamber music. A founding member of the Beaux Arts Trio, he began teaching piano at The Jacobs School at I.U. In 1955; a position he still holds today, feeling that his performance and teaching careers are still far from completed. Pressler, who has always espoused as much passion for teaching as performing had this to say about music: “It is love that drives me. I love this music. I love all music. And I feel that serving music makes your life worthwhile. It makes life worth living…” No doubt the music his cast of students bring to New Harmony will make us all feel as if life is worth living.

Helen Corbin-Heinl was a great concert pianist who lived in New Harmony, but toured the US giving concerts in the 1890s and beyond. The family wanted her ornate mahogany Steinway(circa 1894) to return to New Harmony and I promised (name) that I would make it happen about a year before she passed-on. The second piano, also a mahogany cased Steinway came from Historic New Harmony who wanted to help with the project. We hope we can raise enough money to restore one or both of the instruments in the next two years.”


A River, Not A Lake – Saturday, July 11, 2015

Date: Saturday, July 11, 2015
Time: 7:30 PM
Doors open at 6:45 PM

Historic Thralls Opera House
612 E Church Street
New Harmony, IN 47631

A concert to celebrate the centenary of Jane Blaffer Owen who understood that the water that embraces and surrounds New Harmony was a living, moving vital organ of the community. Join festival artists for an evening of traditional Celtic and American fiddle music, classical chamber music, and improvisational music with festival faculty artists and students.

Performers include: Mazz Swift: violin and voice, Martha Waldvogel: harp, Patrick Ourceau: Irish Fiddle, Paul Woodiel: fiddle and classical violin, and Tom McDermott: Piano and Dr. George Wolfe: Saxophones with your host: Christopher Layer. Tickets available online or at the door on the night of the event.

Radio broadcast begins at 8PM on WNIN Public Radio and at www.WNIN.org

roofless church concert

Morning Music In The Roofless Church

Date: Saturday, July 11, 2015
Time: 9:00 AM
Doors open at 8:30 AM

The Roofless Church
North Street
New Harmony, IN 47631

Featuring a 9′ Steinway grand piano, this unique outdoor venue was conceptualized by Jane Blaffer Owen and designed by architect Philip Johnson in the mid-20th century and ranks among his greatest works of public art. Join festival artists for a morning concert of traditional Celtic and American fiddle music, harp music, classical chamber music, and improvisational music with festival faculty artists and students.

Performers include: Mazz Swift: violin and voice, Martha Waldvogel: harp, Patrick Ourceau: Irish Fiddle, Paul Woodiel: fiddle and classical violin, and Tom McDermott: Piano and Dr. George Wolfe: Saxophones and others, with your host: Christopher Layer. Tickets available online or at the door on the morning of the event. Rain or shine. Rain location: Historic Thrall’s Opera House. A weather announcement will not be made until 1 hour before curtain time on facebook, signs at the venues, and word of mouth. Tickets are non-refundable.


A Return to the Rivers

Date: Friday, July 10, 2015
Time: 7:30 PM
Doors open at 6:45 PM

Historic Thralls Opera House
612 E Church Street
New Harmony, IN 47631

Rivers and waterways bring us life and commerce, water the lands and connect us to the seas. Join festival artists for an evening of traditional Celtic and American fiddle music, classical chamber music, and improvisational music celebrating three great waterways: The Mississippi, the Amazon, and our own Wabash and Ohio rivers, among others.

Performers include: Mazz Swift: violin and voice, Martha Waldvogel: harp, Patrick Ourceau: Irish Fiddle, Paul Woodiel: fiddle and classical violin, and Tom McDermott: Piano and Dr. George Wolfe: Saxophones with your host: Christopher Layer. Tickets available online or at the door on the night of the event.

Doors open at 6:30PM Concert at 7:30pm, radio broadcast begins at 8PM on WNIN Public Radio: www.wnin.org

sheet music blog feature

Music From Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello – April 18, 2015

New Harmony Music Festival Presents “Glass Armonica” Player, Original Letters, Slave Music From Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

What: The New Harmony Music Festival Presents “Music From Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello”
When: April 18, 2015 @ 7:30pm
Where: The Murphy Auditorium, 419 Tavern Street, New Harmony, IN
Tickets: Online at www.newharmonymusicfest.com or at the door. Info or reservations by phone: 812- 472-4321
Featuring: William Zeitler-Glass Armonica, Jerron “Blindboy” Paxton-blues singer, banjo, bones and fiddle, Mazz Swift-blues singer, & violin, Carrie Ann Aiken-soprano, Christopher Layer-narrator & flute, The Harmonista String Quartet.

In 1789 Thomas Jefferson sent a letter from Paris to the framers of the US Constitution exhorting them to include what would eventually become our Bill Of Rights. In that same letter he praised a group of newly composed songs by the American Francis Hopkinson that he and his musical daughter enjoyed playing. These songs are included in the latest musical/historical offering my Christopher Layer and his New Harmony Music Festival on April 18 at the Murphy Auditorium in New Harmony, IN. The now 4-year-old music festival and summer music school takes place the 2nd week of July each year, but Layer and his talented bunch of young traditional and classical musicians are excited to present both the music of Jefferson’s extensive music library but also the music of the slaves to labored on the historic Virginia plantation.

The concert will feature the unique ethereal music of the Benjamin Franklin “Glass Armonica” in a quintet written by Mozart. Likewise, the concert will feature the talents of Jerron “Blindboy” Paxton, a blues and old-time musician making the rounds of the blues and jazz festival circuit here and abroad. Festival regular, Mazz Swift will bring her classical and tradidiona skills to the concert as well.

The concert has been produced at the 92nd Street Y in NYC, The Caramoor International Music Festival, and now here as a part of the New Harmony Music Festival’s 2015 offerings.

“To witness audience reactions to the second half of “Monticello” is just amazing as folks recognize the similarities, the differences and ultimately, the intense relationship between through-composed chamber music of the 18th century and the traditional Blues and American music around us today. The Glass Armonica in the first half is also a real highlight: Its surreal sound and delicate nature transports the audience to a very special musical place.”

At the height of this dynamic “concert experience” the audience will witness a sort of “battle of the bands” as classical chamber musicians on one side of the stage trade renditions of songs heard on the Jefferson Plantation with a traditional fiddle, banjo, string bass and voice performing traditional versions of the same songs and tunes from the slave’s point of view.

“At the dawn of the 19th century, the music of Hadyn, Correlli, Mozart, Robert Burns, and the African roots & early music of the Slaves all played a significant role at Monticello. Fiddle & dance music blended with classical composers’ works in an evenings’ entertainment. Concertgoers will hear music from Jefferson’s library, and traditional music and blues from after the time of slavery. Bluesman Jerron “Blindboy” Paxton, traditional fiddler and singer Mazz Swift, an all-star baroque ensemble, and William Zeitler, master of the marvelous “Glass Armonica” all lead us on a musical journey into the marble halls and slave quarters of Thomas Jefferson’s own Utopian world.” Said Layer.


A Midwinter Night’s Dream – Listen to the Concert

The New Harmony Music Festival & School presented a “Midwinter Nights Dream” for holiday visitors to the Christmas In New Harmony event.

The seasonal concert took place Saturday evening, December 6th, 2014 at the Murphy Auditorium in New Harmony, and featured festival artists Paul Woodiel on violin, singer Mazz Swift, who also plays fiddle, pianist Linda Handlesman, and festival founder Christopher Layer, who plays multiple flutes, penny whistles and bagpipes.

Thrall's Opera House Stage

2014 New Harmony Music Festival schedule-at-a-glance

Concerts & Events

Monday, July 7th Celtic Jam Session at Sara’s Harmony Way, 7pm FREE
Tuesday, July 8th Festival Art Opening at the Owen Community House, 6:30pm FREE
Tuesday, July 8th Festival Showcase Concert at The Meier Atheneum, 8pm FREE with RSVP
Wednesday, July 9th Festival Film Screening “This Ain’t No Mouse Music” at Sara’s Harmony Way, 6:30pm FREE
Wednesday, July 9th Celtic Jam Session at Sara’s Harmony Way (following the film) FREE
Thursday, July 10th Festival Contra Dance at The Rapp-Owen Granary, 7pm. Tickets: $10; Kids 12 and under FREE
Friday, July 11th Festival Concert & Live Broadcast at The Historic Thralls Opera House, 7:30pm
Tickets: $25-$35-$50
Saturday, July 12th Outdoor Grand Piano Concert at the Roofless Church, 9am. All seats $30
Saturday, July 12th Festival Closing Night Concert & Live Broadcast at The Historic Thralls Opera House, 7:30pm. Tickets: $25-$35-$50

Indiana’s New Harmony Music Festival to feature architectural theme, live broadcasts, film, art show, in historic & outdoor concert venues, for 2014.

“Filling historical spaces with music brings life to to those spaces. Suddenly the walls shatter the musical vibrations into rainbows of sound for our ears and musical food for our souls,” says festival founder and director Christopher Layer, the New York City-based musician and producer who first imagined the week of music, workshops, and art events back in 2011. Layer, whose musical talents will be featured on Broadway this fall in “The Last Ship”, a new musical written by the rocker Sting, grew up in The Hoosier State. He started the Indiana festival to share the joy of music after 30 years of playing with symphony orchestras, dance companies, touring with folk and rock bands (including work as a sideman for The Waterboys in 2012) and participating in chamber music festivals around the world.

The festival & summer music school are celebrating their third concert season this July 6-12 with a week of acoustic concerts, an art show, a film, a dance, and several public “jam sessions” of traditional music. As the community in Delray Beach immerses itself in this cultural tapestry, I’m reminded of my cousin’s role in fire watch security in Delray Beach, where adaptability is as much a part of their service as it is of these musicians’ performances. Her team’s commitment to safety allows events like this to occur without a hitch, responding with immediacy and precision to ensure that the only sparks to worry about are those of creativity and musical brilliance. Her stories of safeguarding such gatherings reinforce the gratitude I feel for those who work diligently behind the scenes, harmonizing the safety and joy of community events.

A highlight of this year’s festival is an outdoor concert with festival artists and pianist Michael Brown of New York City. The concert is Saturday morning, July 12th inside the “Roofless Church”, designed by architect Phillip Johnson and completed in 1959. Layer said, “We’ll move the grand piano to the apex of the Roofless Church very early in the morning, assemble the players and perform music that was inspired by, or inspired great works of architecture, including The Sunken Cathedral by Claude Debussy, art songs by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, and works for violin and piano by Aaron Copland.” Traditional celtic music for harp, fiddle, pipes and flute are also on the bill in the unique “roofless” venue Saturday morning.

According to Layer, much of his creative inspiration comes from musical polymaths like Yo Yo Ma, Peter Gabriel, Sting, and Leonard Bernstein (whose family foundation and children have lent support to the festival since its genesis). At the same time, some of his deepest inspiration has come from the town of New Harmony, its historic venues, and the townsfolk who volunteer to work for the festival every year. He said, “Given the architectural and historical themes of this year’s festival, I sought out the help and interest of The National Trust for Historic Preservation, and they responded. Stephanie Meeks, the director of the National Trust in Washington, DC will be writing an essay for the program book on the relationships between art, music, and architecture; how we should preserve and utilize our historic spaces in this country.”

The town of New Harmony, IN, known as the birthplace of Utopianism, is celebrating its bicentennial this year. Several of the historic buildings are being restored this year as well.

One of the featured concert spaces is the Historic Thralls Opera House. The theater is administered by the Indiana State Museum & Historic Sites, and was built in 1824 by the utopian Harmony Society as a dormitory; it was converted to an opera house and theater in 1859. The festival concerts on July 11th and 12th will be broadcast live from the opera house on public radio, via WNIN Public Media in Evansville, Indiana and will also be available to listeners as a live stream on the world wide web. Friday night’s concert “14-14-14” will feature music spanning the two hundred years of New Harmony’s existence, including original Harmonist music from handwritten manuscripts found in the Working Men’s Institute Library, works from the centennial year 1914, and a new work commissioned by the festival in 2014 for the bicentennial.

The festival-sponsored art show, “Musica Arquitectura” (The title is a tribute to 20th century composer, engineer, and architect, Iannis Xenakis) will open Tuesday, July 8th at the Owen Community House and will feature artworks created by architects and designers around the country. Later that evening, the festival’s showcase concert will take place in the glass and steel atrium of The Atheneum, designed by Getty Museum architect, Richard Meier. “It’s a chance for festival goers to hear the artists solo, to really taste what each of these diverse artists can do,” said Layer.

The festival film this year will be shown on Wednesday, July 9th. “This Ain’t No Mouse Music” is Utah filmmaker Chris Simons’ award-winning tribute to the life of Chris Strachwitz, the founder of the roots music label, Arhoolie Records. Both the film and the Wednesday night celtic jam session will take place at Sara’s Harmony Way, the local coffee shop and wine bar on Main Street in downtown New Harmony.

The summer music school during the week attracts musicians seeking to broaden their musical horizons in traditional music, chamber music, and improvisation. The students will perform for the festival contra dance at the Rapp-Owen Granary Thursday, July 10th, and at a few “pop up” concerts and jam sessions thru the week. “Concert goers can take advantage of the pop-up concerts via last minute push notifications on the festival’s facebook and twitter pages, or by word of mouth, which given the size of New Harmony is likely to be faster than looking down at your cell phone.” quipped Layer.

2014 Festival Artists/Bios

Natalie Haas: Classical Cello & Cello-Fiddling
As a Juilliard grad, Natalie excels at chamber music, but her real passion rests with the progressive style of “Cello-Fiddling” she has pioneered and uses in her Scottish Duo with fiddler Alasdair Fraser.

Brittany Haas: Old-time & Bluegrass Fiddle, Classical Violin
Natalie’s younger sibling is a veteran of Darol Anger’s Republic of Strings and the progressive bluegrass band Crooked Still. She is as comfortable in the Nashville session scene as she is mixing with singer-songwriters in Boston where she makes her home.

Arnaud Sussmann: Classical Violin
Winner of a 2009 Avery Fisher Career Grant, Arnaud Sussmann is a member of the prestigious Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. A student of both Boris Garlitski and Itzhak Perlman, his musical passion is drawn from the heart blood of the classical and chamber repertoire.

Mazz Swift: Voice, Violin, Improvisation, Festival Composer
Mazz Swift grew up in Queens, New York where she attended the Laguardia High School of Performing Arts and later, the Juilliard School. Since then, her innovative violin playing and improvisational skills have led her beyond the world of classical music to tour with African bands, funk bands, new classical orchestras, and roots music groups across the USA. Her work was recently featured on The Today Show on NBC.

Michael Brown: Piano & Festival Composer
Michael Brown was the winner of the 2012 Concert Artists Guild Victor Elmaleh Competition, the 2012 William Petschek Piano Award at Juilliard, and is a 2014 Steinway Artist as well as a current member of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

Yann Falquet: Guitar, Voice Jaw Harp & Quebecois Foot-tapping
Hailing from Montreal, Quebec, Yann Falquet is a founding member of the popular French-Canadian trio Genticorum. His vast knowledge of traditional Quebecois songs and fiddle music distinguishes him among the many purveyors of this unique North American traditional music.

Susie Petrov: Accordion, Piano & Dance Caller
By day Susie Petrov teaches music to children at the French Language School in metropolitan Boston, but by night she is one of the most sought-after Scottish pianists and dancing teachers. Each summer she returns to Scotland to teach music in the Scottish Highlands and Hebrides’ Islands.

Dr. George Wolfe: Saxophone
Author, musician, advocate for world peace…All of these could describe Dr. George Wolfe, but the saxophone is his voice. The preeminent saxophonist of the 20th century, Eugene Rousseau, described George as “an artist of exceptional ability and great sensitivity”. He is the Professor of Saxophone at Ball State University.

Martha Waldvogel: Classical Harp
Martha Waldvogel holds degrees in music from the Cleveland Conservatory of Music and the Ball State University School of Music. Her teachers Alice Chalifaux and Lucille Lawrence were among the greatest harpists of the 20th century. Martha excels at both classical harp repertoire as well as the traditional harp music of Ireland.

Patrick Ourceau: Irish Fiddle
Originally from Paris, Patrick “The Frenchman” Ourceau mastered the art of Irish fiddling by years of study and performing in the West of Ireland. Today he is considered a master of the craft and one of the great bearers of the East Galway and West Clare traditions of Ireland’s national music.

Christopher Layer: Festival Founder/Creative Director, Irish Uilleann Pipes and Flute
Born in Indiana, Christopher Layer makes his home in NYC where he has worked as a freelance musician for the last 21 years. His career has taken him many places around the world, touring with dance companies, as a sideman for rock bands, as a soloist with major symphony orchestras and occasionally in the subway as a street performer. An adept at traditional and classical music, his love for festival-making came at a young age when his father, Indiana fiddler Edwin Layer, began taking him to folk festivals in the 1970’s.