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ClefWorks house concerts a prelude to season’s events

Published December 5, 2010
by Deborah Hayes Moore
Montgomery Advertiser

Reviving one of the popular elements of ClefWorks’ premiere season, the chamber music organization recently reintroduced its house concerts as a creative prelude to its exciting fourth season.

As a nod to yesteryear and the intimate settings where classic music was originally performed, its organizers and board members have always sought to provide performances and educational events with unexpected elements as they excite adults and children by giv ing them opportunities to interact in unique venues with classically-trained musicians.

Invitations to small groups of people to enjoy late afternoon performances inside area residences were always eagerly accepted, as those with musical ears were treated to relaxing afternoons and evenings; while guests who had entered with minimal music appreciation left awe-inspired by each experience.

This season, they took that idea outside, with generous hosts and ClefWorks’ supporters opening the doors to their homes and enter­taining guests during events in spired by their gardens. Two such events were hosted on recent Sun days, with arrivals gathering one afternoon to enjoy music on the lake and others arriving for an evening experience in the city.

A Night In A City Garden

The classic parterre garden at the Montgomery home of Suzanne and Steve Davidson was the set ting for ClefWorks’ November house concert.

Landscape architect James Farmer III of Kathleen, Ga., had been working with the couple for about a year on the redesign of the family’s outdoor living space, which they transformed into an English garden with a twist.

It now features lush green structures, pops of Italian terra cotta, hand hewn cypress beams stained a dark brown sugar, and a Spanish Cross layout laced with zoysia and Pennsylvania blu estone set on a diagonal as an interesting complement to the family’s Tudor-style residence.

Since August, Farmer had also worked with the couple to design and coordinate an evening concert soiree as a special welcome to the ClefWorks’ guests.

For “A Night of Music in the Garden,” flaming torches lined the driveway to the residence, and steered arrivals along a path to receive cocktails on the side lawns, guidance to the home’s rear out door area, and hand-lettered event books tied with chocolate satin ribbons. Highlighting elements of the garden’s design, the books were special keepsakes of the evening designed with seasonal panache.

A Musical Welcome

As musical sounds wafted into the area, guests discovered a secret garden of surprises, including Sallye York, who played piano in the Davidson’s living room. Arrivals gathered beyond a nearby open door to “take it all in,” noticing each element of the landscape that had been designed for the special evening.

Amid a mix of wood and metal seating, stone topped serving pieces, and glazed terra cotta gar­den stools, several found spots to sink into and enjoy the garden as hors d’oeuvres were passed.

Billy Lee and his staff from Terra Cotta Catering of Auburn prepared the night’s scrumptious array of dishes, which were un veiled at different hours of the evening and in different locations on the premises.

The first course was served to guests from a custom concrete and wrought iron table placed on an arbor-covered terrace. The table was layered with demitasse cups filled with roasted butternut squash soup topped with pumpkin seed, jumbo lump crab cakes and An douille sausage-stuffed baby porta bellas.

Garden Ambiance

As they awaited the night’s mu sic, many clustered in conversation to enjoy the first of the night’s specialties, while others stood at highboy cocktail tables covered with elegant emerald green silk cloths. With their beaded patterns of leaves and garden flowers, peri dot overlays were a dramatic ac cent to the tables that were ultimately topped with arrangements of antique hydrangeas and orange tiger lilies. The flowers gave a luscious hint to the evening’s décor that was seamlessly continued into the home’s interiors.

Tall garden torches lined the nearby expanse of open lawn, where gold Chivari chairs were set-up, audience style, and positioned so that a French limestone fountain, whose soft splashes echoed into the garden’s cloak of ever green hedges, served as the back drop for the night’s performance by ClefWorks’ musicians.

As night fell, the area was illuminated from above and below, highlighting the garden’s features and giving a romantic glow to the venue. Amid that glow, Montgomery Symphony Cello Fellow Laura Usiskin provided a little night music with clarinetist Mingzhe Wang, co-founder and co-artistic director of the Gateway Chamber Ensemble in Clarksville, Tenn.

As a fabulous introductory piece, Laura played the Bach Cel lo Suite No. 1, noting to those gathered they would probably recognize it because it has made its way into so many commercials. Ming delighted guests with selections by Stravinsky, before the duo performed selections composed by Beethoven, and a swered questions from the curious attendees.

Room-To-Room Music And Magic

As drizzles of raindrops began to threaten their instruments, the musicians and guests moved in doors into the family room and surrounding areas by Glenda Allred, ClefWorks’ board presi­dent, and her husband, David Allred. Laura and Ming were able to finish the evening’s performances with delightful insight regarding their final pieces by Poulenc, and “Benny’s Gig” by Gould. At the conclusion, guests were treated to a movable feast of foods beginning with okra bites and black-eyed pea dip that were served from a warming chafer on the family room’s cocktail table. The tempting treats were dis played next to a splendid ar rangement of Polo roses, rose hips, lilies and scarlet oak leaves. Selected for their hues of persimmon, salmon, chartreuse, auber­gine, and crème, all the interior flowers were designed as homage to the autumn season. Jardinières brimming with cymbidium orchids, Glory Blue Hydrangeas, kangaroo paw, and ginger-hued orchids served as the compositions for the arrangements designed for every room, including the family’s casual din ing area. There, guests made selections from a table filled with sage corn muffins stuffed with pork tenderloin and green onion aioli; bleu cheese and bacon-stuffed Medjool dates; dill polenta cakes topped with sweet potato hash and cedar plank maple-glazed salmon; Cabernet lamb sliders with root vegetable aioli and crisp Seneca onions. Taller arrangements of the night’s flowers lined the foyer, as guests strolled into the formal dining room for flank steak en croute; seared sea scallops served atop corn and crab Mornay. Fresh oranges were carved to serve as vases for fresh lilies and as accents to trays of leek and mushroom-stuffed fingerling potatoes and turnip green crostini. As the night air cleared, guests wandered back into the gardens where the terrace table was laden with orchids, hydrangeas, and magnolia, and an assortment of Sweet Grass Dairies’ cheeses. Blood oranges, pine apples, pomegranates and grapes were also displayed with Black berry Farms’ preserves, jams and jellies, as well as Savannah Bee honey. Steps away, the upper garden was outfitted for many to gather at an inviting cocktail bar and to bask in the glow of the evening.

The Dessert Hour

As a coffee bar was set up in the living room, guests lingered in anticipation of the dessert hour, when sweet treats were passed throughout the house. Petite pumpkin cheesecakes were a delightful ending to a musical evening with friends, as were choco late walnut truffles, pear tarts, cranberry purses, and apple up side down cornmeal cakes. Seen there enjoying the evening were Katie and Charles Bradshaw, Arthur Britton, Barrie Harmon, Cindy and Gaeton Lorino, Katharine and Mark Harris, Pam and Michael Strickland, Judge Joel Dubina, Linda and John Hendrix, Marga ret and Jimmy Lowder, Emily Lowder Wootten, Suzi and Alex Whaley, Pat and John Moore house, Suzy Edwards, Leslie and Doug Sellers, Amanda Adams, Carol and Don Rickard and Michelle and Phillip Goodwyn. Elmore and Jim Inscoe were also among those there, joining their daughter, ClefWorks’ found ing board president Elmore De Mott and her husband, Miles DeMott, during the meet-and-greet segment of the evening. Also present during the greetings were ClefWorks’ executive director Leah Stephens, and her hus band, Ken Stephens; Camille and Jim Leonard; Carey and James Albritton; Anne and Gregg Collett; Ashley Hamlett; Lisa Free; Carrie McCollum; Tara and Russell Sinco; Laura Stevenson; Helen Steineker; Tim Phillips and Gary Smith. Jim Scott had welcomed guests to the green garden oasis of his Lake Martin home for the early autumn Garden Party Concert that kicked-off the series of three invitational events. Capell & Howard, P.C. sponsored the first event that offered guests the special opportunity to enjoy and tour Scott’s magnificent five-acre outdoor set­ting. Impressive enough to earn features in several publications, Scott’s masterpiece gardens were recently featured in the August is­sue of Southern Living magazine. The gardens had been opened to ClefWorks’ guests early in the afternoon, and they grabbed a glass of wine, nibbled on assorted fruits and cheeses and explored the endless nooks and glens and vi brant, varied plant life contained within each surprising area of the lovely gardens. Fortunate enough to enjoy the waterfalls and alcoves, just as the Sunday afternoon sun slanted through the abundance of trees, they were also treated to the sounds of trombone quartet Quatuor du Sud, who entertained ap­proximately 70 music-lovers with a delightful mixture of classical and jazzier compositions. Comprised of professional play ers and college professors from the Southeast, Quatuor du Sud has performed at numerous venues in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Mississippi. The quartet includes local trombonist/composer Doug Bristol, a faculty member at Alabama State University. Guests perched on decks, rock out-croppings, and chairs set on a wide, grassy lawn as they watched and listened to the quartet perform with the blue-green waters of the lake directly behind them. The intimate setting al lowed the musicians to fully ex plain the background of each piece and even give a short les son on the basics of their instrument, the trombone. This casual, laid-back manner is one of the defining factors of ClefWorks, an arts organization that first began thrilling its audiences with a fresh approach to chamber music in 2007. Among those enjoying the afternoon with Jim Scott and Clef Works board members were Ka trina and Keven Belt; Cathy Caddell; Charlie Warnke; Phillip Goodwyn and his son, Phillip; Camille Elebash-Hill andInge Hill; Camille and Jim Leonard; Trisha Osuch and her husband, Neal; Katie and Josh Lowder; Emily Wootten; Richard Bradford; Michelle and Jay Baker; Charlene and Paul Hei bel; Laura and Johnny Thames; Chase and Ann Chambliss; for mer ClefWorks board president Carrie Banks and her husband, Craig; Debby and Roger Spain; Eddie Stewart and Robin Stew art.

ClefWorks Is On Fire!

The third in the series of house concerts will be hosted at Jasmine Hill Gardens in April, but before then, ClefWorks will add a little snap, crackle and pop to Montgomery scenes as it hosts its “Clef Works Ignited!” festival week of events Feb. 26-March 1.