Pine Plains New York was but a short time ago known primarily for its farms. It still has a strong farm community producing acres of corn, beans, hay, milk, cows and horses. But it is beginning to be known as the home of The Stissing Center, an audacious transformation of an old movie house into a performance space designed by architect Doug Larson.
The sleepy farm town is slowly becoming a place where great music is played by world-class musicians. The proximity to a major music conservancy helps. The Bard College Conservatory of Music is but 20 minutes away and is a valuable source of talent. Sophia Shuhui Zhou, a Conservatory piano fellow (’20), was induced to become the Center’s first music director to put on a summer music program. She was in the midst of creating a schedule when the COVID-19 virus hit and concerts around the world were cancelled including those at the Center. But following the lead of a few venturous musicians in Europe, Sophia began working on getting the Center to sponsor a program of virtual concerts that would be staged at the Center and broadcast on the Internet. Soon things began to come together.
As of this writing Sophia, supported by group of sponsors, staged four virtual concerts with more scheduled.
Benjamin Hochman, an Israeli-American pianist and conductor and Bard faculty member had his concert series at the 92nd Street Y cancelled due the pandemic. Just like many other performers, he had been isolated at home for months. In mid-July and was only too glad to play once again in a real hall to make a video that would be available on the Internet. The filming took place over a two day period under the direction of noted photographer-videographer J. Henry Fair. The result can be seen at www.thestissingcenter.org/live. Video performances at the Center by Soprano Lucy FitzGibbon and her pianist-husband Ryan McCullough, a trio of violinist Mari Lee, cellist Mihai Marica and Sophia Zhou, and violinist Miranda Cuckson, are all available at the Center’s website.
Sophia has found what we had hoped: there is a strong interest in classical music. People who are staying at home long to see and hear fresh faces play great music, and that is what is being produced in the sleepy town of Pine Plains.
News of the Center’s music series is broadcast via emails and social media postings. Of course it is competing with similar programs being broadcast by hundreds of other venues and by musicians all over the world. Most of what is being offered are repeat performances drawn from archives, or solos or small groups performing from homes and apartments plagued by bad lighting, poor acoustics and fuzzy sound. The Center’s performances have been technically of a high order, are programmed for the moment and are not trotted out of inventory. They show a freshness and energy that comes from musicians being excited by the architecture and the singularity of place in Northern Dutchess County surrounded by farms and fields of corn.
When the strictures of COVID-19 are lifted, the Center will open its doors and the series will continue live. Until then, the series will continue as virtual concerts.
Stephen Kaye is a retired lawyer-farmer-publisher who has been slowly waking up his neighbors and friends in northern Dutchess to the charms of classical music.