History of The Music Series
The Music Series at South Church was established in 1973 with the mission to be a presenter of acclaimed local, national, and international performers. The Music Series was the natural continuation of a series of mid-week organ recitals begun in 1972 featuring local organists. These “Enrich Your Lunch” concerts were followed by a community meal and were meant to share the magnificence of the newly dedicated Cooper Memorial (Gress-Miles) Organ. The enthusiastic audiences that attended the afternoon series inspired the South Church Music Committee to expand the series by scheduling a season of full-length concerts.
In the fall of 1973, the Music Series presented Marie-Claire Alain, international recording artist and organist, in recital as its first offering since altering the season format. Ms. Alain was received by a standing room only audience. Since then, concerts representing both sacred and secular traditions have drawn in audiences from every corner of the greater Hartford area.
Over the years, the Series has invited choral groups, vocalists, instrumental soloists, and organists to the South Church sanctuary. The musical styles have ranged from classical to jazz and have been enjoyed by tens of thousands of people. The series strives to offer a diverse selection of concerts that are accessible to all those in New Britain and its surrounding communities. To this end, most of the concerts require no admission fee. A free-will donation is received to aid in offsetting the cost of the concert production. Previous performances have featured organists such as Marie-Madeleine Duruflé, Catharine Crozier, David Craighead, David Higgs, and Katelyn Emerson. Pianists have included Peter Orth and Ignat Solzhenitsyn. Music Series audiences have enjoyed the sounds of the American Boy Choir, Chanticleer, Lorelei Ensemble, the choirs of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and Connecticut children’s ensemble Chorus Angelicus.
The Candlelight Festival of Lessons and Carols has been a cornerstone of the Music Series since 1973. The service is produced annually in cooperation with South Church as a gift to the community and welcomes all who wish to mark the season. The festival is patterned after the service at King’s College in Cambridge, England, and tells the Christmas story with a combination of Bible readings, carol singing, and works for choir and organ.
In 2003, The South Church Chamber Society was created under the artistic direction of pianist David Westfall to ensure a commitment by the Music Series to include chamber music as a permanent part of each concert season. With this addition, the Series, once again, offered moving experiences to a new group of audience members. Since its establishment, the Chamber Music Society has featured ensembles such as the American String Quartet, the Jupiter String Quartet, and the Chiara String Quartet. Dr. Westfall has been a frequent collaborator in these recitals during his years as Artistic Director. The 2018-2019 season marked David’s last with the Chamber Music Society, and the Music Series continues to honor his vision by ensuring that chamber ensembles remain a constant in the planning of future seasons.
The Music Series at South Church has become a well-respected artistic presence in the New Britain community and beyond, and is recognized for offering performances by artists of the highest quality. The New Britain Downtown District honored the Music Series in 2006 with an award given in recognition of the Series’ “successful and pioneering music and arts program... providing a wildly popular cultural resource to the entire region.”