Wilton Candlelight Concerts began with a simple mission: how can a small group raise money for the local library? Now, 75 years later, that simple mission continues but has grown to include the quest to keep classical music a key part of not just Wilton’s cultural life but also the benefit of drawing attention to Wilton from music lovers county-wide and beyond.
The Candlelight Concert series started with a simple, off-the-cuff idea — invite people to chamber music performances hosted in private homes and call on local talent whenever possible to perform; audiences would be charged admission and proceeds would be donated to help enhance and grow Wilton Library.
According to a history prepared for the organization’s 70th anniversary, the series began at time when Wilton’s population hardly reached 4,000 people, so “it wasn’t too difficult to find hostesses with pianos who would not mind hosting a musical audience.”
Then and now, the Wilton Candlelight Concerts have become a beloved regular gig for artists on the Fairfield County cultural scene. Outstanding musicians enjoyed the chance to try out a program prior to performing in New York or on tour, and it was easy to attract artists who lived between Wilton and New York City because it wasn’t far to travel.
An added draw was the concert series’ move in location to the Wilton Congregational Church, just seven years after it started. The same holds true today, according to Magdalen Livesey, the current president of the Candlelight Concerts’ board.
“They are unique in that they bring to Wilton artists of world renown, artists who perform all over the world — they’re soloists, orchestras and so forth. And they love the sound quality at the Congregational Church. It really is perfect for chamber music,” Livesey said.
The concerts have fostered local talent and booked international stars. Benny Goodman was one such well-known name, playing an April 1962 program of Beethoven and Brahms trios with local Wilton residents, the accomplished pianist David Keiser and cellist Aldo Parisot, a professor at Yale.
Through the years other recognizable musicians have appeared, including clarinetist David Shifrin; Wilton resident, tenor Jerry Hadley; violinist Pamela Frank who performed with her father, the pianist Claude Frank; flutist Eugenia Zukerman; harpsichordist Anthony Newman; the Beaux Arts Trio; pianist André-Michel Schub; and violinist Leonidas Kavakos. Most recently Stephen Hough, who the Mail on Sunday said is among the “top-10 of the world’s pianists” appeared last month.
The Candlelight Concerts have brought something special to Wilton, but more recently it’s been harder to maintain attendance and attract a newer and younger audience.
“The problem, of course, there is a certain divide, if you will, generationally with classical music, and we are trying ways to bring more younger people to be in the audience. But it’s tough, and that’s a problem for classical music in every area,” Livesey said.
The volunteers with Wilton Candlelight Concerts have been trying different initiatives to keep attendance strong, from recruiting younger board members and utilizing social media more, to offering a variety of ensembles and performers. Livesey said the fourth concert this season in April is one example.
“We’re doing something exciting this year, and different. Our concert in April is called “Percussion and Friends.” The two principal percussionists from the New Haven Symphony will be putting together a program with other musicians from the New Haven Symphony. So a very varied program featuring percussion and, and other instruments that we haven’t necessarily always offered before. That’s going to be kind of a departure for us and would be interesting to younger people and younger families,” Livesey added.
Supporting an organization like the library that impacts all of Wilton is one great reason to support the Candlelight Concerts. But another philanthropic element was added in the time since the series was founded 75 years ago. Concert proceeds also go to support a program called KEYS, a nonprofit that provides free music lessons and performance opportunities to under-resourced students of Bridgeport. KEYS was founded by Wilton resident Rob Silvan.
Audiences not only have the satisfaction of knowing their ticket purchases go to support the Wilton Library and KEYS, they also have a wonderful opportunity to enjoy world-class access to classical music in a very approachable form that’s accessible listeners of all ages.
“It’s valuable to have a broad exposure to all elements of the arts, and as a person living in the world to know about different composers, to know about different styles. Usually we provide program notes and sometimes the artist will also speak and give some information. So it’s a matter of giving yourself and your children a broader base of knowledge and ways to appreciate things of beauty,” Livesey said.
Admission for students at any age is free, and Livesey said the group has tried to keep ticket prices “very, very reasonable and low so that people can afford it.” Seating is first come, first served, and tickets are available at the door or through the Candlelight Concerts website.
Wilton Candlelight Concerts presents its second concert of the 2022-2023 season on Sunday, Dec. 4 at 4 p.m., featuring the Manhattan Chamber Players at the Wilton Congregational Church. The musicians will perform Beethoven’s playful “Eyeglasses” duet for viola and cello, as well as Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet and violin duets by Bartok. In addition, the group will play String Trio by Gideon Klein. This trio was composed in 1944, while Klein was imprisoned in the Terezin prison camp and ghetto, and was completed shortly before his deportation to Auschwitz, where he died.
The Manhattan Chamber Players are a chamber music collective of New York-based musicians who share the common aim of performing the greatest works in the chamber repertoire at the highest level. Formed in 2015 by Artistic Director and violist Luke Fleming, MCP is comprised of an impressive roster of musicians who all come from the tradition of great music making at the Marlboro Music Festival, Steans Institute at Ravinia, Music@Menlo, Yellow Barn Chamber Music Festival and Perlman Music Program, and are former students of the Curtis Institute, Juilliard School, Colburn School, and the New England Conservatory.
Tickets for this concert may be purchased on the Candlelight Concerts website, or at the door. Adult tickets are $30, seniors $25, and students are free.