It’s the time of year that nature sounds — peepers and rushing water alongside Highway 19 — give way to the tickling of piano keys and string and brass instruments.
The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival will welcome music enthusiasts to the Festival barn Aug. 16-Sept. 1 for this year’s musical offerings.
The Festival, in a rustic refurbished barn at 4037 Highway 19 in DeForest, celebrates its 30th year.
The barn will be transformed into “an intimate jazz club, with café tables, dim lights and candles, and refreshments,” said Sarah Schaffer, managing director of the festival.
This year’s theme, “Sanctuary”, harkens back to the festival’s original goal: provide a refreshing, inspiring retreat. Co-artistic festival directors and hosts John Harbison and his wife, Rose Mary, dreamed up the festival in 1989 in Token Creek. The Festival barn’s design, with an upper level room dedicated to performances, was all Rose Mary’s idea.
The couple met in the Princeton orchestra in college, John playing viola and Rose Mary playing violin. John is a composer of many works and Pulitzer Prize winner for “The Flight into Egypt.” The couple has performed together and with others during the Festival and other occasions.
Rose Mary’s family is originally from the area, with her family homestead near the Festival barn, and the couple currently splits their time between Wisconsin and Boston, Mass. John organized and held a jazz series at Emmanuel Church of Boston and also serves as an institute music professor at MIT.
Looking back over 30 years, Harbison says that the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival is much more than classical and jazz music performances.
“We had a sense that we became an art festival,” he says. There were paintings and artwork, photography, and poetry. In an era where musical institutions must prove growth, the festival’s goal was always to experience music in an intimate setting.
One year, they worked on a Token Creek conservation project. “We restored a field, discussed water systems, and we celebrated with outdoor pieces and theme,” Harbison says.
A board was established to help with logistics, making sure people could find the location, organizing refreshments during concerts, and expanding its reach into east Madison.
When Harbison and Rose Mary schedule musicians for the festival, “we like to get our friends together, it is like a reunion,” he said, noting returning guest pianist Robert Levin is a friend of the couple.
Harbison turned 80 this year, and it’s been a time of reflection. He’s also excited for new things to come. The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival organized musical events in honor of Harbison in both Madison and Boston to celebrate earlier this year.
Harbison says big milestones make you think of family.
“My father passed at 51, and I lost a sister in her late 30s. It’s a privilege to be married all these years to Rose Mary, to write music, to just enjoy life,” Harbison said.
If You Go:
Aug. 16 and Aug. 17 — The Token Creek Jazz Club will play a cocktail hour set from 5-7 p.m., featuring John Harbison on piano, John Schaffer on bass, Rose Mary Harbison on violin, and Jim Huwe on drums. Guest appearances by vocalist Ricky Richardson and trombonist Tom Artin.
Aug. 24 and 25 — A chamber music tribute to Brahms, 4 p.m. each day.
Aug. 28 – The Festival’s belated birthday tribute to John Harbison’s 80th birthday, including a book reading, poet Lloyd Schwartz, music by baritone Simon Barrad, music and poetry. 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 – The Festival welcomes back pianists Robert Levin and Ya-Fei Chuang. Mozart, Revel, Liszt, Beethoven’s fourth concerto and excerpts of Harbison’s second sonata, written for friend Levin, will be performed at 4 p.m. each day.
Tickets for Token Creek Chamber Music Festival Events can be purchased by visit the Festival website, www.tokencreekfestival.org or by calling 608-241-2525.
Tickets must be purchased online or ordered by calling 608-241-2525.