The Norfolk Chamber Music Festival — Yale’s most prominent summertime musical offering — will see its first change of leadership in over a decade at the end of this season.
Paul Hawkshaw, professor at the School of Music and director of the festival since 2004, will be stepping down at the festival’s conclusion this year, although he will continue teaching at the School of Music. He will be succeeded by current Deputy Dean of the School of Music Melvin Chen. Each year, the Norfolk Music Festival, which takes place in the Connecticut town of the same name, draws distinguished professional and student musicians from across the world, as well as up to 1,000 audience members, for nine weeks of master classes, workshops and performances. The program has attracted artists such as the Tokyo String Quartet and School of Music professor and pianist Boris Berman, who in addition to performing as a part of a series of over 30 concerts, serve as teachers to around 80 participating students.
“I had a health issue a few years ago, and I need to slow down a bit and do a little bit less,” Hawkshaw said. “I love the festival, I love Norfolk and I’ll miss it, but I’ll go up often to hear the concerts and visit friends.”
As director, Hawkshaw stood at the head of the festival’s entire academic component. He said this included the annual audition and selection process, hiring of faculty and scheduling for events, as well as selection of program repertoire. In conjunction with the faculty, who are drawn from institutions worldwide, it is the director’s job to determine the music festival’s direction, he said.
During his tenure, Hawkshaw oversaw a number of changes to the music festival, most notably renovations to the program’s facilities. Festival General Manager James Nelson said Hawkshaw’s key accomplishments include the restoration of Whitehouse, a 35-room mansion in Norfolk that serves as the director’s residence during the festival, and the Music Shed, the program’s 1,000-seat concert hall. Both facilities are owned by the School of Music.
Hawkshaw was also heavily involved in the restoration of both the School of Music’s Leigh Hall and Sprague Hall on campus, Nelson said.
Chen highlighted Hawkshaw’s musical and financial contributions to the festival. He said Hawkshaw began inviting musicians from Europe, increasing the perspectives and skill levels of student musicians. He added that Hawkshaw began his fundraising efforts from scratch, raising millions for the renovation of the Music Shed and the renewal of other facilities. Norfolk has a great number of needs in terms of physical spaces, Chen said, adding that he hopes to build off Hawkshaw’s momentum in the future.
“The way I plan to approach [the new position] is to keep the great traditional chamber works at the core of Norfolk, but at the same time I hope to broaden the program’s offerings in terms of thematic works while also relating the music to other fields,” Chen said. “Norfolk, as the Yale summer music school, has great resources to draw on from the University, and it would be interesting to include other fields that Yale is renowned for and bring them into relation with music.”
Looking forward, Chen said, one of the most challenging aspects of his new position will be expanding the festival’s audience. He said this is an obstacle faced by most performing-arts organizations, adding that he is confronted with the task of consolidating the program’s existing audience base while simultaneously enlarging it.
While the official change will not occur until the end of summer, the transition process has already begun. Hawkshaw said Chen has worked closely with him over the past two months and will be coming up to the 2016 festival in order to become acquainted with the faculty. Chen will be performing during the fifth week of the program, he said, and will take the helm on Sept. 1st.
“I’m looking forward to continuing the great progress we’ve made over the years, in building the program and enhancing its international reputation,” Nelson said. “I want to continue creating the wonderful educational environment for the students who come to study and the incredible music making that goes on up there.”
Distinguished performers at Norfolk have included pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff, composer Max Bruch and violinist Jean Sibelius.