HUDSON–Eugenia Zukerman, internationally known as a flutist, an author, journalist and impresario, became artistic director of Classics on Hudson this month. She begins her tenure with the 2016-2017 season, and she continues as music director of the annual Leaf Peeper concert series in Columbia County.
Reached Tuesday, Ms. Zukerman, who has lived in New York City and Europe, had nothing but enthusiasm for Columbia County and its music scene.
Ms. Zukerman was introduced to the county by Richard Novik, who is now her husband. The senior vice president of the NY Broadcasters Association, he is also an equestrian, and the couple lives on a farm in Ancramdale. “I met so many interesting people as I got to know Columbia County,” she said. “Farmers young and old, artists, writers, painters. It’s beautiful where we are–clear cut, because it’s dairy country.”
In addition to cows and artists, Columbia County is home to a number of musical series, “each one carefully thought out” by its board and director, said Ms. Zukerman.
The two series that she now heads have evolved over years—in the case of Classics on Hudson—or decades, in the case of Leaf Peeper.
Classics on Hudson was formed in 2014, the newest iteration of ClaverackLanding, which itself was a chamber music initiative of the Columbia Festival Orchestra, all of them spearheaded by musician Gwen Gould.
Based at the Hudson Opera House, Classics has presented 11 evening concerts and four family concerts there, in addition to three house benefit concerts and 10 workshops at the Montgomery C. Smith Intermediate School in Hudson.
The Leaf Peeper series, entering its 35th year, was founded by Newell Jenkins, a musicologist specializing in the baroque period, and Jack Hurley. When Mr. Jenkins died at 81 in 1996, violinist Sanford Allen became music director. Mr. Allen retired in 2014 and Ms. Zukerman became music director.
Audiences were dwindling, and “there was a lot to do”—the website, for example, needed revival. The series has no home base, which makes logistics more complicated. “But I got a lot of support, and I’m grateful to the Leaf Peeper series for leading me to so many interesting people,” she said.
Leaf Peeper opened its season on September 10 with a program that began with Beethoven and ended with Brahms. In between were a work from the late 20th century—Paul Schoenfeld’s “Café Music”—and the world premiere of the Clarion-commissioned “Elegy for Cello and Piano by composer Tonia Ko.
The concert venue, the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School in Harlemville, was new for the series. “We didn’t know if anyone would come,” said Ms. Zukerman. “We drew 150 people!”
This Saturday at 7:30 p.m. the Shanghai Quartet plays at St. James Church in Chatham—a program of Mozart, Grieg, Arthur Foote (1853-1937) and Zhou Long (b. 1953). Ms. Zukerman plays flute on the Foote piece.
Ms. Zukerman said she believes that a music series should be a series, something people can plan on and buy a subscription to. She plans to keep Leaf Peeper in the fall–two concerts each in September and October–and to schedule Classics concerts in the spring. The Hudson Opera House is undergoing extensive renovations to open its upstairs concert hall, which has not been used in decades.
“I am assured that renovations on the Opera House will be complete in the spring of 2017,” she said.
Ms. Zukerman attends numerous concerts in the region, and reports that audiences vary noticeably. “In a wealthier community, like Hillsdale, you get an older audience. In Pine Plains and Hudson, the audiences are younger.”
For this reason, Ms. Zukerman is planning a “different ambience for Classics, work for a younger audience open to experimentation. We can be adventurous in programming for Classics.
“A wealth of music can be played up here that might not go down so well in the conservative concert halls of the big city,” she added. “I meet more and more people in Columbia County who are open to new things, from new music to new ways to plant their kale.”
Bringing musicians to the county is not difficult for Ms. Zukerman. She is an Emmy-nominated arts correspondent who has conducted more than 350 profiles of artists, musicians, theater and dance on CBS TV’s “Sunday Morning.” She is also online, with a new video blog, “Noted Endeavors.” As artistic director of the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival from 1998 through 2010, she brought the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia orchestra and Dallas Symphony to the festival.
All the musicians who give of their time as a favor to her are paid, she stressed, though much below their usual fee. But they have a “real sense of wanting music to happen here. They love the nature that surrounds us and they appreciate the audiences that are so open to the music.”
“Classical music enriches everyone,” she concluded. “People who go to classical concerts also love bluegrass, klezmer ancient music. Speaking for herself, she said, “It’s such a shot in the arm to find great happiness and great music.”