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Sunday, September 11, 2022

That time Van Cliburn gave a piano concert at Kerrville's Tivy Elementary auditorium

The pianist Van Cliburn, and the program he performed
in Kerrville on April 4, 1957.
Click on any image to enlarge

The Community Concert Service was an organization based in New York City, across the street from Carnegie Hall, which had as its mission to have “A Carnegie Hall in every town.” It was an offshoot of Columbia Artists Management, and it arranged for musicians to perform in small towns across the United States. It was created in the late 1920s, and weathered the storms of radio, television, and the ever-changing musical tastes of small-town America.
Last month I read about the Community Concert Service in a national newspaper, and I wondered if the organization ever sent artists to Kerrville. 
I was surprised by what I found.
A year or so ago, an old scrapbook was loaned to me by a friend. It’s a large one: the pages are 16x18 inches, made of a fading construction paper. Someone put a lot of work in the scrapbook. Most of the pages have photographs, programs, news clippings about performances which occurred here in Kerrville. 
Membership campaign: in the lobby of the 
Blue Bonnet Hotel; Mrs. Herbert Brehmer,
Mrs. Charles Henry, Mrs. Charlie Peterson,
Mrs. 'Tiny' Stacy
The earliest of these were sponsored by the “Municipal Concert Association,” in 1948. The first concert, on November 9, 1948, featured Tomiko Kanazawa, ‘Lyric Soprano;’ Gabor Carelli, Tenor; with Aaron Liefer accompanying on the piano.
I’m not familiar enough with postwar classical music artists to recognize these names, so I searched the Internet to learn Ms. Kanazawa was known for her performances of Madame Butterfly by Puccini; a selection from that opera was performed here. She appeared for several years on the NBC Television Opera Theater.
Subscriptions for the concert season of three live performances were sold to the public for $5 per adult and $2 for students. No single admission tickets to any performance would be sold, and only paid subscribers could attend.
In 1948, Kerrville had no ‘municipal auditorium,’ nor the lovely Cailloux Theater. These first performances were held at the Tivy Elementary Auditorium, in what is now a rarely used building facing Barnett Street. The “Municipal Concert Association” continued offering concerts in Kerrville until February, 1952.
Reception after concert: Mrs. Milton Pampell,
Mrs. Olga Seth, Mrs. Elizabeth Bennett,
Mona Paulee (Mezzo Soprano soloist),
Mrs. J. G. Wilcox, Dean Holt
However, for the concert season starting in the autumn of 1952, a new organization was formed: the “Kerrville Community Concerts Association,” which was associated with the New York City organization I read about – the one which hoped for a Carnegie Hall in every town.
The new organization started with a bang. Mayor J. L. Bullard proclaimed ‘Community Concert Week,’ and the fundraising drive started with a banquet at the Blue Bonnet Hotel, which was apparently well-attended. Subscription prices went up, too: $6 for adults, and $3 for students – though this price was for four concerts, instead of three, so the per-concert cost went down.
On October 16, 1952, the new organization presented its first performance, the piano duo of Alfred and Herbert Teltschik. (I wonder if they were related to our beloved Tivy High School band director, the late Avie Teltschik?) Again, this performance took place in the elementary school auditorium.
I’ll admit, again, I don’t recognize any of the performers’ names. Well, until the concert held on April 4, 1957, here in Kerrville, in the small Tivy Elementary auditorium. A lanky pianist, raised in Kilgore, Texas, performed a program of Bach, Chopin, Beethoven, Barber, Rachmaninoff, Scriabine, and Listz. The pianist’s name: Van Cliburn.
Leadership of the Kerrville concert organization: Ima Andrews, Violet Peterson, Betsy Bennett,
Josephine (Dodo) Parker, Tiny Stacy, Martha Starkey, Jesse Lynn Henry, Emma Kennedy.

Van Cliburn graduated from Kilgore High School in 1952; made his debut with the New York Philharmonic in 1954; played in the Tivy Elementary auditorium in 1957; won the inaugural International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958. He had a long and successful career, though his performance here was obviously a stepping stone.
Perhaps not an actual stepping stone.
These concerts from the Community Concert Service brought classical music to small towns, and I’m happy to learn Kerrville was among the places these performances took place. According to the large scrapbook, the last concerts of the Kerrville Concerts Association took place in 1968. 
Other organizations took up the baton later. The Kerrville Performing Arts Society brought music to our community for many years; Playhouse 2000 continues to provide popular musical entertainments today; the Symphony of the Hills has well-attended concerts.
Not bad for a small town on a bend of the Guadalupe River in the Texas Hill Country.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native and former board president of the Symphony of the Hills. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times September 10, 2022.

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