New York State Country Town Delivers World Class Chamber Music Series

pine plains

Two hours north of New York City and three hours south of Boston, there is a small country town by the name of Pine Plains that is making its mark on the classical music map. With the completion of the main part of its new performance and arts center, The Stissing Center, has been busy attracting world class artists, including American trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and flautist Eugenia Zuckerman, the Jacques Thibaud Trio, soprano Lucy Fitz Gibbon and pianist Ryan MacEnvoy McCoullogh, violinist Mari Lee, cellist Mihai Marica and pianist Shuhui Zhou. Now another incredible list of musicians will be presented as part of the new Chamber Music Series for the second season at The Stissing Center.

Thibaud Trio, soprano Lucy Fitz Gibbon and pianist Ryan MacEnvoy McCoullogh, violinist Mari Lee, cellist Mihai Marica and pianist Shuhui Zhou. Now another incredible list of musicians will be presented as part of the new Chamber Music Series for the second season at The Stissing Center.

The Chamber Music Series was born in early 2020 with the idea of bringing world class music to the community of Pine Plains and the adjacent and nearby towns. The Series is very much aligned with the mission and the goals of The Stissing Center. Started just under five years ago, The Stissing Center seeks to positively impact its community by partnering with artists, individuals, and organizations to create meaningful programs and events; support economic revitalization and job creation in Pine Plains and the surrounding Hudson Valley; and to create a center of culture and civic life in the area.

In 2019, the founders of the Chamber Music Series discovered the sensational acoustics and the unique post-industrial design of the Stissing Center. When Covid struck and shut down the building, it still did not dampen the spirits of this founding group or the initiative of its intrepid Executive Director, Brian Keeler. In fact, with the support of the Center’s Board and a dedicated group of individuals, the Stissing Center took the Covid bull by the horns and launched the first season at The Stissing Center. Sophia (Shuhui) Zhou was appointed as the Director of Chamber Music and she managed to curate and perform in the inaugural season of The Stissing Center in the midst of pandemic receiving great acclaim among subscribers.

During the Covid months in 2020, seven extraordinary musicians at different stages of their careers graced the stage of the Stissing Center recording in situ but without a live audience. These were very emotional performances for the performers especially after so many cancellations of concerts around that time. In fact, the Stissing Center was one of the very first venues to stream high-quality audio/visual concerts online- a torchlight for a form widely used by most arts organizations nowadays. The series has been digitally documented by renowned American photographer J Henry Fair and are available here:

Now, with the reopening of the world and with Sophia (Shuhui) still at the helm, The Stissing Center, has embarked on its second season with the new Chamber Music Series. Not only has Zhou been able to attract world class musicians but also to lend her special understanding, sophistication, versatility and joie de vivre to her curation of the new Chamber Music Series.

Zhou is known as one of the most dynamic and versatile young musicians of her generation. She has played around the world at esteemed festivals and concerts and won awards. As the soloist of Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble, she recorded and premiered music by renowned composers such as Andrew Norman (Pulitzer- Prize and Grammy-Award nominee), Benjamin Broening (recipient of Guggenheim Award) and Thomas Ades (renowned British Composer). In 2019, she performed the American premier of the song cycle “Dark Days” by German Composer Alexander Goehr in the National Sawdust Hall, the esteemed performing venue for new music in New York City.

Born and raised in Shanghai, Sophia was offered a full scholarship by Oberlin College, majoring in piano performance and German literature. She was the first student from mainland China to be admitted into Oberlin’s highly competitive double-degree program.  She continued her piano studies with Jan Jiracek von Arnim in University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna as well as musicology with Dr. Morten Solvic, renowned Mahler Scholar and Chair of the Mahler Society in Vienna. She has obtained a Master of Music degree from Mannes College of Music in New York City, post-graduate fellowship from Bard College under the tutelage of Dawn Upshaw, Stephanie Blythe and Peter Serkin.

Side of Culture asked Zhou why it is so important for her as a professional musician to also create a music series and performance possibilities for other musicians?

Sophia Zhou answered: I want to curate a concert series that is stimulating both to the audience and the performers.  The concerts that really moved ME are those who understand the emotional needs of the audience and give them an invisible hug. Among the key ingredients are dedicated and expressive musicians, dynamic and sensible programming that has attractive narrative and emotional depth, and welcoming energy from the audience. Musicians need to be presented in a frame appropriate to the Zeitgeist and the sentiment of the local community.  It really takes someone to understand both sides.

There are two things I find extremely important:

  1. We need the super stars to fill the house, but we also need to nurture the young musicians at the beginning stages of their career. There is always something unique and original about young talents, and they need our attention and support.
  2. We need to gather musicians and present chamber music concerts. As an audience member, it is very energizing to watch the interactions among musicians and to explore the limitless possibilities of human connection.

Season Highlights: On Sunday June 27, Bulgarian violinist Bella Hristova (Young Concert Artist, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center) gave an unforgettable live solo recital to an audience of 60, thus marking the first public concert for The Stissing Center in 16 months. She played works by Bach, Ysaye and Nokuthula Ngwenyama. The first piece, Miasma, was composed by Nokuthula Ngwenyama, and puts the Covid virus into musical form, or “protein music” using the protein sequences in DNA or RNA. The genomic letters ACGU – standing for adenin, cytosine, guanine and uracil – appear as their corresponding notes with U being treated as “wild,” allowing greater range and harmonic movement. Miasma starts in a lamenting adagio and at the end trails off with an unforgettable thirty three As at the end. A music critic from The Millbrook Independent shares his experience in his concert review.  

On August 13, the globally acclaimed Israeli pianist/conductor Benjamin Hochman, will play a dynamic piano solo program of works by Beethoven, Debussy, Brahms and contemporary composer Hannah Kendall. On September 19, the Carnegie Ensemble Connect players, including American violinist Stephanie Zyzak and Swiss clarinet player Yasmina Spiegelberg, as well as our own pianist/ music director Sophia (Shuhui) Zhou, will play a kaleidoscopic repertoire for violin, clarinet and piano. On October 3, internationally acclaimed and the newest faculty member of Bard College, Shai Wosner (“remarkable blend of the intellectual, physical and even devilish sides of performance”- Chicago Sun Times), will perform Beethoven’s epic Diabelli Variations.

About The Stissing Center:

Pine Plains is an agrarian town, nestled between the Catskills and the Berkshires at the foot of the Stissing Mountain in Dutchess County. In 1915, the original Memorial Hall was constructed and given to the Town of Pine Plains in memory of John McIntyre. After various lives and years of no use at all, the historical building is being restored to its original beauty by Larson Architecture Works PLLC. The mission of Pine Plains Memorial Hall’s renewal  is  to  bring  together  the  community  and  foster  new economic  development  in  Northern  Dutchess  County  and  surrounding  areas.  The Stissing Center seeks to positively impact its community by partnering with artists, individuals, and organizations to create meaningful programs, events and educational and entrepreneurial opportunities. And, it is a regional center for community-based civic and social programs, agriculture, and a starting point for local charitable organizations. The restoration is in its second year of a five year planning, capital fundraising  and  construction  cycle.

The Stissing Center’s Chamber Music Series depends solely on donations to pay for talents, audio/visual recording and the operational expenses. As a Patron of $500 (or more), you will be our guests at all 4 concerts at The Stissing Center from June to October, plus post-recital receptions with the artists and invitations to house/barn concerts and pop-ups. Please click here to become a Patron!

If you prefer to purchase individual tickets for upcoming performances,please visit our website and/or call the office (518) 771-3340. Tickets are $25, with $5 tickets available for students. Tickets for upcoming August 13 Benjamin Hochamn Solo Piano Recital. For any inquiries regarding the Series, please contact Sophia Zhou at Up-to-date CDC and NYS Covid guidelines will be followed. Fully vaccinated guests may opt to not wear a mask. Unvaccinated guests must wear a mask at all times inside The Stissing Center and remain socially distant. If you are or feel ill, please do not attend these events.


By Victoria Larson, Editor, Side of Culture
VK Larson Communications

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