The first time that Helena Baillie and Babette Hierholzer performed together, they were in prison – not as inmates, though. It was a performance under the auspices of the Bard Prison Initiative. Although Hierholzer, the seven-time Steinway Piano Award-winning pianist had only a battered upright piano to play on, she insists that it was a gratifying event, and the two musicians are hoping for other such performances in the future. “We were touched by the thoughtful and interested questions,” Hierholzer says.
Hierholzer and Baillie, who plays violin and viola and is an artist fellow at Bard College, got along so well that they decided to give future performances together. They played a trio concert with celebrity flutist Eugenia Zukerman in Kingston, then performed as a duo in Tannersville. On October 4, they will open the 2015/16 Rhinebeck Chamber Music Series (RCMS). Hierholzer, who is the new music director of the 37-year-old organization, says that she would not have selected herself to open a season, but that plan was made a year before she took over the directorship.
The series used to offer preconcert talks by the musicians, but Hierholzer and other members of the board realized that, while audiences were interested in what the musicians had to say, they didn’t want to arrive earlier to hear it. So the concerts will now start at the earlier hour of 3 p.m., and the performers are invited to speak about the music just before and during the concert.
Sunday’s performance includes works for both violin and viola, a diverse program of classical and contemporary works. Schnittke’s Suite in Old Style blends the two: recent music written in a 20th-century idea of Baroque style. Arvo Pärt’s Fratres, by a composer whose 80th birthday was just celebrated in Berlin, is contemporary music influenced by Gregorian chant. Listeners may recognize it without knowing why; this piece has been used in the soundtracks of many movies and imitated in many others. The biggest work on the program is Beethoven’s famous “Kreutzer” Sonata (named for its dedication to a violinist who never played it), and the concert also includes works of Prokofiev and Paganini.
Having discovered that the RCMS offered a concert by women composers in 1986, Hierholzer is now planning to use last year’s all-women program as part of an ongoing series. “It will be part of the organization’s history,” she says.
The series continues on November 22 with Brooklyn Rider, a string quartet called “the future of chamber music” by Strings Magazine. Fifteen hundred people heard three-quarters of this ensemble at the Ulster Performing Arts Center when they were the “friends” of Yo-Yo Ma and Friends. Other concerts in the season include soprano Christine Price and mezzo-soprano Avery Amereau (January 17), the Weiss Kaplan Stumpf Trio (March 13) and the Alexander String Quartet (April 10).
Helena Baillie/Babette Hierholzer, Rhinebeck Chamber Music Society, Sunday, October 4, 3 p.m., $25 for adults/$5 for students under 23 with ID, Church of
the Messiah, 6436 Montgomery Street, Rhinebeck; (845) 876-2870,