Matthew Russo, trombonist & educator

Instructor of Trombone, University of Connecticut

norfolk chamber music festival

I’ve made it to Norfolk. After Saturday night’s final performance of “Man of La Mancha” I helped strike the pit, hopped into my car and drove the 3+ hours to Connecticut. I slept for about 6 hours and then started the cycle of laundry, cleaning my trombone (no sand thanks!) and spending some quality time with loved ones. Another 6 hours later and I was packing up my car again and heading to Bradley Airport to pick up fellow Excalibur Brass Quintet member Ryan Olsen. We headed towards Norfolk (on the “scenic” route we’ll say) and arrived at about 6:30.

At Norfolk all of our meals are provided by the festival. Yesterday’s dinner was a delicious assortment of sandwich meats and salad. A meeting of logistics and a tour gave us a pretty good idea about the history behind the festival. Bequeathed to Yale in 1926 by Ellen Battell Stoeckel (both last names being heavy hitters in the Yale Community), it has served as a hub for music since the 1906 innagural concert at the Music Shed (made entirely of Californian Redwoods, which were shipped down the coast of South America, around Chile and eventually to New York where because horse drawn carriages failed in bringing the lumber to Norfolk CT, Battell had railroad tracks lain for the cargo). Notable performers at the Music Shed include Sergei Rachmaninoff, Jascha Heifetz, Fritz Kreisler, and was the home of Sibelius’ only United States visit where he premiered his The Oceanides, Op. 73 in 1914. Pretty cool stuff.

We took a tour of Whitehouse, the (alarmingly huge, 35 room) mansion that served Battell and her husband Carl Stoeckel. One of the rooms is normally filled with art and old books, and elegant furniture, but today was covered and boxed as the house has been going restoration and renovation. Another room was extremely dark, with dark wood covered walls, floors, and ceilings. We learned that some 12 coats of wax has allowed the wood to remain its natural color! That means no stain. Incredible. The ceiling had at one time also been covered in squares of a japanese paper made of gold. Holy crap. Easily the most impressive room was the dining room, where a large Italian table stood wrapped around most of the room, with an inlet that faced the servent’s access to the kitchen. The table was designed so that the servant’s would never have to turn their back on those they were serving. Interesting. Oh, and the ceiling was papered with Elephant skin. No joke. Probably the most interesting thing about the house was that everything was European, a symbol of status and wealth at the time, except for the servant’s Kitchen table, which was made in New York in the 1830s, which apparently now is worth almost as much as all the European stuff combined. Wow.

We went to our assigned rehearsal space, which is the Eldridge Barn. We get this room for the whole summer to ourselves which is great. We can just leave the stands where they are, music and all, and just show up sit down and get to rehearsing. Once we got a fair look around we went back to the house where we’ll be staying. Norfolk has a tradition of placing the musicians at the festival with host families. Initially all five of us were placed in the same house but because of a cat allergy we were split.

The rest of the week has been filled with rehearsals, and on Thursday night we will perform Ludwig Maurer’s “Three Pieces” to open the concert. If you want the streaming link leave a comment below and I’ll post it!