Music in Norfolk has a long and vibrant history, dating back to the 1890’s when Ellen Battell and her husband Carl Stoeckel, son of the Yale School of Music’s first professor, founded the Litchfield County Choral Union. Chamber music and choral concerts in their 35-room mansion, Whitehouse, were the beginning of the Festival that, by the turn of the century, was already considered one of the country’s most prestigious. As audiences grew, the Stoeckels commissioned New York architect, E.K. Rossiter, to design the larger and acoustically superior Music Shed. Dedicated in 1906, to this day the hall retains all of its original glory and stunning acoustics. It has remained essentially unchanged since its stage was graced by such renowned musicians as Fritz Kreisler, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Jean Sibelius.
Upon her death in 1939, Ellen Battell Stoeckel left her estate in a private trust with instructions that the facilities be used for Yale University’s summer music school, ensuring an enduring artistic legacy. The Yale Summer School of Music – Norfolk Chamber Music Festival has a dual teaching/performance purpose. Audiences from around the country come to northwest Connecticut to hear world-class artists, such as the seven-time Grammy® nominee Tokyo String Quartet, which has been in residence since 1976. Boris Berman, Claude Frank, Peter Frankl, David Shifrin, William Purvis, Frank Morelli, Ani Kavafian and artists from around the world perform as part of a series of more than 30 concerts over a nine-week period. These professional musicians also serve as teachers and mentors to the Fellows who come to Norfolk each year to study.
Young instrumentalists, singers, conductors and composers are selected through a highly competitive international admissions process to spend their summer participating in the intensive program of coaching, classes and performances. They are exposed to every aspect of their future profession: their colleagues, their mentors, and most importantly, their audience. Almuni of the Norfolk program include Richard Stoltzman, Frederica von Stade, Pamela Frank, the Eroica Trio, So Percussion, eighth blackbird, and the Ying, Miró, Shanghai, Saint Lawrence, Cavani, Calder and Biava quartets.
A strong bond exists with the community, as residents of Norfolk and the surrounding area host the Fellows throughout their summer experience. The Fellows perform on the Norfolk Fellows’ Performance Series which is offered free to the public throughout the summer. The community of music lovers supports the young performers and becomes their most enthusiastic advocate.
Over the years, while Norfolk has become a symbol of quality in chamber music performance and professional study, thousands have enjoyed the picturesque environment of the Ellen Battell Stoeckel Estate and the excellence of one of America’s most distinguished musical traditions.