The idea of creating a music festival in the Napa Valley was hatched by musicians Michael Adams, a violist with the Minnesota Orchestra and Daria Adams, a violinist with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Being orchestral musicians who loved to play chamber music they realized the best way to assure that they could do that was to start their own chamber music festival. During a visit to the home of Michael’s parents, Gail and Harry Adams of Santa Rosa they played a modest house concert for 20 invited guests on January 1, 1995 in Santa Rosa, to gauge interest in the idea. Some of those in attendance have been supporters and board members ever since.
It wasn’t until May of 1995—incredibly late in hindsight—that the decision was made to go ahead with a chamber music festival in the wineries of the Napa Valley in August, just three months hence. A name was chosen, and six concerts were planned on a scant budget of just $5,000. The entire first season involved just seven musicians, along with Daria and Michael who played every piece in every concert!
The Adams family originally planned to produce a two-week festival. Due to a colossal miscommunication over the precise dates, Gail secured venues for one two-week period, while Michael and Daria hired musicians for another overlapping two-week period. Quite by accident, the festival became three weeks long to cover up the mistake.
Despite a dearth of publicity, the concerts were all well attended and some supporters stepped forward immediately with offers of musician housing, financial assistance, and moral support…most notably, founding board chair Ralph Mendelson.
In the first season, we performed 3 programs, repeating each, at the wineries of Louis M. Martini Winery, Schramsberg Vineyards, Kornell, Clos Pegase Winery, the Carmelite Monastery, and Mont LaSalle Chapel. More importantly, we sold enough tickets to justify a second season! From this modest beginning, the generous hospitality of vintners and community venues has been a lynchpin to the success of Music in the Vineyards.
The organizational prowess that made it all possible was provided by founding Executive Director Gail Adams. In addition to her experience in corporate finance and arts administration, Gail was also an accomplished flutist and musician.
A tenacious and tireless worker, Gail arranged concert venues, publicity, fundraising, graphic design, printing, ticket sales and volunteer coordination. Following the inaugural season, she assembled the first board of directors: Ralph Mendelson, Harry Adams, David Marsten and Ken Piters.
Harry Adams’ contributions to the early success of the festival were significant. In addition to backing up Gail in the office, he handled the details of concert operations: staging, lighting, piano moving, chair rental and even car parking. Harry was a key founding board member and our chief venue scout, always on the prowl for wineries with great acoustics.
Michael and Daria Adams were the artistic team that programmed every concert, identified and hired the musicians, assigned the parts and planned the rehearsals. Michael gave program notes from the stage and his style, knowledge and delivery have continued to be a draw for audiences through the years. In addition, they organized a National Advisory Board comprised of world renowned musicians, composers and musicologists. This group offered advice, and gave credibility to an emerging organization and on occasion, some members performed for Music in the Vineyards.
In our 2nd season, 12 musicians played at Spottswoode Winery, The Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, Rutherford Hill Winery, Mumm Napa Valley, Schramsberg Vineyards and Clos Pegase Winery.
We got a huge boost that winter when pianist Garrick Ohlsson agreed to play a benefit recital that raised needed funds and our artistic profile in the community. He played an entire concert of Chopin at the Robert Mondavi Winery in April of 1997, to a full house.
In the 4th season, we took a big risk. We decided to double our presentations by adding a second program to each week. Operationally this was a huge change, as it required more musicians, more rehearsal time and most importantly, there were a lot more tickets to sell. We were gratified to discover that there was indeed enough audience to justify our decision.
Our two biggest challenges to this point were finding adequate housing for musicians, and locating suitable rehearsal space. The latter proved a lot tougher than we ever imagined. We would rehearse in any space we could find: in churches, schools, a library, a community center, the office of a foundation, a museum, a banquet hall, many private homes, and even a wine cave. Often, rehearsals were at a different place every day, miles apart. The musicians logged alot of miles in those first five years!
By the fifth season, Gail had arranged a regular space at the Seventh Day Adventist Church of Yountville. This provided well-needed stability, and was rehearsal central for 3 years, until we moved to our current home, the sumptuous facilities at Napa Valley College – Upper Campus in St. Helena. This rehearsal venue provided stability to the festival by its central location, its availability at most times of the day, its accessibility for our piano and its spaciousness for Open Rehearsals free to the public. The move to the College was made possible by NVCC Dean, who also happened to be the Music in the Vineyards Board President at the time, Bonnie Thoreen. Bonnie is also Gail’s sister and Michael’s aunt.
The second challenge of housing for the musicians was met by the hospitality of Napa Valley residents who have generously offered their homes and guest houses for our musicians and their families. Adding to the ambiance of the festival and deepening the experience of the musicians of the famous Napa Valley lifestyle these accommodations are often enhanced by a pool, meals and wine and have led to many lasting friendships between musicians and their Music in the Vineyards hosts.
A word about the artistic philosophy of Music in the Vineyards here is apt, because it is central to how the festival developed. From the beginning, Daria and Michael vowed to avoid the pitfalls evident at many other festivals-- namely, too many concerts, with too little rehearsal time. They vowed not to become a “brown-n-serve” festival, where musicians sweep into town for a minimum of rehearsals, play a few concerts and flit off to another festival.
The goal was to insure that there would be ample rehearsal time to get to know not only the music, but their fellow musicians, the local community and the beautiful surroundings of the valley. To that end, they insisted that musicians remain “in residence” for at least a week at a time. An environment has been created that is both serious, yet relaxed, and has been integral to Music in the Vineyard’s success. When musicians are well rehearsed and well taken care of, they can’t help but play beautifully!
On the business side, festival expenses remained very low for the first five years because Music in the Vineyards remained an entirely volunteer organization. Gail worked without a salary and Artistic Directors Michael and Daria were compensated with the same weekly honorarium as guest musicians. A network of dedicated volunteers helped out as ushers, parking attendants and stagehands. It is noteworthy that the festival has consistently finished each fiscal year in the black.
This financial stability has been due in large part, to the success of our annual fundraiser, “Kitchens in the Vineyards”. Begun in the spring of 1998, KITV was the brainchild of volunteers Bonnie Lind and Melinda Mendelson. It is a self-guided tour of one-of-a-kind homes and gardens all over the Napa Valley that showcases celebrity chefs providing tastings, cookbook signings by celebrated authors, floral designers, unique construction, state-of-the-art appliances, appointments and decor. KITV’s amazing success is dependent on an ever-larger group of dedicated volunteers. The proceeds from “Kitchens” constitute the largest single source of financial support for Music in the Vineyards. In 2006, the guest list for the Saturday tour hit 1,000 for the first time.
Two years after Kitchens in the Vineyards was established, volunteer Jackie Jackson proposed the idea of Tables in the Vineyards. Each year five to ten special events are held in private homes or unique venues and feature food, wine, music, and sometimes well-known personalities.
In 1999 Music in the Vineyards was offered the use of the River House at Silverado Vineyards by owners Ron and Diane Miller. This was hugely important because for the first time we had a multi-function “home base”. Not only was it large enough to house musicians and hold rehearsals, it provided a central place for musicians and board members to gather and socialize. The River House with its beautiful veranda overlooking a pond continues to promote a true festival “atmosphere” for the four weeks of activities, a crucial element that Michael and Daria had envisioned from day one. Silverado Vineyards has also served as a concert venue since 1997 and the Millers remain among MITV’s most generous contributors. Since 2005 they have offered the adjoining guest house as a musician residence as well.
In the spring of 2000, the artistic and financial profile of the organization began to change as a result of the first long-range planning retreat. The Board of Directors, staff, and key supporters committed to a series of long-term artistic and financial goals, as well as a revised Mission Statement. The growth of Music in the Vineyards would now be guided by specific budget goals that would provide a blueprint for growth. For the first time, our small staff received compensation.
In 2001, the board took a bold artistic step forward in approving the purchase of a beautiful nine-foot “Hamburg” Steinway piano. For the previous six seasons, the festival used—free of charge—a 7 foot Yamaha piano belonging to Gail and Harry Adams. For all the Yamaha’s virtues, it was not considered a fine enough instrument for a growing, emerging festival.
The Steinway’s acquisition was not without financial risk. Several board members personally guaranteed the loan needed for its purchase. The credit for locating this particularly fine instrument goes to long-time supporter Harvey Zuckerman. On his own initiative he placed a classified ad in the paper, which was read by the piano’s previous owner in Los Angeles.
The biggest challenge to ever face Music in the Vineyards occurred in the spring of 2002, when Executive Director Gail Adams was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She died less than one month later, on May 1, 2002. Not only was her death a terrific personal blow, as Music in the Vineyards was largely a family operation, but it cast a shadow over the organization’s ability to survive. In many respects, Gail Adams was the festival. She ran nearly everything single-handedly with great efficiency. The idea of doing it without her was daunting to say the least.
At the time of her death in May, Gail had the major elements of the next season mostly in place. The concert programs and venues were set, the brochure was mailed, and “Kitchens” was complete. What we desperately needed was someone with experience producing and presenting concerts that could oversee the completion of the 2002 season.
Board President David Marsten approached Joan Lounsbery, the former Executive Director of the Santa Rosa Symphony, and asked her if she would be willing to manage that summer’s festival to completion. She agreed, with the realization that there were only 12 weeks until opening night. Her first order of business was to secure an office space, as Gail had always worked at home. A generous supporter, Lee Topham, who often worked on Kitchens in the Vineyards offered wonderful attic space in his office building at 1920 Lernhart Street in Napa that served as administrative headquarters for three years. In short order, Joan engaged her daughter Kathryn as administrative assistant, installed phones, fax and computer, set up a box office system with the help of Jeff Oliver, who eventually became the first Operations Manager, secured artist housing and printed the concert programs for the 2002 season. Volunteer Melinda Mendelson, who would later become Board President, stepped in and set up an office filing system. Through all the sadness of Gail’s passing, the organization came together in an unprecedented way to produce the 8th season. The emotional high point was a new work by David Evan Thomas for soprano and string quartet---dedicated to Gail’s memory—that was performed at the Cave Theater at Clos Pegase Winery.
To celebrate its tenth anniversary year in 2004, MITV commissioned another new work, with memorial funds given in honor of Gail Adams. Written by Daniel Brewbaker for mezzo-soprano and strings, it was premiered at an opening night gala concert at the newly-opened Napa Valley Opera House, featuring the renowned mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade as soloist.
The 12th season saw another commissioned work, by Miguel del Aguila, performed at Clos Pegase Winery. This work was co-commissioned by the Cactus Pear Festival of San Antonio, Texas and Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society of Madison, Wisconsin.
Nearly every week a renowned string quartet or piano trio is in residence. The ensemble performs a recital on Wednesday night and the members join the other performers to play works for mixed instrumentation on the weekend concerts. As of 2007, MITV musicians performed over 300 works by 100 composers, spanning six centuries and as many continents.
As Music in the Vineyards moved into its second decade, we were guided by key goals outlined at a Strategic Planning Session. These included new initiatives to increase fund development and to enhance our visibility and attract new audiences so that we might meet our first and foremost priority of producing the high quality of performance and artistry that the festival has become known for in the chamber music world.
In 2006 Board member Clay Timon, a former Managing Director for Landor Associates arranged for the design of a new logo and brand identification for Music in the Vineyards. To date our largest donation, this gift of expertise enabled the festival to market all of its programs and better communicate with audiences and the public through our web site and printed materials.
In 2007 after five years in the post, Joan Lounsbery decided to retire from Music in the Vineyards and in April of that year Evie Ayers took over as our new Executive Director. Evie came from the UK with a background of twenty years in arts administration including festivals, touring opera companies and music venues.
In 2008 the Festival secured its first major corporate cash sponsorship of $25,000 from Constellation Wines U.S. Whilst the festival has an individual donor that gives the same amount each year, this was the first step into the corporate world and has been the start of a good relationship which continued at the same level in 2009, 2010 and 2011. In 2012 the corporate management structure changed and our contact left the company. The sponsorship discontinued. However we secured a $5,000 corporate sponsorship for KITV and a new donation of $12,500 from Stephen and Lori Juelsgaard who asked us to find matching funds to secure this. We got $14,000 in matching funds and therefore the corporate sponsorship funds were replaced in 2012.
In 2010 in an effort to build more awareness amongst the vintner community in the valley we held a major “pro-am” fundraiser entitled Roll Over Beethoven. The event held at Silver Oak Cellars, involved amateur vintner musicians and professional musicians from the festival. There were classical, jazz and rock performances plus an auction and dinner. It was a large undertaking to put on a major event just before the festival and nobody knew how successful it would be. There were a lot of vintner musicians participating and many of their friends attended and bid on the auction items. We ended up making $78,000 on the auction items which enabled us to establish an ongoing fund for our Merit Award Program and put some more funds towards our rainy day fund. We held the event again in July 2011 and made $100,525 on the auction items and $31,650 for our educational funds and again in July 2013 where we raised $76,200 for auction items and $46,600 for Fund A Need. A similar gala event was held during the 20th anniversary festival in 2014 when $61,000 was raised from auction items and $52,950 for Fund A Need.
During 2013 the board considered a proposal to expand the Festival into Sonoma County, for the summer of 2013. After a large research project it was decided not to proceed. Also in 2013 the festival collaborated with the Napa Valley Museum on two performances of Stravinsky’s The Soldiers Tale with an associated exhibition and began a partnership with the Lincoln Theater, using their facilities as rehearsal space.
2014 was the twentieth anniversary of MITV when we expanded to 4 weeks and a number of special events took place including a weekend of concerts in smaller vineyard venues, called “3 by 3”, which were very successful. There was a large outdoor gala/fundraiser called “Midsummer Mystique” held at Clos Pegase on the opening weekend. The renowned soprano Dawn Upshaw was due to appear in a recital of work from her recent Grammy award winning recording of “Winter Morning Walks” which the composer Maria Schneider re-scored as part of a commissioning project especially for Music in the Vineyards. Unfortunately Dawn Upshaw came to the festival but was unable to sing due to sickness. However the concert went ahead with a different program and the season was a huge success. In the early hours of the morning before the final concert the largest earthquake to hit the Napa Valley occurred and threatened the end of the season. While there was a lot of damage in Napa, our closing concert was at Clos Pegase in Calistoga which was undamaged and the concert could go ahead.
Also during 2014 the festival launched its first Solo Instrumental Competition which replaced the scholarship program that had been running for 11 years. There were five participants and two strong winners one of whom gave a pre-concert performance as part of the festival.
The 21st festival in 2015 took place without incident. The theme was a celebration of Schubert and the opening gala “Sommerfest” had an Austrian Schubertiad theme. The board committed to another four week festival with two nights of smaller venues - “2 by 2”- which was once again a huge success with 95% of tickets sold. The second Solo Instrumental Competition took place in the spring with 6 participants and two strong winners who both performed at Silverado Vineyards at a successful pre-concert recital.
Music in the Vineyards is committed to producing a world class festival of superb chamber music in the unique winery venues of the Napa Valley. The result is a multi-faceted in-depth cultural experience for our audiences. We are grateful for the extraordinary support of the community which has over the years provided not only a loyal audience but financial support, beautiful venues, housing and friendship for our artists, enthusiastic volunteers, delicious wine and, above all, applause.