Midsummer’s Music Festival was co-founded in 1990 by Jim and Jean Berkenstock, long-time Door County summer residents and principal orchestral players with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. From the beginning, Midsummer’s Music Festival has drawn on the extraordinary talent of professional musicians from the Lyric Opera of Chicago, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Philharmonic, and the artist/faculty of quality universities throughout the Midwest. The series offers chamber music for winds, strings, and piano in varying combinations from solo to nine instruments or more.
The name Midsummer’s Music was floated as a connection to the summer solstice (a time joyfully celebrated in areas of Scandinavian heritage). There were five concerts presented during the first season in 1991, arranged around Ephraim’s Fyr Bal Festival (itself a solstice celebration).
Two of the concerts were held in private homes, a tradition that continues to this day. The Hardy Gallery hosted two concerts and a children’s concert was held at the Ephraim Village Hall. The first year’s festival was over in less than a week and most people in the county had no idea it even happened, but the turnout was sufficient to encourage planning for a second year.
A total of eight musicians performed that first season, including several that are still with the ensemble: Bill Koehler, piano, Walter Preucil, cello, Jean Berkenstock, flute, and Jim Berkenstock, bassoon.
By 1999, the number of performances was up to 11 and covered a little over two full weeks. The next year, the 2000 millennium, was an important year because David Perry (member of the renowned Pro Arte Quartet) joined our close-knit group as first violinist. Another Pro Arte member, Sally Chisholm, violist, became another musical lynchpin for the ensemble in 2004. Since that time we’ve had several world-class musicians join our core ensemble including John Fairfield, horn, Isabella Lippi, violin, Wagner Campos, clarinet, and Stephanie Preucil, violin, who has been with us since our second season.
Additional venues have been added throughout the the years such as The Clearing in Ellison Bay, the Woodwalk Gallery in Egg Harbor, T. Ashwell’s Restaurant in Ellison Bay, and Bjorklunden in Baileys Harbor. In 2002 the first Labor Day weekend concerts began.
In 2003, a key supporter stepped forward with the determination and foresight to help Midsummer’s Music establish an endowment. Substantial long-range planning ensued, leading to the establishment of a Midsummer’s Music Endowment Trust, administered by the Door County Community Foundation.
The Seven Last Words of Christ by Joseph Haydn was first presented at the Door Community Auditorium in 2004 during Easter week, involving clergy and lay speakers from various Door denominations, and local actors offering commentary on the different musical references to Christ’s final utterances. This moving work has been present each Easter ever since.
For the past five years, Midsummer’s Music has presented A Renaissance Christmas by the Chicago Early Music Consort. This has quickly become a holiday tradition with three performances scheduled throughout Door County.
The Pro Arte Quartet returns each May and October. Featuring two of Midsummer’s Music Festival’s musicians: David Perry, violin; and Sally Chisholm, viola. Parry Karp, cello; and Suzanne Beia, violin, round out this distinguished quartet which promotes an exciting balance of old and new repertoire.