The idea for a Midsummer’s Music Festival initially grew out of discussions between Jim Berkenstock and Door County residents, Robert Hastings and Hugh Mulliken. Jim and Jean had met Bob through Hugh in the course of building their home near Gills Rock in the late 1980s. Bob was a real estate developer and one of the original owners of the Church Hill Inn. He later became the Executive Director of the Door County Chamber of Commerce. He was interested in music and interested in improving the cultural offerings in Door County during the “shoulder” seasons.
The Berkenstocks developed a friendship with Hugh and Alicia Mulliken. Alicia, who had vigorously served the arts in Door County over the years, was extremely supportive. Concurrently, Jim and Jean were talking to their neighbors at the end of the peninsula, Bob and Charlotte Yeomans. They took the initiative of hosting a get-together in their Door County home to discuss the feasibility of a June chamber music offering. They invited Carl and Adele Hake, Gretchen and John Maring, PMF president, Virginia Terhune, and others, including the Mullikens and the Hastings. A lively discussion explored both pros and cons. Concerns included the slowness of the season (this was to be an attraction for June, but was there potential for the initial support needed?), the possibility of conflict with the PMF, and the viability of chamber music as a draw.
A subsequent meeting included those most favorably inclined from the previous meeting plus Door County residents Suzanne Gombrich, Peter and Dianne Trenchard, and Penny and Doug Schultz. The name Midsummer’s Music Festival was floated as a connection to the summer solstice (a time joyfully celebrated in areas of Scandinavian heritage). Planning for a first season in 1991 followed with five concerts scheduled around Ephraim’s Fyr Bal Festival (itself a solstice celebration). Midsummer’s Music started with concerts in the home of the Trenchards in Sister Bay and the Hake’s in Sturgeon Bay, and followed with two performances at the Hardy Gallery and a children’s concert at the Ephraim Village Hall. The first year’s festival was over in less than a week. Most people in the county had no idea it had happened, but there was sufficient turnout which encouraged planning for a second year.
A total of eight musicians performed during that first season including several that are still in the ensemble: Bill Koehler, Walter Preucil, Jean Berkenstock, and Jim Berkenstock. Stephanie Preucil was in attendance, but didn’t perform that first season (she has every year since). Added performances at the Miller Art Center and The Clearing the next season increased the festival slightly, where it remained for the next several years except for an added children’s concert at the Miller, outreach concerts at Scandia, and a special benefit in 1996 for the YMCA building fund at Birch Creek featuring violinist William Preucil. Broadcasts on Wisconsin Public Radio began in 1993 and the first commercial recording followed in 1994. The second recording was released in 1998.
In the beginning Midsummer’s Music was run by a committee under the auspices of the Peninsula Arts Association (PAA), which also offered much needed logistical and financial support. By February of 1995, however, a board of directors had been formed and Midsummer’s Music was recognized as a not-for-profit organization by the State of Wisconsin. In 1996 Midsummer’s Music received its own 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status from the IRS and became independent of the PAA. A key figure throughout this period was Alicia Mulliken who volunteered many hours to help organize and implement numerous aspects of the Midsummer’s Music Festival, as her mother had in the early years of the PMF. Alicia’s husband, Hugh, served as treasurer for Midsummer’s Music throughout most of that time.
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 lynch pin for the ensemble in 2004. The Midsummer’s ensembles are truly a “family” of musicians – whose talents individually and collectively are of the highest caliber – that immensely enjoys performing together.
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. We now have approximately $850,000 invested or pledged toward our $1,000,000 goal which will ensure the future vitality of Midsummer’s Music.
The June/July festival has remained at about 20 concerts covering mid-June through mid-July for the past three years. In 2002 the first Labor Day Weekend concerts began, now extended to two programs and six concerts. The Seven Last Words of Christ by Joseph Haydn was presented from 2004 to 2010 during Easter week, involving clergy and lay speakers from various Door denominations, and performances by local actors and poets.
From 2005 to 2010, Midsummer’s Music presented The Chicago Early Music Consort with their annual presentation of A Renaissance Christmas in mid-December. In December 2011, Midsummer’s Music sponsored the Wisconsin Brass Quintet who presented Holiday Brass.
Midsummer’s Music also sponsors The Pro Arte Quartet each May. In 2011 a second date was added for a fall concert by the Pro Arte Quartet. Significant growth, indeed!
In 2005, Midsummer’s Music Festival was deeply honored and very proud when it was presented with the Peninsula Arts Association Fred J. Alley Visionary Award, recognizing the important role Midsummer’s Music has assumed in the Door County cultural community.
A full-time Executive Director, Kathleen M. Pearson, was hired in 2007. With changes in personal and professional lives, Mark Kunstman was hired in August of 2012 to take over for Kathleen and the Marketing Manager position became a full-time role and Terese Boeck was hired to fill that slot in April of 2013. Terese departed in February of 2015, and Russ Warren was hired as Marketing Director.
Midsummer’s Music is run by a dedicated board of directors, staff, and volunteers. James Berkenstock continues to serve as Artistic Director. We invite your comments, suggestions, and inquiries at 920-854-7088 or at MidsummersMusic@gmail.com.