Two organizations with similar missions recently joined forces to make beautiful music together.
The Arcadia Players, formally based in South Amherst, had outgrown its office space with its expansion of programs and realized that to fulfill its mission of bringing concerts to all three counties of the Pioneer Valley, a move would be inevitable. What their search committee discovered was an architectural gem in downtown Holyoke.
"The United Congregational Church in Holyoke is stunning," said Anna Polesny Bartoli, president, Arcadia Players, during an interview with Reminder Publications. "It is an architectural gem of its era and the Skinners spared no expense."
Polesny Bartoli is referring to the prominent 19th century Skinner family and, in particular, William Skinner, a prominent silk manufacturer, whose legacy lives on today in architecture across the city.
Polesny Bartoli added that the church sanctuary and chapel have wonderful acoustics which is ideal for the types of concerts presented by Arcadia Players.
Founded in 1989, the Arcadia Players is a professional ensemble of musicians whose repertoire is focused on the music of the 17th and 18th centuries and whose instruments and performance practices reflect the spirit and style of the period in which the music was composed.
"We not only fell in love with the space itself, but staff members including Michael-Thomas Gilman and Michael Riffenburg were so welcoming and hospitable to us, that we decided it was a place where our presence would be valued," said Polesny Bartoli.
Michael-Thomas Gilman, organist and choirmaster at United Congregational Church, noted during an afternoon tour on Dec. 21 that the church leadership would like to make the church a regional center for the arts and education.
"We would like this church to be known as not only a home for vibrant, alive worship, but also as a regional center for the arts," he said, adding, "we want to help to revitalize Holyoke, and the arts have a way of attracting visionaries."
Gilman also stressed that the church has always been a home for the finest music.
"The Ernest M. Skinner organ here is one of the finest in the world, and the man who presided over it from 1880 until 1949 was a founder of the American Guild of Organists," said Gilman.
Polesny Bartoli said the Arcadia Players are thrilled with their new home and look forward to many musical collaborations in the future.
"The church members continue to be wonderful and friendly," she said, adding, "there is an atmosphere of friendly kindness that is infectious."
Their first joint venture is a benefit for Arcadia Players on May 9 in Skinner Memorial Chapel at the church, 395 High St., featuring music by Haydn, Beethoven and Weber. Arcadia Players will also host a post-concert reception to celebrate its new home. There will be a suggested donation of $10 at the door that evening.
Plans are also underway for a major event in the church sanctuary for the 2008-09 season, according to Gilman.
Gilman noted that there is ample parking available for all special events and that a Holyoke police officer is always on hand to ensure that traffic flows well before and after events.
"I personally want to thank the Holyoke Police Department for their professionalism and cooperation at all our events," he added.
The Arcadia Players also have an ambitious early 2008 schedule which includes English Baroque Chamber Music with Contemporary Readings on Jan. 12 at 7:30 p.m. at the Caswell Library, Deerfield Academy, Old Main Street, Deerfield, and again on Jan. 13 at 3 p.m. at the Wistariahurst Museum, 238 Cabot St., Holyoke. A pre-concert talk by Alice Robbins at 7 p.m. on Saturday and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday is another feature of the concert.
On March 1 at 7:30 p.m., an organ concert by Ian Watson will be featured at First Church of Deerfield, 71 Old Main St., Deerfield. Watson conducts a pre-concert talk at 7 p.m. His program will feature arrangements by J.S. Bach for organ of ensemble concertos by Vivaldi, and works by Frescobaldi, Buxtehude and Froberger. Also, an All-Haydn Concert is slated March 29 at 7:30 p.m. at Grace Episcopal Church, Boltwood Avenue, Amherst, featuring a pre-concert talk by E. Wayne Abercrombie at 7 p.m.
Gilman also noted that in April, the church will host a showing of "Flesh and the Devil," a silent movie starring Greta Garbo and John Gilbert, with live organ accompaniment. Springfield chapter members of the American Guild of Organists will co-host the event.
For more information on the Arcadia Players or ticket information, visit www.arcadiaplayers.org or call 534-8888.
For more information on United Congregational Church, visit www.uccholyoke.org.