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Monday, Jun 24, 2024

Middlebury Performing Arts Series: Fall 2023 at a glance

For its 104th season, the Middlebury Performing Arts Series is offering a diverse lineup, from a string quartet hailing from Scandinavia to a storytelling series organized by a group of Middlebury students. 

Each year, the Mahaney Arts Center (MAC) hosts the Middlebury Performing Arts Series, bringing an impressive selection of performances from around the world to the Middlebury community. The series began in 1919, when college trustees sought to elevate the quality of entertainment available to Middlebury students. At the time, The Campus noted that the series would ease the struggle of being so far from Broadway. After over a century, the series’ mission hasn’t strayed from its origin, and the Performing Arts Series still aims to enhance Middlebury’s curriculum and spark creativity and cultural exposure through world-class performances. This semester’s offerings are worth marking the calendars for a trip to the MAC. 

Starting the season off strong, the Emerson String Quartet will be visiting Middlebury on Sept. 30 as part of its farewell tour. Formed in 1976, the quartet has since collected nine Grammy Awards and was acclaimed by Time Magazine as “America’s greatest quartet.” The quartet is a veteran of the Middlebury Performing Arts Series, and this will be its 33rd annual visit to the college.

Next up is Dreamers’ Circus, a classical-adjacent Scandinavian ensemble. This Nordic trio prides itself on transcending the boundaries of genre and strives to create music that does not lend itself to classification. Dreamers’ Circus first visited Middlebury in March 2020 before the Covid-19 pandemic, so their return on Oct. 7 is long-awaited. 

On Oct. 20, the series continues with a visit from Mahani Teave, a pianist and humanitarian from Rapa Nui (Easter Island). Teave famously pursues environmental activism and music education work as a musician — she even built a music school for children in Rapa Nui. Teave’s story is documented in the film “Song of Rapa Nui,” which will be screened at the MAC on Oct. 19.

The season’s mid-way point is marked by Cocoon on Nov. 3, an annual storytelling event that is an adaptation of the Middlebury classic, Moth-Up. Like Moth-Up, Cocoon draws members of the Middlebury community to tell true stories live and without notes. Yet instead of Moth-Up’s historic home, the Gamut Room, Cocoon is hosted in the MAC and draws from a wider range of storytellers. This year’s storytellers will include Beckett Pintair ’24.5, Youness Cheboubi ’24, and Middlebury library staff member Mark Salveit, all sharing stories on the theme of “Playing the Long Game.”

Like its predecessor Cocoon, the next performance of the series is also created by a member of the Middlebury community. Premiering on Nov. 9, “What We Ask of Flesh” is the work of INSPIRIT Dance, an ensemble founded by Associate Professor of Dance Christal Brown. The dance uses the personal stories of its cast to explore the body as a vessel for human complexity. The show also includes an interactive component, allowing audience members to contribute their memories and ancestors’ names to a scroll, which will travel with INSPIRIT on their tour. 

On Nov. 11, the series continues with another Scandinavian string group, the Danish String Quartet. The quartet visited Middlebury in 2017, when they were met with a standing ovation before intermission. They have been playing together for over 20 years and are renowned as one of the best quartets of our time. Coincidentally, one of the quartet’s members, Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen, is also a member of Dreamers’ Circus. 

To conclude the fall series on Dec. 1, the Brandee Younger Trio will make its first visit to Vermont. During her 15-year career as a harpist, Brandee Younger has worked to push the boundaries of harp music. Her music innovatively walks the line between classical and jazz styles, putting a contemporary twist on an iconic instrument. Last year she became the first Black woman to be nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition. In addition to breaking demographic stereotypes, Younger has played a role in transitioning harp music to the digital age.

The Performing Arts Series will continue in the spring, featuring many more string acts, a vocal ensemble, a collection of ballads from the Pacific Islands, and even a reading of historical, handwritten sex letters. The Middlebury Performing Arts Series has been a tradition of our campus for over a century and continues to enhance the culture of the Middlebury community. Whether as an escape from the stresses of life or an enhancement to one’s academic pursuits, the Performing Arts Series offers something for each member of the Middlebury community and begs a visit from each of us this semester.

Maggie Bryan

Maggie Bryan '25 (she/her) is the Senior Arts and Culture Editor.

Maggie has previously served as Arts and Culture Editor and Staff Writer. She hails from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and is double majoring in French and Environmental Policy. This spring, she will be studying abroad in Paris. During her free time, she can be found running on the TAM or teaching spin classes in the FIC.