Originally published in The Weekly Packet, August 7, 2014
Surry pianist revives a concert barn legacy
“Music connects people,” said Alan Wittenberg of Surry. Wittenberg recently revived the former Surry Opera House to accommodate live music and film.
by Ross Gallagher
Heading out of East Blue Hill towards Surry, just after the forest breaks for a clear view of Morgan Bay, an old barn looms just behind the sharp corner of the Surry Crossroads. Formerly known as the Surry Opera Company, this unassuming place has played host to nearly 50 years of concerts and theater: classical piano recitals, operas, and plays given by students and internationally regarded professionals from Japan, Russia, and the United States.
After a dormant year following the passing of owner and founder Walter Nowick, a Buddhist teacher and accomplished concert pianist, in February 2013, pianist and music therapist Alan Wittenberg began to revive the concert barn’s long legacy of quality performances.
“I want to create a space for the community to come together, to connect,” says Wittenberg. “Music,” he adds, “connects people.” His first summer concert series, already well underway, has featured six classical concerts, three jazz performances, a duo of Celtic folk music, and will begin to present films as well. Wittenberg hopes to expand the concert barn’s possibilities to include presentations that would meet Nowick’s expectations of quality, but enhance his vision. “I would like to present music for younger audiences, experimental kinds of music, as well as talks and readings by writers and poets and lectures on a broad range of relevant social issues.”
This year’s concert series at the barn, which will run until early October, will feature films on Fridays from 5 to 7 p.m., jazz on Saturdays from 5 to 7 p.m., classical music on Sundays from 4 to 6 p.m., and will conclude on October 5 with a performance by the National Marionette Theater. Admission to most events will be a suggested donation and refreshments will be provided.
The space itself is a lofted wooden barn with warm acoustics and a good deal of character. Five pianos occupy the spacious stage facing tiered rows of movie theater seating. Japanese tapestries and photographs of tours that Nowick, Wittenberg, and the Surry Opera Company took of Japan and Russia in the 1980s adorn the entryway. The concert barn was purchased by Nowick from the Morgan family in 1965 along with 100 acres of land, some of which has become the home of the Morgan Bay Zendo, a Zen Buddhist monastery built in the traditional Japanese style, and the rest of which is occupied by the concert barn, Wittenberg’s Music Therapy studio, and a smattering of privately owned homes.
“I want the place to continue to be put to good use for the local community,” concludes Wittenberg. “It has a strong legacy and should enjoy an equally prosperous future.” Information about the concert barn and all upcoming events can be found at surryartsatthebarn.com. Anyone interested in presenting may contact Wittenberg at email@example.com.