Q & A: Head of DeBlasiis chamber series attended concerts in early years
GLENS FALLS Promoters of a music series rarely get the spotlight unless they take the stage to introduce one of the acts. But David Bullard, who has been the guy in the wings at the deBlasiis Chamber Music Series at The Hyde Collection since 2006, has been more visible than most.
Born and raised in Glens Falls, he was attending the series concerts when the two deBlasiis sisters, pianist Giovannina (Gio) and violinist Virginia (Ginny), were still playing in them. In 1932, Gio gave eight piano recitals at the home of Mary Hoopes, sister of the wife of Hyde Collection founder Louis Hyde. When Ginny and their friend cellist George Finckel, who was the uncle of David Finckel of the Emerson Quartet and on the faculty at Bennington College, joined her for other concerts, they made the deBlasiis series official.
For the first few years, this trio and several other artists played an average of six concerts yearly at the Hoopes’ House before moving to the First Presbyterian Church and later to the courtyard at the Hyde Collection, which opened in 1963. When the new auditorium opened in 1989 and was later renamed the Helen Froehlich Auditorium, the hall became the series’ official home. This year celebrates the series’ 80th season.
Bullard, meanwhile, was attending Ithaca College and Hartt School of Music as first a saxophone and then a clarinet major before finishing his bachelor of arts degree at Skidmore College. Although he went on to non-musical jobs, he continued to pick up gigs in dance bands, most recently with the Georgie Wonders Orchestra in Albany and the Joey Thomas Big Band.
He married in 1963 and has two daughters, both of whom are musicians — his elder daughter, Julia, will play in this season’s first concert. For years, he’s been on the deBlasiis board and would fill in to promote or introduce the artists whenever needed. Eventually, Alex Toroc, who had been the promoter, retired and Bullard took over. His wife, Jan, is now the board’s chair.
Q: What were those early years like with the sisters?
A: The sisters were great musicians. They’d studied in Europe and I think Gio had been the first to study with Nadia Boulanger. I didn’t find out about that experience until after she’d died. They were fun. I remember in March 1963 they enlisted me as an impromptu roadie to help the musicians. They were playing Bartok’s two piano and percussion piece. After, we all went out for pizza and had a wonderful time.
I also remember going to their concerts in the parlor at the First Presbyterian Church and at the courtyard at the Hyde house. I heard a lot of great stuff.
Gio could have had an international career but she chose not to. In England, Myra Hess (a famous Bach specialist) heard her and said no one played Bach better than Gio did. They died in the late 1990s. There was also a cellist sister who I never met and Martha, who played piano.
Q: How did you feel about taking over such a venerated music series?
A: It was quite a responsibility but I had a rapport with the artists. After the concerts, we’d go for dinner and I got to know some of my idols.
Q: Where do you find the artists and the funding?
A: Sometimes I scratch my head and wonder how I’m going to pay for the artists. But the series has had such a reputation in the community that word of mouth attracts the musicians who want to play on the series. Sometimes groups let me know if they’ll be in the area and offer me tickets to come to their concerts and I might book on the spot. Sometimes we can’t get together on the money, others accept. I also work with booking agents. Many of the artists may be early in their careers but they already have impressive resumes.
Budget determines who I get. I like variety but I do have woodwind players more. This is a prejudice of mine. I think they get short shrift compared to violin or piano players, so I’m deliberately plugged into woodwind players. I also believe in nepotism. Julia will be making her fourth appearance on the series — she’s bringing colleagues this time.
We sell season subscriptions and our patrons contribute generously. LARAC (Lower Adirondack Regional Arts Council) has also given us grants. On average, we get about 75 in attendance per concert, although I have seen 50 in the audience in a hall that holds 144. We’d like to see more students, even though we give away free tickets. We do have to pay for piano tuning and advertising and we have a large mailing list. Although we do a lot of local advertising with posters, someone will come to one of our concerts and tell me that they didn’t know about the series. I tell them, “Well, we’ve been here forever.”
Money is tight. Artists’ fees have gone up — the price of gas. But, I’ve managed to book the six concerts for $15,000 and I’m proud of that. And the audience is receptive — they’re chamber music lovers.
Q: Do you want to make any changes or have any goals for upcoming seasons?
A: Next season we’re going to change to Sunday afternoon to see if we can get more people out. I’ve had a lot of feedback to change. Someone who works all day doesn’t feel like packing into the car again on Monday night to go to a concert. And the audience is graying and many don’t like to drive at night. I also might like to do summer events, if feasible.