30 Years of Chamber Music: The Hill House Chamber Players

By Barry Kempton

Today’s guest blog post is written by Julie Ayer and Jeffrey Van of the Hill House Chamber Players whose season kicks of this coming Monday, Oct 19.


Thirty years of chamber music! How is it possible?

As the Hill House Chamber Players (HHCP) ponder this amazing fact, we discussed how we could best describe the creation and evolution of the Parlor Concerts. The unusual and special collaboration between three major Twin Cities arts organizations has resulted in a remarkable thirty years of chamber music in the James J. Hill House.  It has been a constant creative and imaginative effort by all involved, notwithstanding the possibility of closure of the James J. Hill House. (twice?)

The Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) stepped outside its usual role by facilitating this venue for the Hill House Chamber Players.  Architecturally and historically, the James J. Hill House is one of the most important among the many sites operated by the MHS.  Nina Archabal, (former MHS and Schubert Club President), Betsy Doermann and Craig Johnson (former James J. Hill site managers), were instrumental in allowing (offering) use of the art gallery, or the music room for the concerts, setting up the space, providing staff, refreshments and post-concert mini-tours.  Parlor concerts are not a new idea!  Before the turn of the twentieth century, the Schubert Club and the Hill House had an historic tradition of presenting recitals, which seemed to tie it all together.

With the help and effort of Bruce Carlson, former Schubert Club President, and continuing with current Artistic and Executive Director Barry Kempton, we created an affiliation/co-sponsorship with the HHCP, MHS and The Schubert Club.  Schubert Club Museum historic and reproduction instruments have been incorporated into the concerts over the years, and The Schubert Club’s Steinway Model B piano from 1952, is currently in residence at the Hill House on extended loan.  The Schubert Club also produced two CD’s for the HHCP, Music in the Gallery I and II.  

MPR and WCAL were broadcast partners for many years during the 1980’s and ’90’s, a valuable promotion for the Parlor Concerts.

We began with four musicians, and frequently invited guest artists depending on the repertoire. Craig Johnson wore several hats throughout the years, appearing on our programs numerous times in his role as actor, poet or narrator.  Our wonderful guest artists are too numerous to mention by name, but suffice to say all of them enhanced our programs immeasurably.  When audience demand exceeded the available seating (120) for each concert, the series was expanded to include two performances of each program.  The Hill House Chamber Players have performed several benefit concerts for both the Schubert Club and the James J Hill House, most recently the Schubertiade in June of 2015.

It has been an extremely rewarding relationship for all of us.  As our audiences expanded over the years, awareness grew of the James J Hill House, (and by extension, the Minnesota Historical Society), as well as The Schubert Club.  All are cultural treasures and an important part of our local and national collective history.

On behalf of the musicians, we are honored to have worked together successfully for so many years.

– Julie Ayer, violinist, and Jeffrey Van, guitarist
Founding Members of the Hill House Chamber Players