Lucas Drew, having purchased a small summer house in Scaly Mountain, NC in 1974, organized a series of three concerts (two at the Episcopal Church and one at the Highlands Playhouse) in August 1976. Ted and Terry Hoffman and the Reverend John Reid were most encouraging. These concerts benefited the Hudson Library and were a pilot project for the founding of the Festival in 1982.
Begun in 1982, the Highlands Chamber Music Festival was assisted with a $5000 grant from Mr. and Mrs. Donald Kahn of Miami, Florida, through the Janet Annenberg Hooker Charitable Trust. The grant was given to Dr. Lucas Drew through the University of Miami School of Music to create the Highlands Chamber Music Festival. The first series of concerts was presented in cooperation with the Hudson Library and the Highlands Episcopal Church of the Incarnation. The enthusiastic response from the music lovers of Highlands encouraged the founding of the annual season of performances.
The founding committee, Ted Hoffman, The Reverend Charles Bryan and Dr. Lucas Drew met in May 1982 in the new Parish Hall of the Episcopal Church to plan the logistics of the four week Festival in July. The musicians chosen for the first Festival were mainly faculty members at the University of Miami and other universities. The Festival concerts concluded with Schubert's "Trout" Quintet.
In 1983 the Festival was incorporated through the efforts of Mr. Ted Hoffman, who at that time served as its Treasurer, with the professional services of local attorney John R. Mayer. In addition to Mr. Hoffman, members of the original Board of Directors were Ginger Butler, who served as Executive Director, The Reverend Charles Bryan, Chairman, Dr. Lucas Drew, and Mr. Ernest Stevens. That same year the Festival was granted "Not-for-Profit" status by the Internal Revenue Service. Having firmly established an administrative foundation, the Festival proceeded to focus on its artistic development.
In July of 1983 the Festival inaugurated the Sunday afternoon/Tuesday evening series that was the center of its summer season for many years. In 1986 the Festival presented its first "Meet the Artist" series. Originally designed as an abbreviated program of performances for Saturday afternoons, this popular series grew to full-concert length while retaining its informal character.
The "home" of the Festival was the Great Hall of the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation. All concerts were given there through the first ten years. In 1991 (our tenth year), all eleven concerts were sold-out and there was a waiting list for tickets. For this and other reasons, in 1992 the Board decided to hold all Saturday concerts, and the Sunday and Tuesday concerts in the newly-remodeled sanctuary of the larger Highlands Methodist Church. This venue shift allowed us to better accommodate all those who wished to hear this beautiful music. In 1998 concerts were moved to the Community Bible Church in Highlands. In 1999, with a generous gift from Sanford Cohn and Ruth Gershon, the Festival acquired the CBC as a permanent home and gifted it to the town of Highlands for year-round use as a Performing Arts Center. After another wonderful lead gift from Bill and Nell Martin, the CBC was completely renovated, and 2001 marked the first year of performances in the newly named Martin-Lipscomb Performing Arts Center in Highlands. In Cashiers, Dan Moore was instrumental in developing the concert series. The Festival initially performed at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd and later at the new Albert-Carlton Cashiers Community Library. The Library was renovated in 2006.
To complement the regular concert series held in Highlands, the Festival has carried its music to areas adjacent to the Western Carolina mountains. Over the years, concerts have been given at Tallulah Falls School, Tallulah Falls, Georgia; Sky Valley, Georgia; and at the Hambidge Center in Dillard, Georgia, Brenau University in Gainesville, Georgia, as well as in Atlanta. For many years a selected program from the summer series was broadcast on NPR's "Performance Today". A CD recording "Music from the Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival" is available from the Festival.
Under the guidance of its founder and Artistic Director, the distinguished double bassist, Lucas Drew, the Highlands Chamber Music Festival achieved a musical maturity that belies its youth. In 2000, William Ransom, founder and Artistic Director of the Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta and Emerson Professor of Piano at Emory University began his duties as Artistic Director. In 2008, Nancy Gould-Aaron joined the organization as Executive Director of the Festival.
Since 1982 the Festival has continued to emulate its founding models – the idealism of the Marlboro Music Festival (Vermont) and the varied program of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. The Festival is now among the oldest and longest summer chamber music festivals in the United States. In 2015 the board of directors passed a corporate resolution to change the Festival name to Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival.
The past thirty-eight concert seasons have brought together artists whose standards of excellence and commitment to chamber music have enriched the creative traditions of Highlands, Cashiers and the Western Carolina mountains. The 39th Season will certainly continue that tradition with another exciting mix of old friends and new faces, the fun series "Bach at Buck's" featuring solo and duo string music in the informal setting of a coffee house in both the Highlands and Cashiers locations and lectures in conjunction with the Center For Life Enrichment. The popular Feasts of the Festival, a series of dinners given as fund-raisers to support the Festival, continues to thrive.
The Festival is a member of Chamber Music America and the Highlands and Cashiers Chambers of Commerce.
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