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By Michael Kleiner

For years, Philadelphia resident Anthony Checchia helped organize the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont. He realized he needed to “act local,” since Philadelphia lacked a chamber music forum. Thus, was born the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society (PCMS) in 1986 with the help of executive director, Philip Maneval. Checchia is now the artistic director emeritus; Miles Cohen is the current artistic director.

“With the connections they had in the music industry, they felt they could do the same thing here,” explained Erik Petersons, education and outreach director for PCMS. “They started small with six concerts in the first series in 1986. Since then, the season has grown to 60 concerts. It’s really filling a gap in the cultural life in Philadelphia, bringing international and US-based artists, to perform here.”

The most common concerts are string quartets, mixed ensembles, piano and vocal recitals. There are also cello, guitar, flute and violin recitals.The series is quite varied,” said Erik. “It’s all small ensembles or solo recital artists.”

Concert venues include Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center, the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Curtis Institute of Music, Church of the Holy Trinity, and Settlement Music School. The Society’s mission is to make concerts affordable to all. Ticket prices are $18-$24, $10 for students.

It’s a flat rate for any seat in the house,” said Erik, who joined the Society in 2010. “We continue our commitment to make it as affordable as possible, even though these are world-class artists that are also going to Carnegie Hall in New York, where the ticket prices are three times as much. We’ll continue to make that a big part of the series.”

If a community can’t get to the concert, the Society brings the concert to them.

“We do a number of outreach concerts in communities, which we partner with the Free Library to put on,” said Erik. “We go out to the library branches a few times a year and put on a free concert. Often times, they are children and family concerts in the neighborhoods or at the central branch.”

Erik also arranges for artists to meet and work with local music students, like he experienced when he was a student living outside Chicago. Now, he is booking some of the same performers he watched.

“The artists will meet with students from Curtis Institute and Temple, high school, elementary schools and at some prep schools in the area,” said Erik. “It’s a chance for music students to work with premier performing artists from around the world. It’s a great opportunity for students to be coached by them, and in turn, these artists are interested in continuing a legacy of building the next generation of musicians.”

Another venture Erik started when he came to PCMS was the “Social Series.” The Society partners with local food and beverage purveyors to offer samplings before and during the intermission of concerts held at the American Philosophical Society. The Chamber Society subsidizes the cost. There are 15-20 concerts a year at the Philosophical Society. In the last five years, 83 businesses have been featured. Audiences range from 150 to over 300 people. Last year, Erik stumbled across the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia.

“I read about SBN’s Buy Local initiative and felt this was perfect,” said Erik. “It was very much in line with their efforts to promote small local businesses. We have very similar goals and mission. They’ve been very helpful in securing those vendors, building those bridges with our series, and doing promotions for our concerts.

“The tastings help us to enhance the atmosphere of the concert, and in turn, we’re promoting what is happening around the city in the craft foods and artisanal drinks industry. Our audiences are very interested in discovering something new—whether it is music or food. It’s a win-win, promoting these small local businesses through the series by giving them a platform to interact with our patrons, and in turn, it’s making our concerts more congenial and social. One of the aspects of all of our outreach, is finding partnerships with organizations and businesses across the city where it’s mutually beneficial. This has been a great example.”

SBN members on the docket for this year’s series are Saint Benjamin Brewing Company, Cosmic Catering, Night Kitchen Bakery, Philly Food Works, and Crust Vegan Bakery. In the past, SBN members Weckerly’s Ice Cream, Little Baby’s Ice Cream, Weaver’s Way Food Co-Op, John and Kira’s Chocolates and Fair Food Farmstand have participated.

“We encourage vendors to promote themselves,” said Erik. “There’s some sales on sight, but for many vendors they don’t see that as a main benefit. They’re getting exposure and getting the word out. It’s never a case where caterers are dropping things off. You know what they’re bringing, how it’s made, where you can find them, and the history of their business. It’s been great to hear, after the fact, people came to a storefront. Or someone calls us two months later, ‘what was that place that hosted a tasting during the piano recital?’ That’s certainly a long term goal, helping to promote a long-lasting continuing relationship.”