by Rebecca Shea
Within the woods on the outskirts of Woodstock there lies a great surprise—a splendid concert hall. Built on the 100-acre parcel of land that Hervey White purchased in 1906, the Maverick Concert Hall is a beautiful, spirited place to hear world-class music. Simply “The Maverick,” to insiders and aficionados, the venue presents America’s oldest continuous running chamber music festival each year. The season begins in June and continues through September.
Celebrating its 99th season this year, The Maverick is no new-kid-on-the-block. It persists thanks to the exemplary performances of rare and eminent musicians, the extremely unique, rustic splendor of the concert hall, and folks’ enduring love of fine music.
The Maverick is an important place to experience music in the Catskills. Since 1999, it has been listed as a multi-starred attraction on the National Register of Historic Places. It is a winner of the Award for Adventurous Programming, accorded jointly by Chamber Music America and the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers.
The founder Hervey White was a novelist, poet, socialist, social reformer, and above all an idealist. In the late 1890s, White met the Englishman Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead who was planning to establish utopian arts and crafts colonies in the United States. Following the ideals of Englishmen John Ruskin and William Morris, Whitehead believed that creative manual labor and personal expression were an effective way of reversing the dehumanization that the Machine Age had created. Kindred spirits, Whitehead and White, along with the painter and lithographer Bolton Brown, founded just such a colony in Woodstock, named Byrdcliffe.
And yet, rather quickly, White became disillusioned with Byrdcliffe and left. Purchasing a large farm in Hurley, White intended to create an art colony based on his own ideals—writers, musicians, and artists should be able to freely explore their creative potential without overwhelming financial pressures. The farm and colony developed rapidly with rustic bungalows, a theatre, and eventually a music hall—all built by artists and friends. Creativity thrived in the rustic simplicity and an annual theatre and music festival was established that was described as “a raucous bohemian carnival.”
|Flannagan’s Maverick Horse
Over the years, the name “Maverick” came to be the moniker for this collaborative colony of artists. The legendary “Maverick Horse”, a white stallion living in freedom in the wild appeared as the free-spirited hero of an epic poem written by White titled,”The Adventures of a Young Maverick.”
The Maverick Horse of American legend was adopted as a symbol of the settlement. John Flannagan a talented sculptor who was staying at the colony was commissioned to carve a representation of this mysterious, magical, and free-spirited animal. Using only an ax as the major carving tool, the monumental piece was brought forth from the trunk of a chestnut tree in only a few days. Today, Flannagan’s Maverick Horse stands on the stage of the concert hall presiding over the musicians and the audience.
The original Maverick concert hall was built completely by hand in 1916, by the artists and local people. In 1977, the hall was fully restored and has retained its original rugged character.
A New York Times article documenting the first Maverick concerts described the building as follows: “The wood for the building—oak and pine and even chestnut—was cut and milled locally and dragged to the site by teams, and the young people went to work. There was one young man, the son of a local farmer, who had become an apprentice carpenter; he came the closest to being a professional. The rest of the work was strictly amateur…so the planks went up on the sides and you could put your hand through the gaps between the rough-hewn boards. The windows went in by guess and by God.”
Any lack of mastery in the original carpentry work is more than eclipsed by the unquestionable musical genius of those who have played there every year in almost-century that it has stood. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience this special space. In addition to the classical and contemporary chamber music performances offered, Young People’s Concerts are presented on select Saturdays mornings throughout the summer.
For all concerts tickets are by general admission, except for a limited number of reserved seats that are available for purchase online only until six hours before the event.
Tickets are $25; students pay $5. Children under 12 are free. Reserved seats are $40 or $50 (depending on the event) in advance and are limited. There is space outside the concert hall, for pay-what-you can seating. Bring your own chair or blanket.