Ogunquit Performing Arts Celebrates its 40th Anniversary!

Established as a Committee of the Town of Ogunquit in November, 1978, Ogunquit Performing Arts has achieved 40 years of realizing its mission and the  vision of S. Judson Dunaway and his daughter Elizabeth:  to bring to Ogunquit and Southern Maine the highest professional quality of regional, national and international performing artists, and present them to the community at affordable ticket prices.

Portland Ballet performs “Bolero” for OPA

Over the last 40 years, this all-volunteer committee has presented some 500 performances by more than 2000 artists, showcasing the disciplines of classical music (symphony, chamber music, and solo concerts); classical piano concerts;  the art of jazz (solo piano, groups and bands); vocal music from opera and Broadway to country, blues, folk and pop; choral ensembles, Christmas singers, gospel groups; the art of the  dance, (including ballet, Irish, folk and ethnic);  theatre (from Shakespeare to light comedy);  and multiple military and concert bands.

Major performances, to name a few, still talked about today, include a pops concert by the Portland Symphony Orchestra at Ogunquit Beach;  multiple performances by the Portland Ballet and the Bossov Ballet Theatre at the Ogunquit Playhouse; the hugely popular multi-year Fiddle Contest, featuring Mac McHale and his Old Time Radio Gang, and with contestants representing back-woods fiddling to conservatory-trained violinists;  chamber music held at the Barn Gallery, with musicians from different ensembles joining each other in performance;  Belgian pianist Jozef DeBeenhouwer filling the Dunaway Center with his international prize-winning interpretations of Schumann and Chopin; the comic genius of Tim Sample, also filling the hall.

Tim Sample at OPA’s 25th Annual Capriccio Festival

Annual return performances and festivals have become the backbone of OPA’s season.  For more than a decade, Ogunquit has continued its love affair with the Stillson School of Irish Dance, whose dazzling dancers attract capacity audiences every March.

In June of this year, OPA will present its 24th Annual Chamber Music Festival, featuring Boston Chamber Music and DaPonte String Quartet, with performances at both the Dunaway Center and the Barn Gallery.  Performing ensembles in the past have included Ambrosia Trio, Cascabel Trio, Cassatt String Quartet, Eaken Piano Trio, Musica Camerata Montreal, Portland String Quartet, and Zaretsky Trio, among others.

OPA’s 12th Annual Piano Festival this October will showcase solo piano concerts by Boston’s Victor Rosenbaum, and New York’s Sachiko Kato, as well as Southern Maine’s best young pianists in the annual Student Piano Recital.  A few from the roster of pianists over the years are Leslie Ampere, Anastasia Antonacos, Jozef DeBeenhouwer, Cathy Fuller, Victor Goldberg, Leslie Hitelman, Randall Hodgkinson, Masanobu Ikemiya,  Laura Kargul, George S. Lopez, Irina Nuzova, and Janice Weber.

Portland Symphony Orchestra, Beach Pops Concert, Bruce Hangen Conductor Courtesy, Portland Symphony Orchestra

This September will also mark the 28th year of OPA’s sponsorship of the annual Capriccio Festival, which began as a music festival, and expanded over the years to include the visual and literary arts.  This year, the festival will once again focus on the musical arts with several concerts, and provision of high-flying music for the Capriccio Festival of Kites at Ogunquit Beach.

OPA also provides a free admission Classic Film Series, screening one film per month from November through May, featuring the best of Hollywood Classics as well as arts films, shown on a full-size screen.

Many of these OPA traditions were originated during the era of the indefatigable Stuart Nudelman,  who served as chaiman for more than 2 decades.  He led the way in securing additional funding, and was able to contract additional talent in expanded fields of the performing arts.

Mac McHale with fiddler Erica Brown, courtesy Portland Press Herald

Jazz Concerts have also become a tradition, as OPA has welcomed Jason Anick & the Rhythm Future Quartet, pianist Matt DeChamplain, Occidental Gypsy, the Soggy Po’ Boys, pianist Paul Sullivan, and guitarists Frank Vignola & Vinny Raniolo, to name a few.

Country music has been well represented by the likes of Joyce Andersen, Isa Burke, Andy Happel & Los Galactacos, Emery Hutchins, Mac McHale, Mark Newton, and Harvey Reid.

The Dunaway Center in Ogunquit is OPA’s home venue, where most of its performances take place.  The Committee continues to work with the Town of Ogunquit to improve the performance hall, including new auditorium seating and lighting, new stage lighting, new stage floor and curtains.

OPA founder, Elizabeth Dunaway Burnham

The history of OPA begins with the philanthropist Sanford Judson Dunaway, local entrepreneur.   In 1974 he gave $250,000 to build the Dunaway Community Center in Ogunquit that bears his name.  When he died in 1976, his will directed that a portion of his estate be donated to charitable causes.

In accordance with his wishes, his daughter,  Elizabeth Dunaway Burnham, requested that the executors include a contribution to Ogunquit to endow a fund for musical performances.  She had long dreamed that Ogunquit could support such a program  to add to its attractiveness as a welcoming place for artists, sculptors and summer theatre.  In November 1978,  the Committee for the Performing Arts was formed and began its work with Betty elected as chairperson.  (Later funding also came as a gift from the disbanded Ogunquit Music Center, John Parella.)

The Famous OPA Steinway Piano came to the Committee again as a result of Betty Burnham’s insight and generosity.  She had been a piano student all her life, receiving music degrees from Smith College.  She continued piano studies for many years, working with  Estelle Broussard of Dunbarton College in Washington, D.C. and William Masselos, noted concert pianist and faculty member at Julliard School of Music in New York City.  Betty taught piano for most of her adult life.

Betty was determined that the Committee should have a piano worthy of the world’s major pianists.  She consulted with New England’s most distinguished piano tuner, the late Frank Hanson, and his partner at University Piano Service,  the equally renowned piano technician Vincent D’Errico.  Frank and Vincent bought an abused Steinway from a piano dealer, and set about to completely rebuild it.

Masanobu Ikemiya and the fabled OPA Steinway

The piano, a 7’9″Concert Model C with an ebony finish, had rolled off the Steinway production line in Long Island, New York on May 20, 1896, and was sold to M. Steinert & Sons piano company in Boston.  Its life between then and its rebuild in 1980 is unknown, but it had certainly seen hard times.

Its restoration by Frank and Vincent brought it back to a top quality concert instrument, with a superb, radiant tone. They offered to sell it to OPA at cost, donating their rebuilding services entirely.   The only caveats were that it would be used only for OPA performances, and that they would continue to tune and see to its occasional repair needs, again donating their services.  And so it was.  Vincent continues the tradition, and is currently serving as a member of the Committee.  The 122 year-old, glorious Steinway continues to win enthusiastic acclaim from both pianists and audiences.

The OPA Committee originally consisted of Elizabeth Dunaway Burnham, Fredrica Hart, Steven Howe, Geraldine Lord and Professor Varette of the UNH Department of Music.  Chairpersons over the years have included Elizabeth Dunaway Burnham, John Parella, Jim Seegers, Stuart Nudelman, Patricia

Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo rock OPA audiences with stunning virtuoso jazz

Mason, and current co-chairs Patricia Mason and Janel Lundgren.

OPA continues to derive its income from ticket sales, donations, endowment interest, and additional support from the Select Boards, Town Managers, and voters of Ogunquit.

The Committee itself has grown over the years along with the performance schedule – from the original five members in 1978 to the current 10 members and 2 alternates.  These volunteers handle every phase of the performance season, from the initial scouting and contracting of talent, arranging for artist needs and housing; all promotion and publicity for the season; website maintenance, performance preparation,  technical set-up, receptions, and running of the performance itself.  As a team, the Committee volunteers an average of 200 hours per month – a commitment which any committee member will tell you is an enjoyable and rewarding labor of love.

The current Committee has 2 available openings, and welcomes inquiries about membership.  Such inquiries may be sent to opa@ogunquitperformingarts.org.

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