Kneisel Hall, known as “the cradle of chamber music in America,” has provided musicians with the opportunity to immerse themselves in the chamber repertoire since 1902, realizing founder Franz Kneisel’s vision for over 100 years.
Born in Bucharest, violinist Franz Kneisel (1865-1926) studied at the Vienna Conservatory and emigrated from Berlin in 1885 in order to become concertmaster of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Though only 20 years-old, that year he also formed the Kneisel Quartet, the first fully professional chamber quartet in America, famous for the precision of its ensemble and the restrained elegance of its performances.
By the time Kneisel arrived in Blue Hill, Maine in 1899, the small town by the sea had attracted a handful of prominent summering musicians who formed the nucleus of the budding “musical colony.” Kneisel built a house overlooking Blue Hill Bay several years later and founded a summer music school, offering students time for individual practice and lessons, chamber music rehearsals, and “ensemble evenings,” performing chamber works.
However, by 1922 Kneisel’s school had outgrown his home and studio. Felix Kahn, a friend and amateur cellist, built him a large hall on the side of Blue Hill Mountain, a building with a resonant wood interior that has been the center of school’s activities ever since.
After Kneisel’s death in 1926, the Hall grew increasingly quiet until, in 1951 the great patron of American chamber music Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge suggested Kneisel Hall hold a festival marking the 25th anniversary of its founder’s death. Many of Kneisel’s most distinguished students participated, including the violinists Sascha Jacobsen, William Kroll, Joseph Fuchs and Lillian Fuchs, and cellists Gerald Warburg and Marie Roemaet Rosanoff. The reunion spurred on a fullfledged revival for Kneisel Hall. Franz Kneisel’s daughter, violinist Marianne Kneisel, became the school’s director, and in 1953 the summer program was reopened, with a faculty that included Artur Balsam, Joseph Fuchs, and Marie Roemaet Rosanoff. Lillian Fuchs visited for a week or two each season, and faculty concerts were held on Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons.
In the following years, the program came to take its present form, drawing distinguished faculty from major conservatories and universities to engage in morning rehearsals, to give lessons and coach student ensembles in the afternoons, and to teach evening Master Classes. Currently, during the festival concert series fifty-one Young Artists play in a total of four ensembles, performing at each session’s end.
After Marianne Kneisel’s death in 1972, cellist Leslie Parnas (1972-84) and then violinist Roman Toitenberg (198486) stepped into the role of director, guiding Kneisel Hall until 1987, when the pianist and conductor Seymour Lipkin took over its leadership. During his nearly 30 years as director, Lipkin shaped the culture of the school and fortified its mission with a seriousness of purpose as Kneisel Hall evolved into a leading institution in the teaching of chamber music.
In the century since Kneisel Hall was founded, it has consistently enrolled some of the most promising young chamber musicians in the world. Since 2002 all of the young artists attending the festival have received a full scholarship—a tribute to their talent and hard work, and to the sustained and sustaining financial support of those who honor Kneisel Hall each year with contributions and bequests.