In a city that boasts the Kennedy Center, the Juilliard Quartest in residence at the Library of Congress, weekly concerts at the National Gallery of Art was not one, but several impressive music departments at local universities, it is no wonder the Dumbarton Concert Series did not spring to life before 1977. But until then, no hometown concert series devoted itself entirely to promoting talented local chamber musicians.
Washington's aspiring concert musicians quietly practiced in their city apartments and suburban homes before the series' organizers insisted they perform for their metropolitan neighbor at the Dumberton Church in Georgetown.
Miron and Carol Yampolsky, cellist and pianist, respectively, are two of the best examples of the fascinating performers who were unknown to many local people until they played with the Dumbarton series. Washingtonians were introduced to them in February 1980.
They began performing as a duo in 1977, shortly after they met while she was a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland and he, then a member of the Baltimore Symphony, visisted her class. For the next four years, they performed more than 50 concerts on the East Coast, mostly at universities and in private homes. After hours of working together, they realized the magic they created when playing went beyond the music, and decided to become husband and wife.
"The Dumbarton concert was definitely the largest audience we've ever played to," Carol recalled. "It was also the most diverse group of people we've in mostly academic environments before that."
Miron, 36, who left the Baltimore Symphony three years ago and has been teaching cello at The American University, was 7 years old when he first learned to play the cello in his native U.S.S.R. His teacher was Mstislav Rostropovich, the world's greatest cellist in most cities critics' eyes and a friend of Miron's father. Miron studied under his tutelage for 15 years, until he entered the Moscow Conservatory of Music in 1966.
Carol Yampolsky, who teaches piano theory at Howard University, is an equally accomplished musician.
She grew up in the Bronx, the daughter of a construction worker. Although no one in her family had a musical background, her mother insisted that "all little girls" should learn to play the piano. Carol took her first lesson when she was 4 years old, and by the time she was 8, she had entered Juilliard's Preparatory School, where she continued to study until her graduation from High School.
She received a bachelor's degree in music education from Kentucky State University, a master's degree in music from the University of Houston and will soon complete her Ph.D., which she has worked on part-time, from the University of Maryland.
The Yampolskys are brilliant musicians. Their intense, separate scores combine to create a mood whose destiny is to posses every listener's mind and emotions. They will perform again as part of the Dumbarton series tomorrow night at 8 o'clock in the Dumbarton United Methodist Church. 3133 Dumbarton Ave. NW.
Leah Johnson, 34, started the concert series in October 1977. But even she has been surprised at how the numbers of skilled local chamber music performers have increased over the last four years.
"One day I was sitting in Dumbarton Church and thought, 'Gee, this is a great space,'" she explains. "I felt there was a real need for music in Georgetown. People always have this image that there's a lot of culture in Georgetown Symphony, there really wasn't much time."
Johnson's inklings that Washington had an insatiable thirst for chamber music were proven correct when all seven concerts of the first season played to packed audiences in the 300-seat church. The next two seasons (1978-80) saw Johnson, who lived in Georgetown, quit her job as a piano teacher at the Potomac School in McLean, Va., hire herself as full-time producer and her next-door neighbor, Connie Zimmer, 34, as the series' full-time manager. Both women are still the series' only employes.
According to Zimmer, Dumbarton's success is directly attributable to its role as the only concert series in Washington that requires that the performers be from the metropolitan area. When nationally known guest artists occasionally play for the series, they must perform with local musicians or play works written by local composers.
Dumbarton has also been the one outlet that allows many performers known only in musical and academic circles to play for a wide range of Washingtonians.
Some musicians were discovered by the concert series. The most impressive examples are lutists Linn Barnes and Allison Hampton, who grew up in D.C. There is only one other professional lute duo in the country, and they live in La Jolla, Calif.
Yet it wasn't until December 1979 that Barnes and Hampton were resurrected from the chamber musicians' nightmare of performing in restuarants to pay the rent -- when they were asked to perform for the Dumbarton.
Since then, their careers have snowballed, and have included several area performances, a New England tour, an album (with a second to be released in the fall of 1982) and a European tour that begins in July.
"Linn and Allison played for us (the Dambarton series) again this season. We use them every year because they're so well-liked," raved Zimmer.
What lies ahead as the series enters its fourth season?
"We plan to continue to devote the series to local artists. Next year we'll record all the concerts and hope to have some broadcast on (classical AM-FM radio station) WGMS. We'll also have master's classes and will continue to have the free (sporadic) noontime audition-concerts for senior citizens," Zimmer said.
With the recent rebirth in chamber music's popularity, it's obvious the Dumbarton concerts will continue to reach higher crescendos.