Summer music preview: Pandemic gave Upper Valley music scene a boost this year

  • Hanover native Leah Kohn and her husband, violinist Niv Ashkenazi, are co-founders of the Oak Hill Music Festival, which will hold its first performances this summer. Casandra Campeas photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/29/2022 10:00:50 PM
Modified: 6/29/2022 10:00:49 PM

As Leah Kohn developed her career in music, the idea of bringing her talents back to the Upper Valley remained in the back of her mind.

The coronavirus pandemic brought that idea to the fore. Kohn, a Hanover native who lives in Los Angeles, wasn’t able to come home for well over a year, then spent a month in the area last summer.

She and her husband, Niv Ashkenazi, a violinist and fellow Juilliard School graduate, have founded Oak Hill Music Festival, which will bring nine classical musicians together for performances from July 13-16.

The creation of Oak Hill Music Festival is part of a blossoming of musical events now that pandemic restrictions have been lifted. Part of it stems from this season’s sense of freedom, and part of it is just the continued growth of the performing arts in summer.

“When I’ve talked to people, I’ve heard a lot of enthusiasm for additional offerings in the summer,” Kohn said in a phone interview.

The performances, at the First Congregational Church of Lebanon on July 13 and 16 and at Norwich Congregational Church on July 15, will vary considerably.

The first, titled “From the New Hampshire Woods,” includes work by Stravinsky and Mozart, but also the world premiere, in honor of the festival’s founding, of a work by film composer Amotz Plessner, and a piece by composer Marion Bauer, written in 1923, from which the program’s title is drawn.

In Norwich on July 15, a program titled “Paris 1880-1947” will feature work from the era, including a quartet by Szymon Laks that premiered in Paris in 1945, six months after the composer was liberated from Auschwitz.

The final concert, titled “Breath,” includes Mozart’s quintet for piano and winds, and Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” string quartet. Its title comes from Saans, the Hindi word for “breath,” a piano trio by Indian-American composer Reena Esmail, whose work unites the idioms of Western and Hindustani classical music.

Kohn, a bassoonist, first heard her chosen instrument at Hanover’s Bernice A. Ray Elementary School during a performance by a wind trio.

“I knew it was my musical voice,” she said. She started lessons after her ninth birthday and credits the supportive environment in Hanover for her advancement.

She held a program for children on Wednesday at Hanover’s Howe Library, and an open rehearsal is planned for July 8, also at the library.

In addition to Kohn, another Hanover High School graduate, cellist Daniel Lelchuk, will perform as part of the festival ensemble.

For more information about the Oak Hill Music Festival, go to

More music this summer

In addition to Oak Hill, a raft of new musical options has floated into the Connecticut River Valley.

For example, Riverfolk, an evening of Americana music hosted by Jakob Breitbach and Tommy Crawford, is slated for 6:30 p.m. July 11 in Northern Stage’s outdoor Courtyard Theater. Performers include Ida Mae Specker, The Western Terrestrials, Beecharmer, Jes Raymond, and the Route 5 Revival house band of Marcus Copening, Ed Eastridge, Alex Kelley and Ben Kogan. Tickets are $25 for adults and children 13 and under get in free. Go to for more information.

On a related note, Wilder-based singer-songwriter Jes Raymond has gotten state and federal arts grant funding to put together a Vermont (and Upper Valley) musical event. Designed to lift people out of their pandemic isolation, the project invites people to record themselves singing a piece Raymond has arranged for chorus. The submissions will then be assembled into a video and will also be part of a live multimedia piece at Riverfolk.

Singing, Raymond said in a written statement, is an antidote to our modern ills.

“I have a vision of a harmonized fellowship that connects Vermont’s singers and that together we send an offering out from our ‘Brave Little State’ to the rest of the world that invites people to remember that our power is in our blended voices and our interdependence,” she said.

Raymond has posted a tutorial at

There are a lot of opportunities to listen to music outdoors this summer. In addition to towns holding free concert series, music is a regular feature at farmers markets, notably Feast and Field in Barnard, which charges admission on a sliding scale. (Go to

Both ArtisTree, in South Pomfret, and the Chandler Center, in Randolph, are holding outdoor concert series. ArtisTree’s “Music on the Hill” series takes place at 6 p.m. Wednesdays. Tickets are $5 and attendees are encouraged to bring a picnic. (Info:

The Chandler’s “Live & Out” performances, which continue July 15 with an outdoor set from Mr. Sun, an Americana quartet, are pay-what-you-can and held at Farr’s Hill, 24 Elm St., in Randolph. (Info:

The Hopkins Center for the Arts is continuing its habit of throwing free concerts on the green, weather permitting, including a 5:30 p.m. show July 6 by the funk, jazz, rock and soul outfit The Nth Power. Ticketed concerts continue indoors, including one from Silk Road Ensemble with Rhiannon Giddens on July 19. (Info:

Later in the summer, look for information about the West Claremont Center for the Arts’ summer concert series, which starts July 26 with a performance by Ivorian singer-songwriter, dancer and percussionist Dobet Gnahoré.

And Lebanon Opera House will bring back its massive, free NEXUS Music and Art Festival from Aug. 12-14.

Alex Hanson can be reached at or 603-727-3207.

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