Charles Wadsworth returned to the stage Saturday at the Dock Street Theatre.
Three years after retiring as artistic director of Spoleto Festival USA’s Chamber Music Series, Wadsworth was back in the spotlight to be honored as an inductee in the American Classical Music Hall of Fame.
Geoff Nuttall, Wadsworth’s handpicked successor, invited the “chamber music man” to the stage during the normally scheduled afternoon chamber concert.
“Music has a way of keeping people young, and Charles Wadsworth is a great example of that,” Nuttall said. “From the very beginning, Charles has been demystifying, humanizing and making music fun. To put it bluntly, I would not be here if it weren’t for Charles Wadsworth. A lot of the people on stage wouldn’t, even you might not be here if it weren’t for Charles,” he said to the audience.
Wadsworth retired in 2009, on the 50th anniversary of his involvement in chamber music directing. In 1959 he started the chamber series at the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy; in 1969 he founded the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center; in 1977, Spoleto Festival USA’s Chamber Music Series opened with Wadsworth at the helm.
Wadsworth’s own performance career was dazzling enough. He played piano for five American presidents (Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan), and performed with American Classical Music hall-of-famers Jessye Norman and Beverly Sills.
Nina Perlove, executive director of the American Classical Music Hall of Fame, presented the honor, naming Wadsworth’s role in championing chamber music and bringing unprecedented international popularity to the genre as the reason for his induction.
This is a return trip to Charleston for Perlove, who played flute in the Spoleto Festival Orchestra years ago. “When I wasn’t in my own rehearsals or performances,” she said, “I would come down to the Dock Street Theatre every chance I got to hear these wonderful chamber music concerts.”
On stage, Wadsworth was irrepressible.
“This is an incredible honor,” he said. “I’m very happy, very proud, and I probably should be humbled, but I don’t do humble very well.”
Wadsworth’s wit and disregard for the formal culture of classical music have helped to remove pretension without reducing the quality of music presented by him.
When Wadsworth began directing chamber music at Lincoln Center, Alice Tully — namesake of one of the performing arts halls there — begged him to program more from lesser-known composer Ludwig Thuille, and less from Brahms.
So Wadsworth played Thuille’s Sextet for Piano and Winds in B-flat major, which also opened Saturday’s concert.
The second piece on Saturday’s program was a violin duet, one part significantly harder than the other, played by Nuttall and Livia Sohn. In his introduction, Nuttall dedicated the piece to Susan Wadsworth, Charles’ wife and founder of Young Concert Artists, which has furnished talent to the Spoleto chamber series for many years.
Wadsworth was inducted into the Classical Music Hall of Fame last year, but when Perlove called to ask where he would like to receive the honor, only one location seemed right.
“I thought through the appropriate places — Lincoln Center, etc.,” Wadsworth said, “but I felt the only place I would want it would be at the Dock Street Theatre.”
Leah Harrison is a Newhouse School graduate student.