The Sunday Afternoons at the Loring-Greenough House concert series is celebrating its 15th season this year with seven more dates through May.
The historic house museum at 12 South St. in Monument Square has hosted the parlor concert series since its inception in 2000. Katharine Cipolla has organized them from the beginning.
This year’s concerts are continuing a tradition of intimate music on South Street, featuring acts that play such Baroque instruments as viola de gamba, Baroque flute, harpsichords and acoustic guitar.
The afternoon concerts, served with afternoon tea, started following a major, $450,000 renovation of the 1760 mansion, Cipolla said.
“And we got a request to fix the little box piano, which was not playable at the time,” she said. The house’s piano dates back to the 1790s.
“We had musicians as caretakers at the time, and one said, ‘Why not have a music series on that little fortepiano?’” Cipolla said.
So the House board got together and found a famous pianist—who Cipolla declined to name—to headline the inaugural season. But that pianist bowed out at the last minute, so Cipolla was left looking for replacements one week before the very first afternoon concert and for the rest of the season.
The fill-in musicians were mostly friends and neighbors of Loring-Greenough House supporters, but some were unexpectedly great, Cipolla said. She remembered one who played variations of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” for 15 minutes to a delighted audience.
For the 2001-2002 season, the Boston Recorder Society was looking for a recurring venue in town for their performances. The arrangement worked so well that the group used the House regularly until around 2004, when Cipolla started booking other acts.
Around that time, the City’s Main Streets programs expanded into JP, and according to Cipolla, the new program was looking for “small arts venues,” a request she took advantage of.
“I played into that and continued the [afternoon concerts] project,” she said.
Cipolla had been part of the Loring-Greenough House Board of Directors through the late 1980s and 1990s, but in the early 2000s, management changed and her purview shrank to cover just the afternoon concerts and a yearly holiday wreath fundraiser.
These days, Cipolla’s only involvement with Loring-Greenough House management is paying a $75 rental fee per concert event. She keeps a standard season to about 13 dates between October and May.
“A bigger commitment would be able to fill every Sunday,” she said, but the house needs to host other more lucrative events to support itself and Cipolla “can’t do more” than 13, she said.
As the program currently stands, all work is done by volunteers. The musicians only get paid if there are enough donations garnered at the door left after paying for the use of the room.
“That’s where the economics are,” she said. “You can’t get people to pay…People wait to be invited” and don’t usually show initiative in seeking out the program, she said.
Building a regular audience has mystified Cipolla for the last decade-and-a-half. Artists usually bring in their own fans, she said, which keeps things uncertain.
“A quartet could bring in three people or 30,” she said. But the House’s gift comes in making every concert feel intimate, Cipolla explained.
“If there are only five people, I just remove the rest of the chairs,” she explained. “It’s the sort of [event] the Lorings or the Greenoughs maybe had,” she said, referring to the families that owned the house in its early years as a private home.
Cipolla said her favorite kinds of music in the room are strings like quartets or classical guitar.
“The room just reverberates with strings,” she said. “Guitar in that room is just spectacular.”
When asked about the future of the program, Cipolla is committed to keeping it going, though not forever.
“I have a bunch of people who are committed to helping, but no one’s joined us in 10 years. We’re aging,” she said. She also mentioned the House is under no obligation to continue to host the program and could choose to withdraw its support in favor of hosting more lucrative functions.
“But the artists love it. They’re very faithful,” she said, specifically noting Pentimento, a duo that only plays together at the Loring-Greenough House.
“I have a good time with this series because I love the music,” she said.
A Gazette request for comment from Loring-Greenough House management was not returned by press time.
The next afternoon concert will be on Nov. 16, and will feature harpsichord recorder and baroque flute concert with Balint Karosi and Héloise Dégrugillier. Pentimento’s next date at the Loring-Greenough House is Feb. 15. For more information, see loring-greenough.org/publicevents.