Christine Gevert Finds a Home … For Making Music
People leave their home countries for many reasons. Some seek safety; others, work; and then there are people who are simply following their path, as Christine Gevert puts it.
Gevert is the founder and director of the Crescendo choir based in Lakeville, CT, which is launching its 13th season with a fundraiser Aug. 29 at Tim and Marie Prentice’s barn in Cornwall. Gevert will pack her Flemish double-manual harpsichord into her blue Subaru Outback or, easier yet, into her husband Gordon Gustafson’s work van, and drive it to the Prentices’ to perform works of a half dozen 17th- and 18th-century composers. All of them had left their homelands to make music and gain recognition in other countries: Handel, Scarlatti, Froberger, Zipoli, Philips and Royer.
“Because America is a land of immigrants,” Gevert says, “the stories of these six composers are very compelling.”
And so is her own story as a musician seeking a place in the world.
Gevert grew up in Santiago, Chile, a member of the seventh generation of German and French seamen who fled Europe in the 19th century for economic reasons.
She lived with both Latin and European cultures, she says, speaking German in school and at home and speaking Spanish with friends “on the street.”
She and her classmates learned their school subjects in German and then reviewed the material in Spanish to prepare for national tests.
And, of course, she studied music, beginning at age 5 with piano lessons. She was, clearly, gifted, but at age 12 she rebelled.
“I was featured in a lot of concerts, but I didn’t like being showcased.” Also, stage fright cut into the joy of playing. So she quit piano for a time but played guitar, joined choirs and became so adept at choral work that at age 12 she assisted her section leader, played keyboard accompaniments and sang alto (to my mind the trickiest part).
During this time, General Augusto Pinochet overthrew the left-leaning regime of Salvador Allende and in the name of battling communism, Pinochet is said to have killed, jailed, tortured and disappeared many thousands of Chileans.
“It was a rough time,” Gevert says. “We were lucky. Germans were not associated with being Communists.” Still, the dictatorship affected everyone. Resistance fighters were armed and so was the military. The streets were dangerous. Some of Gevert’s friends were shot and killed and a strict curfew governed everyone. More than once the adolescent spent the night in a church where she practiced organ pieces because she missed the bus that would get her home before the curfew fell.
Artistically, however, she thrived. Now she was singing, conducting, studying the organ. And her stage fright evaporated as her love of music edged out her fears of performing.
At age 18 she received a scholarship to study in Germany, but she refused it.
“I had visited Germany, and I did not see myself there. Chileans are so warm.” Germans, she observed,were not.
But when the opportunity arose again, her teacher threatened to drop her if she did not make the move.
“Go to the source,” he told her. So at age 25 she left home and moved to Europe to study early music and to play on the very instruments that music had been written for.
In her new life she faced “culture shock big time.” She survived it, however, and ended up in Cologne, “the hot spot for early music.”
She learned to edit original editions, adding the appropriate ornaments and modernizing some of the notations. “You can do this when you know the style,” she says.
But after 12 years she “started not feeling at home in Europe.”
Germany seemed “rigid and heartless,” and that interfered with her development as an artist, so once again she moved, now to Boston, another “hot spot” for early music.
But the U.S. early music scene was very clique-driven, Gevert learned. It was hard to break in and a musician friend, Peter Sykes, told Gevert, “If you want to stay in this country, start your own program in a church,” which is how Gevert landed in Trinity Lime Rock, a small Episcopal church in a small New England town, in the Lime Rock section of Salisbury, CT.
“I came from Europe to here with some scores, a harpsichord and my knowledge.” And in 2003 Gevert established Crescendo.
“Church choirs bring people together and make bigger things possible,” she says. And though it was a “rocky road,” with many competing organizations and individuals, it was very exciting.
She has established a period instrument orchestra, an accomplished chorus of singers, the support of established professionals; she has won a prestigious award for adventurous programming, and she finally acquired a green card which will allow her to teach and perform and anything else she wants to do in this country except vote.
“My whole life is devoted to academia and performance,” she says.
“I have lived here longer than any place except where I grew up. I love it here.”
And for her Lime Rock neighbors there is nothing like taking a stroll on Tuesday evenings, fog settling onto the field off Dugway Road, and hearing the Crescendo chorus in the church, rehearsing.
The benefit performance on Aug. 29 begins at 4 p.m. in the Prentices’ barn at 129 Lake Road in West Cornwall, CT. For information, call 860-435-4866 or go to www.worldclassmusic.org. Rain date is Aug. 30 at 3 p.m.