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A Festival of Music

A Festival of Music 

Now in its 24th season, First Presbyterian sponsors this concert series that is free and open to the public. The offerings have included soloists, both instrumental and vocal, instrumental ensembles, and dramatizations. The music offered has ranged from classical and sacred to popular song.  All concerts are Sundays at 4 p.m. We also sponsor a series of Lenten Organ Concerts on five Wednesdays from 12:15 to 12:45 beginning the second Wednesday of Lent.


2014-2015 Season


  • October 12, 2014 - Denis Evstuhin, pianist, Minneapolis MN  

Russian-American pianist, Denis Evstuhin has been hailed as “one of the finest pianists in the young generation” and has earned international acclaim for his vibrant artistry, remarkable sound quality and brilliant virtuosity by audiences and critics alike.

Schooled in Russia and the United States, Denis holds a B.M and M.M. from the St. Petersburg Conservatory (studio of Professor Eduard Bazanov), an Artist Diploma from Hamline University in St. Paul as well as M.M. and DMA degrees in Piano Performance from the University of Minnesota, where he studied with Professor Alexander Braginsky.

A semifinalist at the 2007 Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow, Denis has earned prizes in a number of international competitions and made his New York debut at the International Keyboard Institute and Festival in July 2011.  He has performed in major cities throughout Europe, Russia, the USA and appeared on stages of the world’s most prestigious venues–Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, the Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff Halls in Moscow, the Mariinsky Theater and Philharmonic Halls in St. Petersburg, as well as Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. In May 2014, he presented a recital at the Great Philharmonic Hall in St. Petersburg, Russia.

From Russian National Television and Radio to Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” he has performed works by Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev.  Besides his solo career, he enjoys collaboration with both Russian and American opera singers and serves as Artistic Director of “Music at the Museum” for The Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis

  • November 9, 2014 - Stiletto Brass Quintet, Central Illinois   

Stiletto Brass Quintet, formed in 2010, gained exposure as a leading ensemble with performances that the audience greeted with rousing ovations with Doc Severinsen and the Heartland Festival Orchestra, at the International Women’s Brass Conference, the International Trumpet Guild Conference, the National Trumpet Competition, the Great American Brass Band Festival and concerts throughout the United States.  The group released their first CD with guest artist Doc Severinsen in April 2013.

Stiletto features five highly accomplished women with careers spanning the fields of orchestral, wind band, and brass chamber music: Amy Gilreath and Cathy Leach, trumpets; Misty Tolle, horn; Nicole Abissi, trombone; and Velvet Brown, tuba.

The group, as highlighted in the August 2012 international brass magazine “The Brass Herald”, reflects timely changes in the music scene. Its energetic and diversified repertoire includes avant-garde compositions written by leading composers of our time, as well as classical and popular works from the Baroque period to Gershwin. In 2013 Stiletto released their first CD with guest artist Doc Severinsen.  Audiences agree that their concerts are fun, serious, heart-warming and emotionally intense.

“The Stiletto Brass Quintet is a group of five superb musicians whose technique and ensemble work is simply unmatched.  Joyousness, melodic introspection, tenderness, excitement—the full range of emotions is in every note they play.  The fact that they are beautiful women in red stilettos…well that’s just icing on the cake.  If they give the impression of owning the stage, it’s because they do.  I’ve seen a lot of brass quintets in my day.  But the Stiletto Brass Quintet is truly a breath of fresh air and a wonderful evening’s entertainment.” - Doc Severinsen

  •  February 8, 2015 - Lee J. Afdahl and Friends-Rochester, MN   Annual organ-Plus program  

The Festival of Music Concert Series delights in presenting our own Lee Afdahl in his annual “Lee and Friends” program.  A graduate of Luther College, Lee has been our Director of Music and Organist since 1991.    Currently he and additional music staff are responsible for leading four vocal and four handbell choirs, an elementary instrumental program, a church orchestra and serving as advisor to this Festival of Music concert series.  With forty years of experience in leading active programs of choral and handbell ensembles in Michigan and Minnesota, Lee is an active organ recitalist and published composer and arranger of handbell, instrumental, and choral music with over seventy compositions and arrangements in print.

Lee is frequently a conductor and clinician for handbell conferences, choral workshops, and church music conferences nationally and internationally.  He has conducted festival conferences for the Handbell Musicians of America, handbell classes for American Guild of Organists events, and international handbell events inEngland, Japan, South Korea, and Australia.   Having served the Handbell Musicians of America in various capacities, he is now the immediate Past President of the national board of the organization.  He represented the organization as a conductor at the International Handbell Symposia in Liverpool,UK in 2012 and Jeju, South Korea in 2014.

Joining Lee for this season’s “ Lee and Friends” program will be Jennifer Taylor Bleckiner, oboe; Michael Bostwick, clarinet; Christopher Boswell, handbells; the Jubilate Deo Handbell Choir; Ashley Hall, trumpet and Paul Kosower, cello.  The program will feature both traditional and contemporary composers from Bach to Andrew Carter and will conclude with Lee’s  performance of the thrilling Toccata composed by John Weaver, organist emeritus, Julliard School of Music, New York City, and a Festival of Music artist in 2009.

  • March 8, 2015 - Columbia Handbell Ensemble-Columbia MO , Ed Rollins conductor 

We are delighted to have The Columbia Handbell Ensemble (CHE) return to our Festival of Music concert series.  This national recognized group is one of the longest running community based handbell organizations in the country.  Organized in 1988 by Tom Brintnall, Deb Carr, and Ed Rollins, this auditioned choir’s mission is to promote the art of handbell ringing through education and performance.  Active in assisting beginning groups, ringers and conductors, the CHE has trained ringers across Missouri and the mid-west, with several members having taught handbell classes and seminars on regional and national levels.  The ensemble also focuses efforts on introducing new audiences to the art of handbells.

Since its inception, the CHE has placed a priority on promoting musical excellence and artistry—substantiated by this ensemble being invited to be the featured guest choir at four national conferences/seminars of the Handbell Musicians of America.  In addition to national performances, the group has performed at numerous area events.  Response to the ensemble’s performance at the National Seminar of the Handbell Musicians of America in Minneapolis in 2011 included “an example of perfect technique” and “in 30 years of handbell experience, this was the most musical concert I have ever experienced”

  • April 19, 2015 - Isabelle Demers, Concert organist, Baylor University, Waco TX  

Isabelle Demers is Organ Professor and Head of the Organ Program at Baylor University in Texas, where she teaches applied organ and courses in the organ curriculum. A native of Québec, she is rapidly becoming recognized as one of North America’s most virtuosic organists. Her concert at the 2010 national convention of the American Guild of Organists, in Washington, D.C., was received with great acclaim not only by critics, who deemed it “one of the most outstanding events of the convention” (The American Organist), but also by the standing-room-only audience, which called her back five times. A review of her concert for the joint ISO-AIO convention in 2010 said that “she enchanted the entire audience with her virtuoso performance,” leaving the entire congress in an atmosphere of “Demers fever.”

She began piano and organ study at age eleven at the Montréal Conservatory of Music. After graduation in 2003 she studied on scholarship for a year in Paris at the École Normale de Paris-Alfred Cortot. She received her Master’s and Doctoral degrees from The Juilliard School in New York City, where she studied with Paul Jacobs.

Recent engagements include the cathedrals of Cologne and Regensburg in Germany, St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, the Royal Opera House of Muscat, Oman, as well as major universities and concert halls in the United States.  Highlights of her 2013-2014 season include the rededication of the Royal Festival Hall organ (London, UK).

Her debut recording on British label Acis was met with critical acclaim. Thjis was followed by discs featuring the organ works of Rachel Laurin and Max Reger’s Seven Chorale-Fantasias.  Her most recent CD, “Bach, Bull, and Bombardes (Pro Organo)”, was released in May 2013, and includes works of Bach, Bull, Reger, Widor, Tremblay, Mendelssohn, Daveluy, and Thalben-Ball.  Michael Barone of MPR’s Pipedreams has referred to Isabelle Demers as “definitely a talent to watch, to hear.”

                                                               Lenten series recital schedule
February 25, 2015
Rev. Scott Schilbe, Christ Lutheran, Rochester
March 4, 2015
Rosalie Alcoser,  First Presbyterian Church, Red Wing, MN
March 11, 2015
Cynthia Betz, Rochester Covenant, Rochester
March 18, 2015
Shayla DeJong, Luther College, Decorah, IA
March 25, 2015
Andrew Galuska, Christ United Methodist, Rochester