A rich opus from the start
Since its founding in 1885, Tryon has attracted and passionately supported artists, writers, intellectuals, and musicians. In the fall of 1954, David Cromer, lover of classical music and superintendent of Polk County Schools, suggested to a circle of fellow music enthusiasts that Tryon should have a concert association and host an annual classical music series. Cromer; John G. Landrum Jr., president of Tryon Bank and Trust; Rev. Joseph Wagner; Rosetta French, a classical musician who would later donate her grand piano to Tryon Fine Arts Center; Orville White; and Genevieve Washburn founded the Mutual Concert Association. Later, the name was changed to Tryon Concert Association (TCA).
From the beginning, the group saw its mission as making excellent classical music available to everyone in the community. Fulfilling that mission meant not only securing performers of world renown but also ensuring that the concerts were affordable, especially to students. The board charged Virginia Bradley and Elizabeth Landrum with recruiting a membership capable of supporting that mission. “Ginny and I rang every doorbell and telephone in Tryon,” recalls Mrs. Landrum. “We knew the town had enough people who appreciated classical music to fill an auditorium and we knew the town had enough people with the resources to become meaningful benefactors so we could keep ticket prices low. Our job was to seek those people out and keep pestering them until they joined us, and that’s what we did.”
With a healthy membership, secure financial footing, and tickets priced at a modest $2.50 per concert, the organization’s inaugural season included performances by the New Art Wind Quintet; Nelson and Neal, pianists; and famed baritone Robert McFerrin, the first performer of the series. Shortly after his appearance in Tryon, McFerrin would become the first African American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera. True to its mission, TCA attracted students and people from all walks of life to those early concerts.
With every new season, TCA proved its ability to bring a wide variety of accomplished musicians to Tryon. In the 1955-1956 season, the Roger Wagner Chorale came to Tryon fresh from a performance at Carnegie Hall. Conductor, composer, pianist, and well-known music writer, Nicholas Slonimsky performed during the 1958-1959 season, and the 1960-1961 season began with a performance by pianist Lillian Kallir. While TCA’s venues did not rival urban concert halls, the sophistication and warmth of Tryon audiences and Tryon’s convenient location between New York and Atlanta quickly made TCA a favorite booking among artists from all over the world.
Expanding the scale
TCA concerts found a new home with the opening of Tryon Fine Arts Center in 1969. TCA’s first season on the new stage included John Adams, pianist; Barbara Blanchard, soprano; the Zurich Octet; the Belgrade Trio; and the National Opera Company. In the next two decades, the TFAC stage would hold such admired musicians as Michael Ponti, The Vienna Quintet, the North Carolina Symphony, Lili Kraus, and glee clubs from Ohio State University, Harvard University, and the University of Pennsylvania.
While all TCA seasons have been exceptionally fine, some stand out. For its 40th anniversary season, TCA surpassed all expectations as it presented the Beaux Arts Trio, the Marian McPartland Trio, The Lark Quartet, and the Russian State Chorus.
Joining resources with Polk County in 2004, TCA invited the Dresden Philharmonic to perform at the newly-opened Polk County High School auditorium a week after their performance at Lincoln Center. Raphael Frühbeck De Burgos conducted that evening, and special guest violinist Julia Fischer performed. Presenting the Dresden Philharmonic at affordable prices was made possible through support from many private donors, local businesses, Polk County Community Foundation, as well as with funds from Tryon Concert Association.
More recent seasons have showcased chamber ensembles such as the Emerson String Quartet, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble, the Dover Quartet, and the Montrose Trio; pianists Stephen Hough, Jeremy Denk, and Yefim Bronfman; vocalists Calmus, David Daniels, and the King’s Singers; and soloists Carter Brey, David Finkel, and Paul Huang.
In 2014, TCA introduced TGIFs, an additional series of informal, one-hour concerts given on Friday evenings and intended to let concertgoers start their weekend on a musical note.
TCA’s 65th season featured pianist Marc-André Hamelin; the Omer String Quartet, winners of the Tryon Concert Association Prize; an ensemble from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center; and violist Karen Dreyfus, appearing with former Concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic Glenn Dicterow. Pianist Marc-André Hamelin was not able to appear due to the Covid 19 epidemic.
Without exception, the musicians who have appeared on Tryon’s stage have played to appreciative audiences, unwavering over six decades in their support for TCA season series and special events. In return, TCA’s audiences have enjoyed hearing outstanding musicians in relatively intimate settings with the opportunity to personally meet the performers at receptions after each concert.
In recent years, Calmus, Windsync, Canadian Brass, and Zlatomir Fung performed for area students under the auspices of A-OK, Arts Organzations for Kids, an educational resource initiated by TCA and TFAC. Last season’s A-OK performers were the Omer String Quartet and the Spartanburg Philharmonic Percussion Ensemble.
What began sixty-six years ago as a shared love for music among friends has grown into an impressive community effort that has brought season after season of exceptional classical performances to a small town in rural North Carolina. Today, Tryon has a reputation for being an oasis for classical musicians on tour, a place where they are guaranteed an extraordinary night of sharing their music in an acoustically-sound theater with a passionate and appreciative audience. It is a well-earned reputation and one Tryon Concert Association is dedicated to fostering for decades to come.