For 20 years, the Red Cedar Chamber Music ensemble has been led by a husband and wife dedicated to performing classical music they commissioned in rural venues like the community center in Central City. This is a town with less than 2,000 people near Cedar Rapids. On a Friday night, 50 people are listening to Red Cedar perform a new piece by Stephen Cohn titled “Curfew Shall Not Ring Tonight.”
The acoustics here don’t favor the flute, violin, guitar or cello, something co-founder and classical guitarist of the ensemble John Dowdall says is a deliberate choice.
“You don’t necessarily go to the ideal places, and the audience isn’t necessarily behaving in an ideal manner that we would consider appropriate for the concert hall,” says Dowdall.
Since Dowdall and his wife, flutist Jan Boland, founded the ensemble 20 years ago, they’ve commissioned around 50 works to play in spaces like this. Before that, they were a national touring duo. Boland says when they started playing together in the 1980s, she didn’t think small Iowa venues would become such an important part of their career.
“What you end up learning is that people are people, and our audiences are just as dear to our hearts as those occasions where we’re playing on the coasts or in Europe,” says Boland. “This turned out to be a wonderful part of what we’re doing as Red Cedar.”
Every year they perform a season of music in about two dozen venues. Boland and Dowdall like the intimacy of small spaces, but they also like formal music venues like the mainstage at the C.S.P.S. Hall in Cedar Rapids. This where they had their final performance as members and leaders of the ensemble.
Dowdall says he and his wife they like what they’ve created, but they’ve always known the ensemble’s long term success would depend on other people.
“To pass this organization on, we not only had to be at a point where we were thinking it’s time for us to move on, we had to find the perfect fit,” he says. And they found it with violinist Miera Kim and cellist Carey Bostian.
The married couple has been playing with Red Cedar for a decade. During a reception after this season’s final concert, the four musicians publicly transfer leadership. Kim and Bostian thank their predecessors.
“The way this has been presented to us is well done as just as beautifully conceived as every concert I’ve played with them and every event,” says Bostian. “And for that, I… we just we can’t thank you enough.”
The two have spent much of this year getting their debut 2017 season ready as leaders. Miera Kim says the core of this group will be the same, but there will be changes.
“Carey’s a cellist, I’m a violinist so the first concert of the season will be just featuring ourselves as a duo,” says Kim. “We’re calling it ‘A String Thing,’ and one thing we’re very happy about is we’ll be bringing some mainstage concerts to Iowa City.
As for Red Cedar’s former leaders Dowdall and Boland, they plan to return to their roots and tour as a duo.