The Cordova home of the Memphis Chamber Music Society artistic director hits all the right notes.
A Steinway grand piano is the dramatic focal point of the Evans' living room.
photography by Andrea Zucker
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Marsha McKee Evans freely admits she has a one-track mind when it comes to talking about music — and, more specifically, about the Memphis Chamber Music Society. She is the artistic director of this esteemed group, which is now well into its 24th season. “Many other organizations [in town] import world-famous artists,” Evans explains, “but the Memphis Chamber Music Society spotlights gifted local artists who could one day be world-famous and gives them the opportunity to perform.”
As the name implies, “chamber music” is classical music performed in an intimate setting with a small group of musicians and instruments. Evans says holding monthly Sunday afternoon concerts in a variety of different lovely Memphis homes adds greatly to the intimacy and excitement of the Society’s events. In this warm and inviting atmosphere, guests have the unique cultural experience of informally mixing and mingling with the performing artists and fellow chamber music enthusiasts. Longstanding caterers Willena Highsmith, John Wigley, and their staff, and veteran bartender Lafayette Draper, working with his family members, have also helped make every chamber concert a lovely way to spend Sunday afternoons.
Marsha feels greatly indebted to the many gracious hosts who make their homes available for these events, suggesting that in return “when the music starts, it makes the house smile.” For the record, the Society does the heavy lifting, literally, by bringing in the instruments, as well as setting up folding chairs and providing wine and other refreshments for concert guests.
Evans has played the piano since she was a child, modestly suggesting she may have inherited some abilities from her maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Marshall, who could play the harmonica, guitar, piano, and violin. In her own long musical career, Evans was a pianist with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra for 25 years and also taught at Rhodes College. When she and two colleagues founded the Rhodes Piano Trio, they needed a place to perform before their debut concert. Evans’ friend and fellow teacher, JoRee King, contacted William R. Eubanks, famed Memphis interior designer and music lover, who stepped into the breach. He hosted a concert in Carrier Hall, his home at the time, and invited 60 guests for a musical soiree and dinner.
Shortly thereafter, friends began asking, “When are you going to do this again?” Evans decided, then and there, “We can do something with this,” and so the Memphis Chamber Music Society was born. It should be noted that Eubanks now bears the title of founding president emeritus of the group; he and his close friend, Dr. John Ferguson, have generously continued their strong support of this organization by hosting 21 concerts.