Concerts at Half-Past Twelve Takes Final Bow
On April 11, Concerts at Half-Past Twelve, the beloved series that, for years, offered a midday musical respite at St. Francis College (SFC), wrapped up its 21st and final season with a performance in Founders Hall featuring Brooklyn Baroque members David Bakamjian on the cello and Rebecca Pechefsky on the harpsichord, with guest artist Melanie Williams on the flute. “Music at the Court of Frederick the Great” was the theme, and the program included selections by J.S. Bach, C.P.E. Bach, Johann Joachim Quantz and Frederick II, King of Prussia, a fervent patron of the arts, especially music.
SFC professor emerita of fine arts Suzanne Forsberg, Ph.D. — the founding and artistic director of Concerts at Half-Past Twelve — debuted the series on May 10, 2000, with a performance by Hungarian pianist Gabor Fuchs. “Initially, the concerts were held in the Nicholas A. Fiorenza Fine Arts Classroom on the seventh floor, where I taught for many years,” she explained, “but we outgrew the space. Subsequent concerts were held in the Maroney Theatre, which was not ideal, as the Steinway had to be rolled in and out whenever we needed a piano.”
The series eventually found a permanent home in the Founders Hall auditorium, with occasional concerts held off-site, such as the November 2019 organ recital given by SFC adjunct professor of music Dr. Michael Kaminski at the First Unitarian Church of Brooklyn Heights. Forsberg acknowledged that Timothy Houlihan, former provost and interim president of the College, was indispensable in providing funding for the concerts for many years, while alumnus Jerome Hughes ’86 — son of the late Dr. Arthur Hughes, longtime chair of the SFC history department — was the series’ technician, responsible for tuning the College’s Steinway grand piano and upright.
Though Brooklyn Baroque and classical pianist Jeffrey Swann were the most featured artists in Concerts at Half-Past Twelve during its 22-year existence, the series attracted an astonishing breadth of other world-class musical talent, including the Arianna String Quartet, Biava Quartet, Simon Quartet, Eric Olsen Trio, Trio Cavatina, violinist Julia Sakharova and pianists Andreas Klein, Yelena Grinberg and the late Octavio Brunetti. Concerts were sometimes preceded by lectures given by Forsberg, who provided audiences with context and color.
“Not all the music we featured was classical,” Forsberg related. Other musical genres included jazz, folk, tango, even klezmer bluegrass. The pianist Jimmy Roberts, composer of the Off-Broadway musical “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” once did an entire program dedicated to pop tunes. Another program — “Four Hands, One Piano,” featuring pianists Zelma Bodzin and Marioara Trifan playing side by side — was “great fun and a hit among students,” Forsberg recalled. Programs such as “The Art of the French Horn” and “The Flute Through the Ages” explored the music of a specific instrument, while entire semesters were devoted to the string (“Spring for Strings”) and brass (“Bring on the Brass”) families. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Brooklyn Ballet also gave an annual performance as part of the series, in addition to the three concerts held each year in the fall and the three in the spring.
“Sometimes we tied a concert to a cultural heritage month celebration,” noted Forsberg. “We had bass vocalist Gregory Sheppard and pianist Byron Sean perform for Black History Month, Brazilian guitarist João Kouyoumdjian for Hispanic Heritage Month and vocalist Lillias White for Women’s History Month.” A handful of concerts were dedicated to retiring SFC faculty members, such as former art history professor Dr. Frank Greene, and memorial concerts were held for Dr. Enildo Garcia and, most recently, Brother Edward Wesley, O.S.F., “a great supporter of Concerts at Half-Past Twelve, who helped me lay out and design the programs,” said Forsberg. Another memorial concert was dedicated to Thomas Ashton ’02, a former student of Forsberg’s who died in the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001.
Over the years, Concerts at Half-Past Twelve built a loyal following among the St. Francis College and Brooklyn Heights communities, where it was regarded as a signature lunchtime musical event. According to Forsberg, the typical concert audience consisted of “one-third students, one-third faculty and staff, and one-third senior citizens from surrounding neighborhoods and beyond.” Thanks to a generous grant from the New York City Department for the Aging, the concerts, which were always free for members of the SFC community, were also available free of charge to elderly New York City residents.
“Concerts at Half-Past Twelve was as good as any concert series in New York City,” Forsberg concluded. “I am grateful for the support I have gotten through the years and for the opportunity that allowed audiences to experience exceptional music and learn from top-flight musicians about composition and instruments from various periods. We contributed something worthwhile and full of variety that people from all over, not just within the College community, were able to enjoy.”
Brava, Dr. Forsberg!