30+ Years of Music and Art at Glenora on Seneca Lake

Doris and Larry Bolvig with the Music Grove and performance “shell” in the background. Photo from The Ithaca Journal, Saturday, August 6, 1977, from a news article marking the 25th anniversary of the festival.
by Reginald W. Neale and John M. Robortella

“Next to the day on which we finish the first cutting of hay, your festival has always been the highpoint of the summer.” That’s what Starkey Town Supervisor Bill Lawson wrote to Col. Lawrence J. Bolvig in advance of the 1981 Glenora Music and Art Festival.

“Perhaps only another farmer will appreciate the level of praise this observation is intended to denote, but I think you will understand what I mean,” Lawson said.

Col. Bolvig, a decorated World War II veteran, assuredly understood the praise. The 1981 festival was the 29th edition of the music and art event that he and his wife Doris Hevener Bolvig started in 1952, and which continued for more than 30 years at their home on Seneca Lake at Glenora in Yates County.

The festival, once described by The New York Times as “Culture in a Rustic Setting,” was traditionally held on the last weekend of July. Over the course of its more than three decades, it drew thousands of visitors who attended to hear a variety of musical performances in genres including classical, barber shop quartets, Dixieland, string ensembles and jazz.

Chuck Mangione opened the 1968 festival when he brought the 30-member All City–County Jazz Ensemble from Rochester. “About the only thing wrong with the jazz ensemble was that it made the concerts which came after seem pretty quiet,” Eileen Swing said in The Geneva Times on August 8, 1968.

The first unpretentious – though musically distinguished – recitals were programmed by Doris and Larry, and their daughters Laurie and Beth. In her cover story in the August 1956 issue of Musical Courier magazine, Mary Craig described the annual festivals as “pleasant interludes in an exhibit of paintings which the Bolvigs sponsored for a neighborhood artist.”

Through the years, the annual musicale received recognition from New York State Governor Hugh L. Carey and organizations such as the New York State Council on the Arts.

The concerts were never cancelled due to weather. When necessary, the programs were presented in the Lakemont Church. County-style suppers followed the late afternoon performances at the church.

To assure a good attendance, there was never an admission charge, no reserved seats and plenty of free parking, made possible by the support of friends, neighbors and patrons ¬ and by the voluntary appearances of the musicians.

“Planning is a year ’round process,” Larry said on the 25th anniversary in 1977.

Not long after the beginning of the festival, members of Morning Musicale – a group of about 40 women from the Rochester area organized in 1930 – were invited to perform one or two concerts of classical music at the festival. They ended up performing every season from the early 1960s to the last year of the festival.

Like Doris Bolvig, many of the members of Morning Musicale were graduates of the Eastman School of Music and had performed as soloists with the Eastman–Rochester Orchestra under Howard Hanson. 

“Our group was highly qualified,” remembers Signe Zale of Spencerport, who was the pianist when the group performed on July 26, 1981. “We were very pleased when Doris and Larry invited us to their festival, which provided us with opportunities to perform for audiences from throughout the region and the state.”

The Glenora Festival got its start in response to remarks by dinner guests of the Bolvigs at their home in Brooklyn. Associated with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the guests admired a piece of art in the Bolvigs’ home, – a landscape painting by Lillian “Lulu” Clark, an elderly neighbor on Seneca Lake – pointing out that it was a fine example of precision painting. The guests suggested that the Bolvigs “do something” to show Clark’s artwork to friends and neighbors.

What Larry and Doris did was to combine their interests in art and music to present a musical program – and also to “show off” Clark’s paintings. Doris recruited faculty and students from the Roosa School of Music in Brooklyn, where she taught piano, to come to Seneca Lake in 1952 to join her in performance while visitors admired Lulu’s artwork.

By the second year, attendance exceeded the space in the Bolvig home. In the third year, Larry and Doris built a music performance shell in what became known as the Music Grove and converted their barn into the Bolvig’s Red Barn Studios, where the annual art exhibit was displayed. The barn was open before and after each concert; the annual art exhibit featured watercolors and oil paintings by a number of local artists.

“Larry and Doris always opened their home to the musicians so we would have a place to change and prepare for our performances,” says Zale. “The festival was quite unique in its day.”

Doris played the piano professionally, beginning with her debut at age 12. Following her graduation from the Eastman School of Music, she made an acclaimed “grown-up” debut with the Rochester Philharmonic under Howard Hanson and was the first concert artist to perform for CBS television in the 1930s.

Larry, described as one who could “charm an oratorio or an opera audience equally with his personality and his wide-ranged bass-baritone voice,”  served in the U.S. Army in Europe for three years during World War II, including as a member of the general staff of Gen. Omar Bradley.

While his “career” in music did not begin in his youth as it did for Doris, once he started, he “learned more in five years than many a student does in 10,” as Doris told a reporter for The Ithaca Journal in 1977. Following his military discharge, Larry began a career with the Bell Telephone Company. By night, he pursued his avocation on stage and radio in and around New York city, performing under the name of Larry Turner.

Writing in The Ithaca Journal in 1977, longtime Watkins Glen resident Barbara Bell reported that the Bolvigs pursued a wide variety of interests together and separately. “They are continually fascinated by people at every turn and eagerly look forward to more of these on-going learning experiences,” she wrote.

The Glenora Music and Art Festival ended in the 1980s. Doris passed away on May 18, 1985, at the age of 77, and Larry died on September 14, 1987, at the age of 85. They were survived by daughters Beth Knapp of Homer and Laurie Buchanan of San Antonio, Texas, as well as one granddaughter.

Reginald W. Neale and John M. Robortella are local history writers in Ontario County.

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