Highlands, North Carolina, as sen from Sunset Rock.

Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival cancels 2020 season

Mark Gresham | 17 MAY 2020

Highlands, NC— On early Friday afternoon, the Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival, which takes place in western North Carolina, announced it has canceled its 2020 season. The annual summer festival had been scheduled to run from July 3 through August 9, but that was ultimately not to be.

“We waited as long as we possibly could, hoping for a miracle, but sadly the time has come to make the call that the 39th season of the Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival has been canceled.” The announcement came in a joint statement from artistic director William Ransom, executive director Nancy Gould-Aaron and board president Martha Pearson.

The picturesque town of Highlands, in Macon County, implemented stay-at-home orders that basically shut down the municipality to outsiders, according to local news media such as The Highlander, the Plateau Daily News and Blue Ridge Public Radio.


By the last week of March, the town had ordered the closing of hotels, motels and rentals, implemented police checkpoints, and discussed mandatory 14-day quarantine of seasonal residents arriving to stay at their summer homes.

Highlands is a luxury destination with a permanent resident population of just under a thousand, a conspicuous n umber of seasonal residents with summer homes, and a hordes of visitors in the summer tourist season, including day-trippers, in large part due to to the cool mountain weather that comes from its altitude of 4,118 feet — one of the highest incorporated municipalities east of the Mississippi River. And the specter of visitors bringing the pandemic into town weighed heavily on thew minds of local governance.


Scheduled artists for 2020 included violinists Cho-Liang Lin and Ray Chen (in his Festival debut); pianists Anastasia Huppmann and Inna Faliks; the Hermes Quartet; harpist Bridget Kibbey; tenor Timothy Miller; and Festival favorites David and Julie Coucheron; cellists Zuill Bailey and Charae Krueger; WABE Radio personality Lois Reitzes; the Attacca Quartet and the Eroica Trio. The Festival will be will be posting performances by some of these musicians over the summer on its Facebook page, one video per week, as a way of staying in touch with Festival audiences.

As for future live music, the good news is that plans are already underway for the Festival’s 40th anniversary season in 2021, and several of the4se musicians have been invited back to take part in the celebration, intended to be “one nonstop party all summer long. Among them, Ray Chen and the Hermes Quartet will finally make their debuts. David Coucheron will perform Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” with string chamber orchestra and the Eroica Piano Trio will complement it with the piano trio version of the “The Four Seasons of Beunos Aires” by Astor Piazzolla.

In addition, a pair of mini-residencies by the Ulysses String Quartet are still planned for the beginning of October 2020 and for the Spring of 2021.   ■