The historic Madison-Morgan Cultural Center in Madison, Georgia. (courtesy of MMCC)

Madison Chamber Music Festival a worthy match for charming Georgia town

Mark Gresham | 01 MAY 2019

The Madison Chamber Music Festival kicks off its 17th season tomorrow night in nearby Madison, Georgia. Artistic director and cellist Christopher Rex has planned an eclectic mix of concerts for 2019, some classical and some which draw from other genres. This year’s Festival runs from from May 2 through June 9.

Artistic director and cellist Christopher Rex.

Artistic director and cellist Christopher Rex.

Three concerts will take place at the festival’s home venue, the historic Madison-Morgan Cultural Center on South Main Street. The other four are shared between Empire Mills (a restored cotton seed oil mill turned event venue), Madison Town Park, Mint Juleps Kitchen (dinner restaurant) and the Burge Plantation in Mansfield (20 miles west of Madison).

Madison is an easy day trip from Atlanta. It takes only about an hour to get there from downtown via I-20. Alternatively, you can take the more leisurely route of U.S. Highway 78 toward Athens, then hang a right on GA Route 83 just after passing Monroe. It takes you through “cotton country” and straight into Madison’s downtown. The diversion adds almost a half hour to the road trip, but escapes the more commute-like annoyances of the expressway.

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One of the Festival’s long-time sponsors, Wayne Vason, grew up in Madison and attended grammar school in the 1895 Graded School Building which became the home of the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center in July of 1976. “From the beginning,” Vason recalls, “the focus of the Center was on the Performing and Visual Arts and the Humanities, with the History Galleries featuring the history of Madison and the Piedmont region of Georgia.”

Clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois os pne of the artists featured in this year's madison Chamber Music Festival (photo: Claire McAdams)

Clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois is one of the artists featured in this year’s Festival. (photo: Claire McAdams)

Among the town’s key visionaries for preserving the school as an arts center was Robert Turnell, who with several other local businessmen, created the Morgan County Foundation to purchase and protect the building when it ceased to be used as a grade school in 1957. Upon his death, his wife, Lilias Baldwin Turnell, became the patron whose quiet and generous support continued the pursuit and support of Robert’s vision.

In the early 1980’s, the Center began presenting a Summer Theatre Festival including performances by Atlanta-based Alliance and Academy Theatres along with Theatrical Outfit. That Festival’s supporters envisioned a summer stock season, but that plan never became a reality.

“We wanted a Festival that would make maximum use of our facilities with its acoustically fine auditorium with heart pine ceiling and also involve the historic homes and churches in Madison as well as other venues,” Vason writes in a 2015 essay about the Center. “We also wanted to present performances that were distinctive to the Piedmont Region of Georgia and concluded that chamber music would be ideally suited for us.”


Progress on the plan was not made until 2001 when they learned that Christopher Rex, then principal cellist of the Atlanta Symphony Orchstra, had begun a chamber music festival at Amelia Island, Florida. Vason knew Rex through his wife, dancer and choreographer Lee Harper Vason, and asked if he would consider bringing a festival to Madison. Rex recognized that the Center’s 550-sat auditorium and Madison’s small-town charm were ideally suited for such a project, and in 2002 the Madison Chamber Music Festival was launched. ■

Here’s a rundown of the 2019 Madison Chamber Music Festival concerts:
Thursday, May 2 @ 8pm – JAZZ
Joe Alterman Jazz Trio
Empire Mills
Dinner @ 6:00pm; Concert

Sunday, May 12 @ 3pm – CLASSICAL
Christiania Quartet
Burge Plantation

Friday, May 17 @ 7:30pm – FUSION
Madison Town Park (free)

Saturday, May 18 @ 11am – FUSION
Huntertones Family Concert
Madison-Morgan Cultural Center Auditorium (free)

Sunday, May 19 @ 3pm – CLASSICAL
Miro Quartet with Romie de Guise-Langlois
Madison-Morgan Cultural Center Auditorium

Tuesday, May 21 @ 1:30pm – CLASSICAL
Lunch Concert with Romie de Guise-Langlois
12pm Lunch (included in the ticket price)
Mint Juleps Kitchen

Sunday, June 9 @ 5pm – CLASSICAL
Amernet Quartet with Christopher Rex
Pre-concert Apéritifs and Appetizers @ 4pm
Madison-Morgan Cultural Center Hall

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