It’s become a lovely tradition, spending a spring Sunday at Lyndhurst in Tarrytown for the “Mansions of the Gilded Age” Symposium, a full day of programming devoted to art, architecture, traditions and more.
This year’s edition, the fourth annual, was held April 28 and proved as memorable as the previous three we attended, this one perhaps featuring the most creative lineup yet.
It all got underway with Edward Thome’s opening lecture, “Lynnewood Hall: The American Dream,” devoted to the history of the 110-room Neoclassical Revival mansion in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, built for industrialist Peter A.B. Widener at the turn of the 20thcentury. Thome, a most impressive 20-year-old, immediately connected with the audience as he explained that the stories he would share “are about people,” not homes or art or possessions. And he indeed brought this Philadelphia-area history to life with charming details, such as the story behind the 1903 John Singer Sargent painting of the industrialist’s daughter-in-law Ella P. Widener.
Next up, Cecelia Tichi, touched on society as a whole – and Caroline Astor in particular – in a talk based on her book “What Would Mrs. Astor Do? The Essential Guide to the Manners and Mores of the Gilded Age” (New York University Press).
Following a luncheon break, the afternoon program got off to a most stylish start when Pieter Estersohn took us on a whirlwind journey into “Life Along the Hudson: Historic Country Estates of the Livingston Family,” based on his Rizzoli book of the same name. The noted architectural/interior design photographer – who mentioned working for Interview magazine while a student at Sarah Lawrence College – is a lifelong Manhattan resident who several years ago purchased and renovated a historic property in Red Hook, which served to bring him to the region that has clearly become a part of him.
“Sometimes it’s the newcomer who can sort of have a fresh take on everything,” he said of his introduction to the people, properties and stories of the region.
Next up was Gary Lawrence’s “The Homes of Jay Gould and the Magnificent Mansions and Estates His Children Built.” Lawrence – an architect, author, historian and founder of the Mansions of the Gilded Age group – explored Lyndhurst’s Gould family and its properties, taking us from Fifth Avenue to France.
As the day neared its end, the slate of speakers concluded in a most unexpected – and thoroughly enjoyable – fashion, with “Music of the Gilded Age.” Christopher Brellochs, chairman of the SUNY Dutchess Community College Academy of Music, who teaches saxophone there and at Vassar College, offered a glimpse into his 2018-2019 sabbatical, “Music of the Gilded Age in the Hudson Valley.”
As Brellochs shared, his arrival in the region some 12 years ago led to his exploring its historic homes.
“I fell in love with the beauty of these houses and the beauty of these landscapes,” he said.
But, he added, he would tour countless parlors and music rooms without a sound, making it all “very easy for it to slip into ‘sterile museum’” mode.
He wanted to know what were the sounds back in the day, the music played after dinner for guests or on a leisurely afternoon.
His goal was to not only to discover the music of the era but to play it within these historic properties.
“I’m calling myself ‘the Indiana Jones of musical research.’”
Brellochs says that certainly you can hear period music in a concert hall, but, “It’s a very different experience to hear it in these historic houses… I’m here to rectify this.”
Joined by pianist Cynthia Peterson, Brellochs would offer musical interludes to bring his points to life.
Captivating the audience with his enthusiasm and humor, as well as his research on numerous regional details of composers and more, Brellochs served to wrap up the symposium in a most memorable way.
We are among those looking forward to following his project progressing, as Brellochs shared his lecture and performance schedule (christopherbrellochs.com) with the audience.
As for the symposium itself, we’re already looking forward to the 2020 edition.
For more, visit Lyndhurst.org.
– Mary Shustack