Vanguard Concert series celebrating 50 years of chamber music

Founders of the series reflect on their accomplishments, and community members share what it has meant to them

What began in 1962 as the dream of a young couple with a passion for music has become a cherished community treasure.

Over the past 50 years, the world’s finest chamber music ensembles and soloists have regularly made their way to Ohio where they’ve found a welcoming home as part of the Vanguard Concert series at the Dayton Art Institute.

“What we attempted to do was to present in Dayton serious music of the highest quality,” said Elana Bolling who — along with her husband, Vince — is credited with the creation and nourishment of the intimate musical programs that have entertained thousands over the years. “Both of us had music in our backgrounds and traveled to Cleveland, Chicago and New York in search of good chamber music. We would leave a wonderful program wondering why we couldn’t have something similar in Dayton.”

Thanks to the Bollings, we do. More than 250 concerts have been presented in the art museum’s Renaissance Auditorium through the years. Among the prestigious groups that have performed on the DAI stage are the Beaux Arts Trio, the Munich and Cologne Chamber Orchestras, the Emerson String Quartet, the Hungarian String Quartet and the Israeli Piano Trio. Soloists have included classical guitarist Carlos Montoya, clarinet virtuoso Richard Stoltzma, pianist Menachem Pressler and a duo consisting of cellist Lynn Harrell and pianist James Levine.


The renowned Julliard String Quartet has appeared in Dayton 12 times.

“With enthusiasm, energy and brilliant organization, Vanguard Concerts has made it possible for groups such as the Juilliard String Quartet to have a home away from home in which to present its artistic message,” said Joel Krosnick, who has toured the United States, Europe and Asia with the quartet for the past 50 years. During that entire time, the Vanguard Concerts have been a major leader in the field of concert presentation, he said.

“Vanguard Concerts has shown the kind of courage and highest quality in its presentations over its 50 years that shine as an example to concert presenters all over the world,” he added.


Elana Bolling says she and her husband felt the art museum would be the ideal venue for the music they loved.

“I remember when Bobby (Robert) Mann of the Julliard String Quartet jumped off the stage at a rehearsal, ran to the back of the auditorium and asked for a stanza to be re-played — he told us the acoustics were fabulous!” she said. “He said you can’t imagine how many halls they play where the musicians can’t hear themselves on stage. He told us to protect this hall and not let anything happen to it.”

It’s a charge the Bollings have taken to heart — subsidizing their beloved project with their own funds over the years, donating needed items ranging from a new piano to auditorium seats.

“At one time there was a movement to eliminate the auditorium and add more gallery space,” recallled Mrs. Bolling, who said she and her husband did everything in their power to block that initiative.

“We take it as our personal responsibility to make sure the hall stays in pristine condition,” she said. “It has given us great satisfaction to have created and supported something so special.”


The Vanguard evenings, which regularly attracts a crowd of 300-400, are entirely planned and coordinated by volunteers under the direction of the Bollings, who welcomed their audience to the first Vanguard concert on Oct. 20, 1962, and have been greeting audiences ever since. Although the couple spends six months of the year in Jupiter Island, Fla., they return in time to greet audiences for each Vanguard event.

They’ve always insisted on making the non-profit series affordable: a five-concert ticket sells for $95. In other markets, a single ticket for the Julliard String Quartet could easily be $80, the Bollings said.

Elana Bolling said that from the beginning they’ve aimed for the “cream of the crop” and seasons that include both well-established groups and promising young performers from around the world. The Claremont Piano trio is a perfect example of an outstanding younger group that audiences have had the opportunity to watch over the years as they continue to develop and increase their musicianship, she said.

The trio, formed at Julliard, has performed in Dayton eight times over the years.

“In the 12 years that we’ve been actively touring, my trio has been all over the world playing concerts, but Dayton, Ohio, remains one of our very favorite places to perform,” cellist Julia Bruskin said. “When Elana Bolling first invited us to come in 2002, we fell in love with the Dayton Art Institute, its beautiful art collection and warm, intimate concert hall.”

She said the people who fill the hall are even more impressive.

“Over the years that we’ve returned to Dayton, we have made so many friends in the community,” she said. “I feel lucky to present music we love to audiences all over, but it’s the relationships we develop with series like the Vanguard that make touring a true joy!”


“Music is the ‘soul of whatever there is,’ ” Elana Bolling said. “It’s an international method of bringing people together. Even if you can’t speak the language, you can listen and respond to the music. Each culture has its own imprint — American, Russian, Italian. You can see things that happen in history and culture evolving in so many countries.”

Chamber music is special, she said, because many famous composers began by writing ensemble music.

“That’s where you find some of the finest music,” she said. “That’s one thing that’s so spectacular about chamber music. The people that devote themselves to this kind of music have to be extremely fine musicians because they aren’t surrounded by 100 other musicians — they’re exposed so they have to be able to conquer the repertoire.”

Julia Bruskin’s twin sister, Emily, who plays the violin, says arts organizations of all sizes in all parts of the country are currently struggling.

“But the residents of Dayton and we artists are truly blessed that the Vanguard Concerts are still going strong after 50 amazing years of tireless work by Elana Bolling and the community she has fostered,” she said. ” This series brings artists who love to communicate with and inspire their listeners together with warm, enthusiastic audiences in a beautiful, atmospheric space. Here’s to 50 more fantastic years.”


You can experience one of the musical evenings as the anniversary celebration year draws to a close :

  • MiXt, a group composed of clarinet, violin and piano under the leadership of Jose Franch-Ballester, features award-winning soloists on the Young Concert Artists and will perform on Saturday, April 20. In addition to Spanish clarinetist Franch-Ballester, the group includes violinist Benjamin Beilman and Israeli pianist Dan Rank.
  • The Jupiter String Quartet will perform on Saturday, May 11. The musicians are members of the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Ensembles and have been appointed Quartet in Residence at the Oberlin Conservatory.
  • Next year’s season — which kicks off in October — will include Chamber Music Kremlin, The Modigliani String Quartet from Paris, piano duo Ran Dank and Soyeon Lee, cellist Cicely Parnas and The Lincoln Trio.



George W. Houk, who writes program notes for the Vanguard Concerts, has written a new book that traces the history of the popular concert series. It’s titled “Innocent Impresarios” and is available through It sells for $24.95 and is published by Orange Frazer Press in Wilmington. Monies earned from book sales will go to an endowment fund for the Vanguard Concert Series.

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