ACMP Honors Kitty Benton with the Helen Rice Award

Kitty Benton at the violin after receiving the Helen Rice Award
Photo by John Gurrin

ACMP honored longtime member and former newsletter editor Kitty Benton with the Helen Rice Award at Broadway Presbyterian Church in New York City on Saturday, May 7, 2022. This special event kicked off the 2022 Worldwide Play-In and ACMP’s 75th Anniversary Festivities, which will continue through December 2022.

Slide Show: Photos by John Gurrin

The Helen Rice Award is named after ACMP’s founder, Helen Rice (1901-1980), and celebrates her life-long commitment to ACMP’s mission of chamber music for pleasure. ACMP’s Board of Directors created the award in 2011, giving it for the first time to Theo and Kitty Wyatt, founders of Merton Music in the United Kingdom. For more background on the first Helen Rice Award, read the Spring 2011 newsletter, edited by Kitty Benton herself! 

Kitty Benton is the fourth recipient of the Helen Rice Award, which ACMP has also given to Franz Marcus (2016), who founded the I Cambristi chamber music organization in Brussels and other chapters throughout Europe, and to Edward Guo (2018), founder and director of the IMSLP online music library. (Stay tuned for excerpts of my recent interview with him and ACMP member flutist Joe Wilson, coming soon!)

It is an honor to bestow this award upon Kitty Benton, who has contributed greatly to ACMP for over 50 years and who was a close personal friend of Helen Rice. She edited ACMP’s Newsletter from 2002 through 2019, in her spicy and characteristically vivacious way with wide-ranging stories about anything of interest to chamber musicians and personal accounts from members of ACMP.

At the award presentation, ACMP Board Chair Richard Weinert shared some recollections from his long friendship with Kitty – most notably, how she quit the Board when she was asked to write the newsletter, was asked to write the job description for the position, and then, reluctantly ended up taking the job herself!

Another Board member, close friend of Kitty’s – and fellow member of the “G-String Grannies,” Beatrice Français presented the award to Kitty. Significantly, Beatrice’s first violin teacher was Helen Rice, herself.

The crowd of about 80 people gave Kitty a standing ovation after her acceptance speech, and then a crew of three young double bassists (including ACMP’s own Membership Associate Joseph Brock) quickly set up chairs and stands for an All Six Brandenburg Concerti Play-In organized by ACMP member pianist Arlene Hajinlian and conducted by cellist and beloved chamber music coach David Bakamjian, of Play Week renown. (Covering our basses…Joseph and the other two bassists, my former violin student Damon Korf and his friend Ethan Cohn shared one bass – and three bows – and alternated between manning the food and wine and playing Brandenburg concerti.)

Arlene is a master Play-In organizer and it was a privilege to collaborate with her on this event. She put together a fabulous roster of adult amateur soloists for each concerto, and graced all of us there with her virtuosity on the famously difficult keyboard solo part in Brandenburg 5. A woman of many talents, she joined us in the viola section for the other 5 concerti – sitting in the principal viola chair for Brandenburg 4. As former ACMP Board Member and violist Gwendoline Thornblade put it: “As a violist, you show up late and you end up sitting in the first stand.”

Arlene also serves on the Board of Directors of Music for Food, a musician-led initiative (founded by violist Kim Kashkashian) to fight hunger in our local communities. We made the Play-In portion of the evening’s festivities a benefit for this wonderful and important nonprofit organization. ACMP was thrilled to embark on its first collaboration with Music for Food, raising $2115 in donations at the door and online from Play-In participants. All proceeds will benefit the four-star rated soup kitchen at Broadway Presbyterian Church.

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