The Festival is situated on the Ellen Battell Stoeckel Estate—70 acres of rolling lawns, glorious gardens and historic buildings—in the rural town of Norfolk in Litchfield County, Connecticut. The strong tradition of music in Norfolk dates back more than a century. Ellen Battell Stoeckel, an accomplished pianist and singer, began informal musical gatherings in Whitehouse, the Estate’s 35-room family mansion. Mrs. Stoeckel and her husband Carl, son of Gustav Stoeckel, the first Professor of Music at Yale, founded the Litchfield County Choral Union in 1899 and built a music festival around its concerts. The Norfolk Music Festival quickly became one of the most important and prestigious musical events of its time.
Audiences for the concerts grew quickly, and the Stoeckels commissioned New York architect E.K. Rossiter to build a new concert hall to accommodate the crowds. The Music Shed, dedicated in 1906, still serves as the venue for Festival concerts--"a beautiful long and narrow, cedar and redwood marvel which projects the most delicate pianissimo to the room’s farthest corner with loving clarity." Instrumentalists from the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera came to Norfolk on specially chartered trains. Luminaries who graced the stage of the Music Shed during these years included Fritz Kreisler, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Enrico Caruso, Efrem Zimbalist, Alma Gluck, Louise Homer, and Jan Ignace Paderewski. With the death of Ellen Battell Stoeckel in 1939, one era ended and another began. She left her estate for the use of the Yale School of Music, “to extend the University’s courses in music, art, and literature,” and established a trust to oversee its operation. The Norfolk Music School opened in 1941 under the direction of pianist Bruce Simonds. Pianist and composer Joan Panetti has guided Norfolk as director since 1981. The Tokyo String Quartet, New York Woodwind Quintet, Guarneri Quartet, Annapolis Brass Quintet, Fine Arts Quartet, Lydian String Quartet, Meridian Arts Ensemble, New York Brass Quintet, Calliope: A Renaissance Band, the Vermeer Quartet, Speculum Musicae, and the Cleveland Quartet are among the renowned ensembles who have coached and performed at Norfolk in recent years.