By Amada Wyatt
If you ask anyone who knew Katy Stewart, chances are they’ll tell you about a girl whose courage, imagination and joie de vivre touched the lives of many in Sag Harbor and on the rest of the East End.
But this Friday, a group of young classical musicians are set to give back to the community some of the zest for life—and love of music—that Stewart brought to those around her.
These teenage prodigies from local schools will take the stage at Guild Hall for the fifth annual Classical Students for Katy’s Courage Fund benefit concert. The not-for-profit — which supports scholarships, counseling and pediatric cancer research — was created in honor of Stewart, who passed away from a rare form of liver cancer at the age of 12 in December of 2010.
The lineup includes pianists Matthew Maimone, Emmanuelle Benard, Christopher Ritter and Sam Kramer; violinists Leo Panish, Maxfield Panish and Benjamin Pereira; and cellist Chris Beroes-Haigis. They will be performing pieces by Bach, Beethoven and other giants of classical music.
“Not everybody likes classical music, but they love Katy and Katy’s Courage,” said Sag Harbor’s Stephanie Beroes, the producer of the concert.
“Since she loved music and was a violin student herself, we wanted to give classically trained students in the East End community a chance to perform for this wonderful, wonderful benefit,” she said.
One of these students is Ritter, a 14-year-old freshman at Pierson High School who happened to take music lessons with Stewart.
“She was in my grade. We used to have the same music teacher, Mr. Fox,” he said. “We would have violin lessons at his house and have little music [concerts], and everyone’s families would come.”
David Fox, a music teacher at Sag Harbor Elementary School, said that Stewart and Ritter were “part of a small group of four children that I had come to my house on Saturday mornings, and we’d have a lot of fun just playing the violin. We called ourselves ‘the Four Strings,’ and she’d write silly songs on the violin and just have a good time.”
He fondly recalled Stewart’s vivid imagination.
“We’d make up a story on the violin and you’d have to play a little motif or something like that. She’d come up with these wonderful storylines—aliens and giant marshmallow people, you name it. It was a lot of fun,” he said.
Ritter and Fox both said they were looking forward to the concert on Friday.
“It’s a wonderful thing that we can do, and it means a lot to me and everybody in the community who was part of Katy’s life — and she gave us a lot,” Fox added.
Sag Harbor’s Beroes-Haigis, now a freshman at Bard College, met Katy while taking violin lessons. He said that the concert “definitely means a lot to me, and I think everyone who’s playing is definitely happy to do it because of the cause.”
“I know that Katy was a special girl and she touched people around her, and I really want to continue that and do the best that I can to support the people around me and benefit this cause through my gift of performance,” said Maimone, an 18-year-old from Sag Harbor who attends Julliard’s pre-college division on weekends.
According to Fox, the concert will help to emphasize the “treasure trove” of young talent in the area.
“There’s a lot of wonderful students out there who deserve to be heard,” agreed Beroes. “The motto is, when musicians express themselves, they enrich all our lives. And what we’re trying to teach students is to give back to the community and to share the gifts that they have.”
The concert also gives students a chance to perform outside of schools, bringing classical music to wider audiences.
“Sometimes when you’re practicing your music out in the Hamptons, it’s quiet and you think you’re maybe the only one, but when you actually start talking to people, it’s so interesting how many gifted and talented artists are out here. And it’s my pleasure to meet them,” said Maimone.
As Beroes-Haigis pointed out, getting other young people involved in classical music is all about presentation.
“A lot of the time, people see pictures of old Beethoven or Bach with a big beard,” he joked. “And when it’s presented like that, it seems a little dull and old. Today there are a lot more young prodigies who show up in magazines and they make classical music seem very young and hip and cool.”
“It’s great to see kids play classical music,” he added. “So for this concert, it’s very possible that the audience will see classical music from a young perspective.”
The fifth annual Classical Students for Katy’s Courage will be held this Friday, May 3 at Guild Hall, 158 Main Street, East Hampton. A suggested donation of $15 is recommended with all proceeds benefiting the Katy’s Courage Fund and pediatric cancer research.