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Birdfoot Festival bows on Sunday at Madewood

Musicians rehearse for the 2012 Birdfoot Chamber Music Festival.

Musicians rehearse for the 2012 Birdfoot Chamber Music Festival.

"This is my idea of heaven," Keith Marshall, owner of Madewood Plantation, said recently. "A celebrity chef meal and a concert by internationally acclaimed performers in the ballroom at Madewood, and all I have to do is show up and savor it."

For two decades, Keith produced operas, recitals and chamber music at Madewood -- 15 operas in all, he notes, if you include Music at Madewood's 2009 production of the opera "Cabildo" in the courtyard of the actual Cabildo in the French Quarter.

"I worked myself crazy and spent my retirement savings on those operas," Keith says. "I loved every minute of it; but after staging a work-in-progress performance of composer James Stepleton's 'The Awakening,' based on the Kate Chopin novel, in 2010, I knew it was time to hang up my impresario robes and simply enjoy Madewood."

So he was delighted when, in the fall of 2011, Tracey Sherry, who'd guided the Greater New Orleans Youth Orchestra for years, approached him with the idea of a music retreat for her daughter Jenna's new Birdfoot Festival.

"Several years ealier, we'd held a benefit for Jenna, a gifted violinist, in the ballroom before her studies at an international festival in Beijing. She was no stranger to Madewood when she received a Marshall Scholarship to study in England, where she quickly organized a chamber group with friends. Jenna came up with the ideas while mom did the footwork."

Last year's Birdfoot Festival residency at Madewood was a great success, and pianist Danny Driver, who's performed with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, told Tracey he thought it would be a natural to hold an elegant concert in Madewood's ballroom before departing for a week of innovative concerts in New Orleans.

So that's exactly what they are doing this year. A Musical Feast, taking place on Sunday, May 19 in the ballroom of Madewood Plantation, will feature a preview of music to be performed in Birdfoot’s 2013 concerts the next week in New Orleans, followed by a sumptuous dinner by Chef Stephen Stryjewski of Cochon, 2011 winner of the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: South award.

Ticketholders for Sunday's event can come early, sit in on rehearsals and enjoy afternoon tea with the participants. After a tour of the public rooms of the mansion and a glass of wine, they'll gather around tables in the ballroom for the concert, which will introduce works studied during the residencey, then help themselves to the celebrity-chef buffet.

Tickets are available at 504-451-6578 or birdfoodcmf.org. And after this mouthwatering preview? Music lovers can choose from a quartet of concerts in New Orleans on Tuesday through Saturday.