Music and language have always been part of Jerome Barry’s life. After graduating from Northeastern University where he studied language, Barry moved to Europe to develop his singing career as a way to bring people together, singing in half a dozen foreign languages and becoming fluent in several of them.
Barry and his wife, Lisette, brought the Washington-based Embassy Series to life in 1994. The mission of this nonprofit is to foster connections within the diplomatic community through performing arts.
“It made sense that we would try to do something here that would be diplomatic and musical, and it would be something that would really be unique… and the embassies are unique,” said Barry. “We call it uniting people through musical diplomacy.”
In its 27-year history, the Embassy Series has hosted over 600 concerts at nearly 80 partner embassies, and at the University Club of Washington. This gives host countries a chance to showcase their music and culture in the United States; audience members are invited to dine and interact with featured artists following their performances.
On Nov. 6, the Taiwan Academy—one of the Embassy Series’ newest partners—hosted its first in-person concert since the pandemic.
Mufan Ho, the Academy’s director, said the partnership “lets American audiences know how talented Taiwanese musicians can be.”
Until the pandemic shut its operations in March 2020, the Embassy Series held an average of 25 concerts annually. Like many other organizations, it moved online, with Barry salvaging what he could of the year’s events into a virtual format, including a livestreamed piano concert through the Polish Embassy.
To Barry’s delight, many patrons increased their donations, even when the nonprofit couldn’t host live concerts.
“I take my hat off to [our supporters] so we could keep going,” said Barry. “There’s all sorts of fees people don’t realize when you have a nonprofit. So that was gratifying, and it made me realize we have to keep this going.”
The contributions helped fund the group’s first in-person event since the pandemic: an outdoor concert at the Czech Embassy by a string quartet performing the works of Mozart and Dvořák.
“The event went splendidly and many people expressed their appreciation,” said embassy official Lukáš Přibyl. “The Czech Embassy never stopped our cultural programming. We shifted in the worst of times to be outside and limited the number of people who could attend the concert. Now we are gradually taking steps towards reopening our building, and we have already agreed with Jerome to continue our cooperation so more concerts are in the works.”
The Embassy Series plans two more events this year: a Dec. 3 holiday performance by the New York Virtuosi String Quartet at the Embassy of Slovakia, and a Dec. 9-10 tribute to Irving Berlin—composer of “White Christmas”—at the Embassy of Luxembourg.
“My biggest reward is that people love concerts… they just feel so great afterwards,” said Barry. “I’m looking for comity, bringing people together, not just a bunch of musicians getting together, but all people enjoying something really great.”