MANCHESTER >> In the beginning, there was the Young Artists Program.
The Manchester Music Festival stages numerous concerts throughout the year and especially now during the summer, when its series of Thursday night concerts draws large crowds to the Arkell Pavilion at the Southern Vermont Arts Center. Those concerts will be continuing on until Aug. 18.
But it was the young artists who launched the whole enterprise, back in 1974, said Ariel Rudiakov, the festival's artistic director.
"It was the founding program of the organization," he said. "All the people you hear playing on Thursday nights are coaching the Young Artists who play on Monday night — you need to have good players who also know how to teach," adding that the two skill sets don't always go hand-in-hand.
Pianist Eugene List and his wife, violinist Carroll Glenn, ran what was then known as the Southern Vermont Arts Center Music Festival during their summer vacations back in the 1970s. They and their many friends in musical circles came up to Vermont and offered an instructional program for upcoming classical and chamber music artists, he said.
The festival has expanded over the decades, but its teaching function, epitomized by the summer Young Artists Program and the additional education programs run by the Michael Rudiakov Music Academy, named in honor of Ariel Rudiakov's father, who was the driving force behind the music festival from the mid-1980s until 2000, remain at its core.
This year's group of 14 young musicians have something of an international cast, with players coming from France, Switzerland and China along with the contingent from the U.S. They perform each Monday night at the Riley Center at Burr and Burton Academy for six weeks during July and August. Their finale this year is Aug. 15.
They are organized and intermingled into small groups who practice and rehearse intensively for each week's concert, where they play one or two movements from larger compositions. They perform in trios or quartets usually, although they can form larger ensembles of up to eight performers, and each group is directed by a coach who works closely with them as they prepare for each concert. One of the coaches this year is Tom Landschoot, a cellist who teaches at Arizona State University when he's not playing in a string quartet in New York or working on his own chamber music festival. This was his first year coaching here and the experience was "awesome," he said.
He works closely with two of the small groups but interacts with all of them eventually. They select the pieces they are going to perform corroboratively, with each student able to chip in ideas, he said.
And it really is more like coaching than teaching, he said. These are already very advanced musicians, and his aim is to get them relaxed, comfortable and feel inspired, he said.
"It's such a personal thing for every musician to come to a festival," he said. "It's getting to know the other people and fitting in to bring out the best of their abilities."
To secure one of the spots in the full scholarship program, the young artists — who range in age from 19 to 26 — have to pass through a rigorous, competitive process. They have to audition — in person is preferred, but if not, they have to submit a 15 minute DVD that shows a variety of their repertoire. The scholarship — sometimes provided by an individual sponsor or through an endowment — covers the tuition, and accommodations, plus a small supplement to assist with expenses. Some live in the Festival House on Dillingham Avenue in Manchester Village, others in the Latz Dormitory at Burr and Burton Academy around the corner. Rehearsals take place both at Festival house and at the nearby First Congregational Church, where passersby can often hear a preview of the upcoming performances as the young musicians prepare for each week's concert.
Some of the young artists enjoy it so much that they come back for a second time. Leah Plave, a cellist from Washington D.C., is one. She attends the Cincinnati Music Conservatory and hopes to go on to obtain a masters degree in music, she said.
Last year when she went through the rigorous process of rehearsing weekly for her Monday night performance with her groups, it was a new experience, she said.
"I feel more comfortable now with handling the music that comes our way," she said. "The people are different — that makes it a whole different experience."
It was a little nerve-wracking preparing for that number of performances in a compressed period of time, which is much more intensive than would be typical at school. There's a lot of time devoted to practicing; usually three hours a day with the coach, then practicing alone or with their groups. But they do get the occasional bit of down time as well, she said.
"It took some getting used to, but I really enjoy them now," she said, referring to the weekly concerts. "No matter what the group is or the piece or how prepared you might feel — it's an enjoyable thing to play for people who appreciate it."
Getting used to gearing up quickly for performances is an important piece for the young artists to obtain. It's the way it works on the professional circuit, Rudiakov said.
The students are expected to take ownership of their performances, introducing the pieces, perhaps describing the composer and giving a bit of context to the historical background they were going through at the time the piece was written.
"They have to learn they have to be advocates for their own art form — that it's not going to happen by itself — and it really helps them and the audience to put things in a broader context."
Audiences will have two more opportunities to hear this year's group of Young Artists at the Riley Center before they go their separate ways. Concerts start at 7 p.m. Monday nights — for more information visit mmfvt.org.