'Young Artists' take the deep dive

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MANCHESTER >> The halls are alive with the sound of music.

The halls in question are at the First Congregational Church in Manchester Village, where, depending on the time of day, visitors get a preview on what the Manchester Music Festival's "Young Artists" are up to for the upcoming performance they will present the following Monday.

Chamber music reverberates from the practice rooms, mostly from the large meeting room on the main floor under the sanctuary. In small groups and large, they practice and practice, rehearsing for their moment in the spotlight. The last opportunity to hear them, at least for this year, arrives this coming Monday, Aug. 17, at the Riley Center for the Arts at Burr and Burton Academy at 7 p.m.

The music festival's well-attended weekly concerts on Thursday nights at the Arkel Pavilion that feature performances by guest artists and faculty members, — occasionally joined by some of the Young Artists — tend to grab the attention, but in a way, that's getting it backwards. The music festival exists to nurture the Young Artists; it's basically why the festival exists in the first place, said Ariel Rudiakov, the festival's artistic director.

"You don't have faculty artist concerts on Thursday nights if you don't have the Young Artist program first, where the faculty are their coaches," he said in a recent interview. "The icing of the cake of the festival are the faculty; the ingredients are the Young Artists."

In effect, they are running a six-week long music school, where already very talented young musicians have come to learn the basics of the literature of chamber music, a form of classical music that is composed for a small group of instruments. The name derives from how many instruments could comfortably fit into a palace or salon "chamber."

Admission to the program is by competitive audition, and there are usually many more applicants than spaces available, Rudiakov said.

This year the fifteen young artists selected for the MMF's program have been making the trek to the church from either the Festival House, the home of the MMF, or the nearby Latz Dormitory of Burr and Burton, where they board for the six weeks they are here. They come from places as different as Poultney, Vt., and Tennessee, to Singapore and Beijing, China.

Being a Young Artist is akin to taking a deep dive into classical chamber music and resurfacing only when it's over, several said after one recent rehearsal.

Quinton Braswell, from Washington D.C., a cellist, had a friend who took the program two years ago and recommended it to him.

"She was a great player, so I assumed there were great players here," he said, adding that turned out to be right.

Ken Trotter, a violinist from eastern Tennessee, said a cellist in his quartet had attended it last year, and "I wanted to do something long — and this is long," he said with a chuckle.

Most comparable programs only run two or sometimes four weeks, he said.

They start out being placed in different rehearsal groups that are then shifted around midway so they have the chance to play with other musicians during the second half of the six-week program.

That's one aspect of the experience Heather Munch, the Poultney native, enjoys, she said.

"You're able to connect with other musicians and build your group because that's what chamber music is — you have to really be connected to your fellow colleagues," she said.

The rehearsal schedule is rigorous. Between individual coaching and feedback from the faculty members, to rehearsing in small groups or alone, each day is filled with practice and more practice, from morning through the afternoon, and then often more in the evening.

"Generally, we meet in the morning with the coach, and then try to schedule something else in the evenings by ourselves to follow up," said Erin Morse, who is from Florida and pursuing a masters degree in performance at the University of North Texas.

Each week, the Young Artists give their Monday night performance, and sometimes are called upon to help out with the Thursday shows as well. It's a lot of music to absorb. Usually they will add a movement to each piece each week, so that they can have six appearances on stage. On average, it takes them two to three weeks to finish a piece before new repertoires is assigned, Rudiakov said.

That adds up to a lot of music, Trotter said; some pieces can take 45 minutes to perform. It's also a lot to absorb quickly, but "that's how musicians prepare best, when the shoe is about to drop," he said, laughing.

They have some input into what they want to play, although the ultimate selection is up to the faculty members, he added.

Heather Braun, a violinist, is one of this year's faculty members for two of the six weeks. She was a former Young Artist herself, in 2003 and 2004, and has gone on to perform with the music festival at several of their concerts.

"My experience here changed my life in a number of ways," she said. "I realized that I wanted to focus on chamber music as a musical career path, I was hired for my first tour as a performing musician the following fall with the MMF Chamber Orchestra, just to name a few. I have now performed each year with the Festival in some capacity for the past 12 years, and last summer, I was asked to become a member of the summer faculty. It has been a full circle journey for me."

Faculty members coach the Young Artists on their repertoire, rehearse and perform on the Thursday evening concerts with other faculty members, and attend the weekly "Play In," which is where the Young Artists are allowed to have a mock performance and get feedback from all the coaches before their performances on Monday nights, she said.

Each group will have four or five coaching sessions per week, lasting between 45 and 90 minutes, where the faculty member will advise on tempo, technical issues and other aspects of the piece they are working on. Then they group will continue to rehearse as much as their schedule permits, she said, often up to four hours a day. They practice and hone a piece right up to the day of the performance, she said.

But that's not all. They are also encouraged to engage with audience, to describe the piece and talk about it. That's an important part f the experience, Rudiakov said.

If they can't articulate verbally, as well as musically, why a certain piece of music is important, then a career in classical music may not be the best choice for them, he said.

"The musicians who have an entrepreneurial spirit and are aggressive and enthusiastic are the ones who are still in the business," he said.

And the Young Artists get that, even if that can be nerve-wracking. But the audience appreciates it, Trotter said.

"If you can provide some sort of entry point into the piece you're presenting it will make for a more effective performance," he said.

The Young Artist program is an entry point of sorts for the Young Artists in general, as several go on, like Heather Braun, to professional careers. Erin Morse will be playing with the Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra in Bosnia this fall. Trotter will be off to Brooklyn, N.Y., to teach music, and perform as well. Heather Munch will be studying music at SUNY Purchase having just graduated from Castleton College with a degree in music.

And some like it so much they come back a second time.

But there's some humor built in as well. Munch, Braswell, Trotter and Morse were working this day, with Heather Braun on a piece they would be presenting soon, by Haydn, nicknamed "The Joke." The joke?

The joke is that it has one of those mysterious endings that seem to be always at hand as the piece winds its way towards its seeming conclusion, until it isn't.

"When it ends, no one realizes it," Trotter said. "How often do you get to really belly-laugh at a classical concert?"

Your last chance is this Monday, Aug. 17, at 7 p.m. at the Riley Center for the Arts.


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