Refining their craft in the mountains

Manchester a destination for young classical musicians

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MANCHESTER — Violist Otoha Tabata looks intently at a piece of music in front of her. She and three other musicians at the Manchester Music Festival house are working through an excerpt of Mozart's "Dissonance" string quartet (No. 19 in C Major, K.465) under the coaching of cellist Mark Kosower and violinist Amy Schwartz Moretti, both distinguished performers and teachers of their respective instruments.

This is not just a rough run-through of the piece, or a rehearsal intended to work through the technicalities of the music's tempo, phrasing or articulation. The players have already mastered such things. The suggestions made by the coaches deal with aspects of the music that are more subtle, more esoteric. One coach suggests the tone of a four-measure passage be played more "mysteriously." The other feels it is being played too much in the style of Brahms, "too romanticized."

Tabata and the other musicians contribute ideas of their own and, test them out, and it makes a profound sonic difference. Not only does the sound change, but the players' body language suggests they are developing the presentation of the music as well.

"Practicing is one thing, but we also need to practice how to perform it as well," Tabata says. "The time given to us really helps the coaches, and us, to become very detailed. Each line, each character change, each color — we can talk about it and actually work on it."

Tabata, originally from Japan, is one of 16 participants in this year's Manchester Music Festival Young Artist Program. The program draws top conservatory students and recent graduates on full scholarships to the Green Mountains each summer for coaching and performances with prominent professional musicians.

For these students -- including Tabata, a student at the Royal College of Music in London who has already received international recognition for her virtuosity -- participation in a program of this sort is a crucial nexus on the path from student to professional musician.

"My goal is to become a really versatile musician," Tabata says. "So I want to excel as a soloist, but also as a chamber musician and an orchestra player. This festival does all of that."

Much of the transition from student to professional involves just the sorts of subtleties that the musicians discuss in "coachings," or group rehearsals with program faculty members. The more various the avenues students are encouraged to take in interpreting a piece of music, Tabata says, the more knowledgeable they can be in calling the shots as professional musicians.

"Having new ideas and perspectives is really helpful for us, because the more views and ideas you have, the more well-rounded your opinions will become, and [being] open-minded as a musician just always helps take you to new distances," she says.

The effort shows

The results of such intense practice are on full display on a Friday afternoon at the StART Space gallery on Depot Street in Manchester, where students of Taconic Music's Chamber Music Intensive have gathered to present a short concert of string quartets by Mozart and Bartok. The students draw out all the beautiful emotion and erudition of the Mozart and thundering through the dynamic modernism of Bartok before a thrilled audience.

The Chamber Music Intensive, having just completed its third year under the direction of violist Ariel Rudiakov and violinist Joana Genova, has a similar mission. According to Taconic's website, the program "provides a rare opportunity for a select group of students aged 20-26 to immerse themselves in the chamber music repertoire through daily rehearsals, coachings, masterclasses and concerts."

Katherine Gilger, a violinist who served as orchestra concertmaster at the Mannes School of Music in New York, is one of Taconic's students. She was thrilled to join Taconic's roster for its principal focus on chamber music, with a more intimate music-making process than larger-scale orchestral music.

"This is a beautiful reprieve of chamber music before I go into orchestra auditions [and] into the professional world," she says.

But don't mistake this retreat from the city for a relaxed summer in the mountains. The intensive is true to its name, as is the Manchester Music Festival's program. The students' schedule is jam-packed, with daily professional coachings and hours of group rehearsal and individual practice. Gilger practices more than five hours a day in addition to daily coachings and group rehearsals, by her estimation.

"It's extremely busy,. Iit's a lot of rep," she says. "So it's a reprieve from the stress of life, [though] it is that we are really playing this incredibly hard and time-consuming [music]."

Despite the intensity of the students' schedule, there is a sense that the chance to study in Vermont for a summer is a much-welcome break from the competitive nature of the classical music world, allowing them to isolate their musical studies from the stresses of daily life.

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"At least for me, I'm not getting on a 1 train every day to go to class," Gilger says, referring to the subway line in New York.

Kate Huang, a cellist in the program who is originally from Taiwan and attends the Cleveland Institute of Music, says the intensive embraces a culture of diving deeply into the music not only for professional development, but also for personal enjoyment.

This is a marked contrast, she says, to other festivals, where the goal might only be to practice material for future auditions.

"Here, I feel like I can learn a lot from my colleagues, and it's more like people getting together to make music, instead of working as a student to kind of need something," she says.

"It's just having time and doing what I love, and enjoying being in a beautiful place with some wonderful people playing gorgeous music," Gilger agrees.

A sense of family

After the Mozart coaching and a rehearsal of Russian composer Reinhold Gliere's String Octet, violinist Sasha Kandybin, another one of the Manchester Music Festival's Young Artists, sits down to eat a homemade lunch with his colleagues at one of the student dorms.

Like Taconic's students, he feels a strong collaborative atmosphere, making for a positive and inspiring music-making experience.

"All 16 musicians are clearly and obviously very dedicated to their profession, their craft, but I think it's everyone's mentality outside of rehearsal, too, that's really refreshing," he said.

"I told the other people that it feels like one big family for a small festival. We bond a lot, especially because there's only 16 of us, and it makes music-making a lot easier, too."

Originally from New Jersey and also studying at the Cleveland Institute of Music, Kandybin's dream is to play in a great string quartet as a professional chamber musician. His passion for chamber music is effusive, and he feels right at home in the Manchester Music Festival's largely chamber-focused program.

"Chamber music is one of the greatest ways of developing oneself as a musician, because you have to,on one hand, make decisions musically and be intuitive and have moments that a soloist might have, but also respond and react to the three or four other people around you," he said.

"Doing that every day, for many hours, is very rewarding, and that's why we love doing what we do."

Kandybin highlights the rigorous schedule to which he and his colleagues are kept. Though he relishes it, he hopes to be able to enjoy the Vermont outdoors when there is more time later in the festival.

For now, though, he is focused on the reason he and other students come to Manchester: the music. He describes the festival as an exciting opportunity to experience the dynamics of being a professional chamber musician.

"Chamber music is the greatest love I have for anything I could picture myself doing," he says. "The devotion, the attitude you have to have here towards rehearsing and performing with the people around you, and the music that you play, sets you up for a professionally-minded chamber career, and that's why [it appeals to me] so much."

More information about Manchester Music Festival's Young Artists Program and Taconic Music's Chamber Music Intensive, including upcoming performances, can be found at the organizations' websites: mmfvt.org and taconicmusic.org.

Ramsay Eyre is a Dorset resident and a student at Columbia University.


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