Everyone knows how precious teenage summers are, especially for a musician. It's important to spend them wisely. With so many options to choose from, it was hard to decide which program to attend. I knew I wanted a place with emphasis on solo and chamber work, and with many enthusiastic recommendations from past participants, I decided to spend seven weeks at Quartet Program, for high school and college students, in upstate NY on the campus of SUNY Fredonia.
Located in the Chautauqua district, not far from Niagara falls, Fredonia is a small college town with charming restaurants and the all-important Walmart not far away. The town lends itself well to biking, with many convenient routes. In fact, it was common to see Charles Castleman, the director and founder of the program, zooming back and forth on his own bike, between the dorm and the music building.
The Quartet Program, in its 38th year, is small (though it expanded this year to include another program in Boulder, CO) and it's not as well-known as other summer programs out there. As Mr. Castleman explained to the audience at a concert, he doesn't do a lot of publicity for the program. "For each student slot, there are four applicants. I figure, with all of the applications we get, why would we need to publicize it any more?"
The small size of the group creates a homey, intimate atmosphere for the program, where each of the 36 students get to know each other well, become great friends, and create beautiful chamber music.
However, it's not only the students who become close friends. Unlike other programs, there is no psychological barrier between the staff and the students. The faculty, Mr. Castleman and others (notably violist Allyson Dawkins; dynamic-duo wife-and-husband-team Nancy Nehring and Mark Rudoff, pianist and cellist; and many more) have a relaxed and comfortable attitude. Some nights found the entire population of the camp outside playing a competitive game of "four-square", or inside having intellectual discussions (sometimes musical, often not) and many nights Mr. Castleman and other staff members would join us for a game, or to share anecdotes of QP years past.
The Ying Quartet, all four of them alumnus of QP, were incredibly inspiring and dedicated coaches. Every group had a coaching with three of them, and, as each of them are a part of their whole quartet, each offered different pieces of the musical jigsaw puzzle, which my group was able to piece together. They gave a beautiful (and tear inducing) performance in Rosch recital hall, before they were off to their next engagement.
While Mr. Castleman was away at Boulder to check on the mid-west chapter of QP, a former student and QP alum James Lyon filled in teaching violin. Mr. Lyon is a violin teacher at Penn State and an incredibly expressive teacher and player, who likes to dwell on the creative process. He said to me in one lesson,
"I think that too often, we practice like someone is listening outside the door. What we don't realize is that actually... no one is! The practice room is like a laboratory, where there should be so much experimenting going on. When you emerge from the practice room, you should feel somewhat messy, as if you're covered with splashes of colorful paint."
"Sonata week" was a week-long break from the intense chamber music study, where everyone studied a sonata "from scratch" to perform at the end of the week. With our assigned pianists, we received coachings from Kyoko Hashimoto, who has been coaching sonata week at QP for many years. As a pianist and accomplished chamber musician, Kyoko was invaluable to my sonata experience, because she could give me insight to the pianist's part, and strengthen the connection between the pianist and myself.
Another great thing about QP is that everyone gets a chance to perform, both as a soloist and with their chamber groups. I performed the aforementioned Brahms at the end of Sonata week, and with my two chamber groups, the Schubert Cello Quintet and Beethoven Op. 18 No. 3. I've put up the third movement from the Schubert in the Concert Clips Section, and the rest of the work is up on YouTube, if you'd like to listen.
I hope everyone had as wonderful a summer as I did!
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