summer chamber music workshops/festivals

November 24, 2018, 8:01 AM · This has been touched on in some other threads but wanted to dedicate a whole thread to it.
Im looking for recommendations for summer music workshops in either the US or Europe, that cater to both serious/advanced amateurs, and music students. I want there to be a mix of ages as I am 34 and find I'm older than most music students, and younger than most amateurs. I am a "returner", currently practicing 2-4 hours a day and taking lessons, I am trying very hard to improve and I think making good progress. I'm working on Bach's A minor unaccompanied sonata right now (sonata #2), the Grave and the Allegro. I am also about to start working on the Franck sonata. I haven't delved into major concertos but my teacher thinks I am ready for Bruch in a couple months if I keep practicing as I am. I really want to challenge myself with a high-level course this summer and my passion is chamber music so I want it to be all or mostly chamber music (a bit or orchestra is ok...but not so keen on solo as I can get that year-round with private teachers! finding other people to play with is much harder). I'm looking for the "intensive" experience--less repertoire, more in-depth and detailed rehearsal. If anyone knows of something that fits this description, I'd really appreciate tips!! Last year I waited too long to start looking and so I really want to start earlier this time, and have plenty of time to prepare an audition recording.
I'm flexible with my location so US and Europe are both fair game.
Thanks in advance!

Replies (18)

November 24, 2018, 8:28 AM · Hi Sylvie! If you join the "Associated Chamber Music Players" (acmp.net) there is a listing of I think hundreds of chamber music programs and you might enjoy trying to find one near you to connect with like-minded musicians. I attended the Bennington chamber music conference (Vermont) last year which I really enjoyed although the amount of repertoire was somewhat extensive/overwhelming. I have never been to the Kent program (upstate NY and Washington State locations) but they will spend the entire week on a single string quartet which is probably as intensive as you will ever find. My understanding is that both of these are among the most serious as far as the music goes. Having not heard you play I can't say whether or not these are the right programs for your playing level--those Bach pieces are very difficult to play well, perhaps harder than Bruch but they tend to stay in low positions and generally only involve on the string bowings. I think for both of the programs I mentioned you probably need to be comfortable playing multiple types of bow articulation (on and off string) and up to 7th position.

Good luck!

November 24, 2018, 8:39 AM · Thanks Isaac! I have joined ACMP, looked at their lists and done lots of internet research myself, but after a few disappointing experiences with such summer programs I realize that unfortunately looking at a program's website does not always give an accurate idea of what the program is really like, so that's why I'm trying to discuss this with some real people this year. The Kent program sounds right up my alley... thank you and I will definitely look into that one!
To clarify, yes I'm comfortable playing up to 7th position and both on and off/string bowings.
November 24, 2018, 5:06 PM · Maybe you should let us know what specifically disappointed you about the programs you experienced. That way it might be easier to recommend something.
November 24, 2018, 5:13 PM · Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music (in NH) may appeal to you. It's all chamber music (hence the name). There are 5 10-day sessions to choose from throughout the summer. It's all-ages (13 - 90), and there are some fantastic players in every age group. Participants are grouped by ability as opposed to age. The repertoire is really interesting. Feel free to PM me if you want to know more about it.
Edited: November 24, 2018, 11:24 PM · Sylvie, could you name the programs you previously attended? And provide more details about what you did and didn't like about them? It'd be both useful for making recommendations, and for everyone else trying to make summer-camp decisions.

I'm looking for summer programs with adult amateurs who are playing at a very high level. I'd prefer a balance between solo, orchestra, and chamber music, but I'd take a focused program too.

Edited: November 25, 2018, 3:58 AM · Hi Karen, I'd love to know more about Apple Hill, I saw their website and thoought it looked good, would be great to hear of someone's real experience. Couldn't figure out how to PM--could you write it on this thread? The one thing I thought I might not like about Apple Hill was it looked like there wasn't much rehearsal time (3 hours a day I think?) I'd prefer more.

Ok, so for my past experiences. When I was in high school there was one I went to that I really liked called Summer Music West (at the San Francisco Conservatory). It was two weeks long, and you were assigned to two different chamber groups. With each group, you only worked on one movement of a piece, and got the music for that movement well in advance, so there was plenty of time to prepare and everyone came really prepared. The coaching was very in-depth and actually I got some harsh critiques in the first week from one coach about my bowing technique... I remember crying! But also practicing really hard and seeing a huge improvement in myself by the final concert. I still think about and use the things I learned there. This was ideal for me, though that program is only for kids so I can't do it again, but looking for something along those lines.

Since my return to music, I attended two summer workshops in Europe. One was La Pellegrina,(in Czech Republic) which is for amateurs (website says students and professionals too, but only amateurs really go there, and almost everyone was over 50). Similiar setup with two groups and lots of coaching, and getting the music well in advance. So far so good. The words "serious", "advanced," and "intensive" were all over the website but when I got there I felt the participants weren't really as advanced as the website made it sound like. Everyone came pretty prepared but I didn't feel that sense of desire and angst around improving that I was used to feeling in student groups, and really missed that. At night everyone wanted to sight-read while what I would have loved to see happen is for everyone to practice their assigned parts to make them even better... people knew their parts and there was the sense that that was "good enough" and people were satisfied with that, but that's not really the way I think, I'm always driven to make my part better and better and I really enjoy that process. Although there was lots of coaching, the coaches were pretty laid back, and I didn't really get any meaningful feedback, nothing I'm thinking of years later. I really should have known it couldn't be amazing because there was no audition recording required--you only had to describe your level of playing in words and list recent repertoire. Duh... I'm wiser now.

The most recent one I went to was Ameropa festival in Prague, which I selected because it is primarily for music students but also accepts adult amateurs, and I really wanted that mix, and has both European and American and Asian coaches, a real mix from different countries. Also there was an audition recording requirement, yay! All these things were good, but there was an overwhelming amount of music sent out only 2 weeks before the workshop. I'm not good at sight reading or assimilating music super quickly so it was very stressful-- I was in 4 different groups assigned entire works (turns out we only did one or two movements, but this wasn't communicated so I practiced everything). The organization was extremely bad, with repertoire changes happening last minute and just too much going on...there was also an orchestra program the 2nd week which was optional and even though I didn't do it, everyone being overwhelmed and stressed from that made the atmosphere pretty...fragmented. I'm all for being challenged and pushed but not in scrambling to learn tons of rep, but rather pushed to further my technique and musicality in manageable chunks of music. There were lots of things happening there that were not explained in the website... I was even put into two small chamber orchestras even though I'd specified the "only chamber music" option. Very sloppy definition of chamber music.

Anyway I hope that gives you enough to go on. Maybe too much detail, haha...

Edited: November 25, 2018, 7:04 AM · Sylvie, Apple Hill assigns each participant to two (or sometimes three) groups, and each group has a 90-minute coaching each day. That's just the coached-rehearsal time, though - people can (and do) practice and rehearse a lot more than that, especially if coaches ask for improvements (and they do). I would say that Apple Hill seems a lot like your description of Summer Music West, except it's not just high school students.
November 25, 2018, 6:38 PM · Thanks Sylvie, that's useful information.

When you were concerned about people not practicing their parts at night: You mentioned that people came prepared. Did you want them to practice because even when "prepared" they were still muffing passages (missing notes, etc.)? Or because they were not incorporating the suggestions that the coaches gave them?

I will note that it's fairly common for entire works to be assigned if the expectations are that players are highly technically competent, and there's significant rehearsal time. I noted in your previous thread that you may find it useful to simply learn a lot of the major repertoire on your own, just so you have it in your fingers for the future.

November 26, 2018, 3:29 AM · Hi Lydia, it wasn't that I was "concerned," I just noticed that players there had a different mindset than mine and would like to find a workshop with more like-minded people. In that workshop, people were prepared in that they had learned the notes, could play without missing notes or getting lost, etc. But there were still some things that could be better--intonation, tone, musicality, etc. Not that anyone was playing badly, but even for professionals, there is always more polishing work that can be done, right? This has always been my attitude towards my own playing--that it could always be better, even after I "know the music". I enjoy polishing things and especially if I'm going to perform the piece, would rather spend my spare time on polishing so that I can have a better performance, rather than sightreading completely unrelated things "just for fun." I found the attitude of those at the workshop was different, that past a certain point they didn't seem to care about playing their part better, for them it was "good enough" (the coaches also didn't push all that much to get to a higher level) and sightreading new music was more enjoyable for them than polishing. I'm not criticising that mindset at all, it's just a matter of different preferences. In my experience so far, I find music students are more "kindred spirits" in this mindset than amateurs are, even though I've met some amateurs playing at very high level, much better than me, but this is more about mindset than ability. Does that make sense?
I agree with you that I need to get more of the big pieces under my fingers, (I'm practicing a lot lately but haven't had time for that, yet!) but I also know there can be differences among workshops in terms of how much repertoire they assign, and I'd like to find one with less rep and more detailed work, as that's my preference.
Edited: November 26, 2018, 7:31 AM · Oh hm. That's interesting. Coaches that are not materially improving the group are a problem. But my guess is that you are going to find it very challenging to find amateur programs where people lock themselves up at night to practice rather than doing something social like reading works. Especially if there are a few minutes in the day when you can snatch 5 minutes to fix a spot.

Maybe people will devote 15 or 30 minutes to a handful of spots the day before (or day of) the performance, usually for technical security. This isn't about any lack of desire to improve as a question of trade-offs: Having come prepared, will more time spent on this passage result in such meaningful improvement that I want to give up reading and other activities?

I was at a camp a few years ago where I cut short hanging out at breakfast to go take 20 minutes in the dressing room to woodshed a tough spot for the concert that evening. When my group's coach wandered by, she gently admonished me that it would be fine, and shooed me off to go do something more social.

Edited: November 26, 2018, 10:49 AM · haha, Really? which camp was that?
ah yeah I completely get that, I enjoy the socializing aspect of workshops too, and actually I don't really care whether people practice at the camp per se, it was more a general attitude thing, that I noticed was different between the all-amateur camp I attended vs. the workshop for students that I attended in high school. The sight-reading thing was just a way to illustrate that. I really miss the intensity of being a music student, the ardent desire to improve shared between me and my colleagues (that shared mindset led to some great socializing, not that we were locked up practicing all the time--we "got each other" on that level which was really nice). I also felt like the coaches took the student groups more seriously, maybe makes sense as for young people there's more at stake in their improvement...they may go on to conservatory etc... where for adults the decision not to be professional has already been made for the most part. Anyway, I don't mean to come off as overly serious and obsessive... I just think it would be good to find a camp with a mix of serious students and amateurs.

Karen, thanks for the info on Apple Hill, sounds good!

November 26, 2018, 11:42 AM · I'd recommend checking out the SoCal Chamber Music Workshop, which meets at the end of July at Scripps College in Claremont, CA: http://www.socalchambermusic.com/

I attended a number of years ago, and this past season stopped by to visit a friend whose quartet was performing and teaching there for the week. The teachers are committed, and there is a range of player levels from those who are truly amateur hobbyists to retired professional musicians who love playing chamber music. A different professional quartet is on the faculty each season, and many of the faculty are career quartet players as well.

November 26, 2018, 8:21 PM · I have heard really good things about the SoCal workshop but I do think there's a fair amount of evening freelancing there as well.

Thinking out loud here, I can imagine a challenge: you want to play with people who are the caliber you were when you were a serious music student...and you want them to be as seriously dedicated to pursuit of perfection as you remember being when you were a student...but given your current status (returning to the instrument, not quite as technically proficient yet, and isolated from intense year-round musical training communities) it will be hard to get there.

Also, many talented musicians are amateurs precisely *because* they want to play a lot of music but also do other things, and let go of the perfectionist mindset. It's nice to know that you have the chops to more or less play something and make music of it; nicer still to be able to do so without angsting over the last 15%, worrying about blind auditions or competition, etc. So you get these amazing musicians who totally *could* have been professional and their mindset is the very thing that sets them apart. (that and the fact that, due to jobs/lives/other interests, they've mostly long since stopped practicing the requisite 4+ hrs/day.)

You, not being a music student at this point, don't really get to avoid the amateurs. After all, you are one. But you can control your destiny a bit better by doing two things:

1) What you're doing: asking about the culture of a camp/workshop to learn more about the amount of serious polishing vs. sightreading/socializing that happens. I've personally heard that Bennington is pretty serious (although there, too, the sightreading scene is apparently prolific). but also

2) Find people who share your mindset and form your own group in advance of going. I don't know which workshops allow/encourage this, aside from St Lawrence (at Stanford). But there must be others. This way you can be that group that spends more time polishing and skips the sightreading most nights. You may find yourself at odds with the general vibe/missing out on a huge social component if you skip ALL the sightreading, so I also recommend Lydia's approach: learn a bunch of parts between now and then so that you can hang with people and not feel overly stressed.

I guess I'll also mention this: I was never quite at your level and am less skilled than I once was...but I've been wildly impressed by the skill and talent demonstrated by the amateurs I've encountered in college/grad school/adulthood. Particularly in areas like SF, DC, NY, Boston, Chicago, etc., you can encounter conservatory-trained musicians who went on to do other things professionally but still retain music as a hobby. If I were in your situation, I'd probably first want to get into the best chamber music camp I could find (and some are very competitive) and then practice furiously to get to a point where I could collaborate with these folks without feeling like the weakest link. Bruch level is not particularly competitive from what I've experienced. To get seated in the first violin section of the Stanford Symphony, for example, you'd probably be playing something closer to Sibelius. These are the folks playing summer workshops: the teachers/doctors/professors who also moonlight in the Boston Phil or the Marin Symphony or Opera San Jose. Does that make sense?

Edited: November 26, 2018, 11:33 PM · Sylvie, I was at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's Academy. I really loved the people there -- very much my tribe. Lots of very high-achieving, driven professionals with wide-ranging interests, including a love of music and often a diligent devotion to getting better. The program combined amateurs with pros (mostly music educators, which would include some freelancers). Many of the amateur string players were still taking lessons. The 2nd violinist in my quintet there was a Peabody performance graduate and professional symphony player; when they took ill, they were replaced by someone who studied at Juilliard Pre-College and was a highly accomplished violinist.

I'm told that the level of playing of my regular quartet is unusually high for amateurs -- i.e. higher than what you find at most workshops that are amateur only. (Here's a recent performance, prior to starting any coaching: LINK -- we are getting coaching prior to doing another performance.) But most of the refinement work we do is as a group, more than in individual practice -- we are mostly leaning on our existing technical chops (though you can hear in the video that we all have some individual spots to work on too, which will probably get resolved before the next performance). We rehearse regularly, but we all also do reading sessions with other people. It might be worth asking yourself if you'd likely to be satisfied with music-making at this level, or you would want more -- more suggests that you'd probably need to aim for programs targeted more at pre-professionals/pros rather than amateurs.

Katie, note that Sylvie was playing at a level where Mendelssohn was too technically challenging (and therefore presumably Bruch as well), when she was last a serious music student. I very much agree with your advice though.

FYI, my interests this summer are probably the Gettysburg and Curtis (amateur) workshops, though I'm interested in hearing other suggestions for other workshops with excellent coaching and adept players.

November 27, 2018, 5:33 AM · In Norway the chamber music society arrange two week-long courses with the Maggini Quartet. The vast majority of people going there are preformed groups - some formed just for the course others play together regularly. Each group get their own room and there are daily sessions with one of the instructors, who alternate between groups. Each group get sessions with all of the instructors so you get different perspectives. Most groups focus on one work, some bring two. And there is time as well for socializing, sight reading with people from other groups if you like etc.
The level is entirely up to the individual group. Some groups play at a very high level and come well prepared.
One course is in Lillehammer, the other in Sund north of Trondheim. Beautiful surroundings and really good food!
November 27, 2018, 4:21 PM · I have done Kent Music several summers. A little quirky— you get assigned to different groups every day, and get different coaches in morning and afternoon. But you do get a lot of serious work on one piece (this year it will be Op 95), and faculty/assignments are good. Generally really nice people, too, and some seriously good ones.

No performances at the end, except by the Manhattan Quartet.

Edited: November 27, 2018, 7:11 PM · I really resonated with what Katie B wrote. That rings true to me.

One thing she wrote warrants another comment, "Particularly in areas like SF, DC, NY, Boston, Chicago, etc., you can encounter conservatory-trained musicians who went on to do other things professionally but still retain music as a hobby."

Yeah if you think about it, let's say 50% of conservatory students go into teaching or performing as their main livelihoods. So ... where do the rest of them go? Into other professions mainly. So yeah there are plenty of them, and yeah you'll find more of them in SF, Chicago, etc., just like you'll find more young professionals of every other stripe in those places. Plus DC, NY, Boston, etc., is where the conservatories are.

By the way I have heard good things about Bennington and one of these years I'm going to put in for it.

November 30, 2018, 6:26 AM · Thanks very much for the thoughts and suggestions, everyone! Very helpful :)


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