Summer Festivals Flashback

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July 20th, 2016
Summer Festivals Flashback

I have a pesky question about playing outdoors at summer music festivals… What to do when a bug lands on the keyboard and there’s no time to flick it off? If it’s on a key I need (which is always) do I skip the note or smash the bug with committed accuracy?  

I put this out of my mind on a hike in Aspen today, and thought about the arc of summer festivals in my life. It’s been quite a journey from student to guest artist.

From age 11 to 16, I went to Bowdoin Summer Music Festival in Brunswick, Maine. I think you have to be a teenager to be accepted as an official student. For the first several years I went with my mom and we rented a room off campus so I could take lessons with my Juilliard Pre-College teacher, Veda, who was teaching there. Later I was old enough to go on my own and stay in the dorms. There were so many firsts during those summers at Bowdoin: playing serious chamber music… first crush on a boy… discovering and developing a life-long lobster roll obsession! I don’t have many memories away from the piano from my childhood, but a lot of “childhood” happened at Bowdoin. I remember looking for moose at night, of going to malls and doing what kids do.

I also sight-read “Rach 3” for the first time in Bowdoin. Even though I couldn’t make it to the end, I could play one passage really well and people were impressed I was doing this piece as a young teenager. I must have carried that score around all summer, waiting to be asked, "Wow, you play Rach 3?”

The second significant festival was Taos School of Music in New Mexico. It’s a small festival with only about 25 students and a full devotion to chamber music. All we did was practice and take coachings and listen to other people play. Every two weeks we would come out of the mountain to perform. I was the youngest student there at 17, and the others were more experienced in this “fast learning.”

Taos is where I met the Takács Quartet; they were teachers there. At that time I didn’t know who they were while the string players were freaking out before they arrived. When the quartet started playing for us, it was absolutely unbelievable. I’d never heard anything like that before. All my senses woke up.

I was so sad to leave Taos and I was weeping the last day of the festival. I took pictures with the Takács and my face is all puffy from crying so much. The next time I saw them was at the Cliburn semi-finals, and they said, “You’ve stopped crying!” I had this wonderful link to them before the Cliburn.

Aspen was the next festival, with incredible musicians from everywhere, and so much exposure to great performances. I heard Yefim Bronfman for the first time and just fell out of my chair. The thing about Aspen is that all the musicians you make friends with on Facebook are all there at once! It’s such an opportunity to meet all these great people…

And then the Cliburn happened and I was able to come back to Aspen as a guest artist. I no longer had to pay tuition to be there. It was cool because they were supposed to invite the gold medalist to do a residency and give a recital, but since I was an alumna, they invited me. From that point on I’ve been back to Aspen and playing lots of other summer music festivals, traveling with my gowns, my heels, and my l'eau-de-bug-spray.