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Another summer to remember

I can’t believe I’m sitting down to write about yet another life-changing time in my life as a musician. It’s 12:46 AM, and I probably should be getting some rest. Tomorrow is the fifth and final performance of the Academy Festival Orchestra at Music Academy of the West; we’re closing the summer with Brahms’ First Symphony and Strauss’ Four Last Songs, led by none other than the New York Philharmonic’s outgoing music director Alan Gilbert and famed opera star Renée Fleming. It’s sure to be the concert experience of a lifetime; but then again, with such an incredible 8 weeks just behind me, it’s not the only thing on my mind. Perhaps it’s the incredible experience I had of performing a Haydn piano trio with renowned pianist Jeremy Denk for a sold-out crowd; maybe it’s the chance I had to play a movement of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto for esteemed violinist Martin Beaver in a public masterclass—I’m not sure what I’ll remember the most. Hopefully all of it, which is partly why I’m writing this. I feel like I’ve grown and changed so much while attending the Music Academy. Surely I’ll never be the same violinist or person again.

I’ll have to start at the beginning- this story will definitely take multiple posts! If you’re not familiar with the experience of the classical music student, the idea of the ‘summer festival’ may be new to you. For many of us music students, the nine months of education we receive at our colleges and conservatories each year isn’t enough to satisfy us, and for me personally, the idea of spending the summer merely lounging at home sounds boring. Enter the summer festival: a type of institution providing specialized musical training during the summer months, offering music students a chance to continue their training away from school. The most prestigious of these festivals draw large pools of applicants from the best conservatories, and invite legendary professionals from all over the world to teach.

I heard about the Music Academy of the West from friends at New England Conservatory. We may have been only in our first semester of school, finally enjoying the education we’d earned through a hard audition season months before, but it was already time to start planning for the summer ahead. From what I heard, Music Academy was two things: high-caliber, and free of charge. That combination was enticing! I did my research, and what I’d heard seemed true. The Music Academy boasts a rigorous two-month program of orchestra, chamber music, and private lessons, with faculty representing the pinnacle of each of those fields. And every accepted student is given “fellow” status, that is, each attends on an all-expenses-paid basis. It’s safe to say that the Music Academy has the complete package!

If this sounds too good to be true, I would have agreed with you just a few months ago. I sent in an application, requesting a live audition at my school in Boston, with a ‘why not’ mentality. Not only did I already know that the competition would be stiff, I also knew that being on the youngest end of the age spectrum (18-27 for string instrumentalists) would put me up against more experienced colleagues. It wasn’t until about a month later that the Music Academy began sending out results: the day came when the first of my violin classmates heard back. But as the day went on, I had no news. By evening, I had to prepare for an orchestra concert and focus on the leadership role I had as a front-stand player on a difficult program. After the first half of the concert, I checked my phone for the thousandth time. No missed calls, no emails. We finished the program and I returned backstage to pack up my violin. Before picking up my case and leaving, I pulled out my phone one more time and checked for notifications. I had a missed call and a voicemail. And an email. Since it was noisy, the first thing I did was open the email. I didn’t read properly at first—single words popped out: “congratulations”, “enroll”, “violin fellow”. I was thoroughly shocked; it’s one of the few times I can remember being in actual disbelief. My best friends hugged me before I ran back to my room to call my parents. Finally out of the backstage buzz, I listened to the voicemail I’d received from the Dean of the Music Academy. She congratulated me on being selected from the Academy’s most competitive audition field to date. I was truly ecstatic. I had my summer plans set! The next post will provide an in-depth look at what it was like for me to prepare for the Academy, and what my first days looked like!

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