Cinderella Sweeping Up

by Gerald Carpenter

Lotte_Lehmann.jpgTHE SUN SETS ON THE WEST: The Music Academy of the West’s 2006 Summer Festival has now joined the foundation of the City of Rome, the Battle of Hastings, and the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Shakespeare’s “dark backward and abysm of time.” It is over. The studios and concert halls are silent, the last note of Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 has provoked the last outburst of thunderous applause, and the burning summer romances have dissolved in tears of farewell and promises to keep in touch via cell phones and the Internet. Plans for next year are already being made.

If Lotte Lehmann, Otto Klemperer, Efrem Zimbalist, Maurice Abravanel, Ernest Bloch, Darius Milhaud, Arnold Schönberg, Gregor Piatigorsky, or any of the other musical luminaries who made their contributions — material and/or spiritual — to the Music Academy in its formative years were able to revisit this section of Earth this summer, would they recognize it? Would they approve? I think they would most certainly recognize it, although they would be impressed by the exponential increase in the scale of the summer event. And given the quality and number of the musical performances, added to the influence of the articulate and accomplished faculty, they could only approve. “What’s not to like?” is a legitimate question, under the circumstances.

If they felt any disappointment, it would probably stem from the fact that the vibrant baby of 1947 never grew into a year-round music school to rival Juilliard, Curtis, Eastman Rochester, or New England Conservatory, for that was the original plan. (However, just up the road at UCSB, the music department has evolved into just such a world-class music school, whose schedule is almost exactly complementary to that of the Academy.) Instead, it has become a mere semantic scruple to distinguish between the Music Academy, as an academy, and the annual Summer Festival.

If, moreover, these Academy household saints were to remark that the students would benefit from exposure to composers of the rank of Bloch, Schönberg, or Milhaud, one would certainly be justified in countering with the question, “Such as whom?” (This is not to disparage a fine composer like Richard Lavenda, who dropped by July 4 for the performance of his engaging Chiaroscuro; but he is not yet, in terms of reputation, on par with those I mentioned earlier — nor, as far as I know, did he interact with the students in any significant way.)

At my first Summer Festival, in 1985, just about everything was managed in-house. A single music director, Lawrence Leighton Smith, conducted all the Festival Orchestra concerts (including Concerto Night and the Opera) and the faculty — led then as now by Jerome Lowenthal, Zvi Zeitlin, and Donald McInnes — came, taught, and played for the whole eight weeks. There was usually a composer-in-residence: I remember particularly the residency of Edward Applebaum. (It was a few years before I got completely up to speed on the Music Academy, and if I am mistaken in my memories of how it was, I welcome correction.) Now, each Festival Orchestra performance is conducted by a different person — always a man, so far — and the number of “visiting artists” seems to have increased. Little else has changed, however, except the students, who were wonderful to begin with, and seem to keep getting better all the time.

The two musicians who impressed me the most this year were violinist Kathleen Winkler and the man who conducted the newly formed Academy Chamber Orchestra, Julian Wachner. Winkler has been a star for years, of course, but something in me just started tingling the first time I heard her this year, and every time after that. As for Wachner, he showed the enthusiasm and the interest of a really great teacher, and he conducted brilliantly as well.

Thanks to President NancyBell Coe, Chairman John Burgee, the entire faculty of the Academy, and to the irreplaceable students for another outstanding festival. Thanks, also, to the usual suspects on the Academy staff, and Susan Hodges, for making things so easy for me.

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