There are plenty of fired-up people in Santa Barbara during the month of June. Recent graduates, newlyweds, and summer-league baseball sluggers all have their own reasons to be excited right now, but for sheer enthusiasm per capita, no place in town can top the Miraflores campus of the Music Academy of the West (MAW). The current crop of fellows has been there for a little more than a week at this point and their calendars are already crowded with appealing events, from Saturday’s BrassFest at Hahn Hall, which features one of the summer’s most ambitious new compositions, a triple brass quintet (!) by guest artist Timo Andres, to the first of the academy’s beloved faculty concerts at the Lobero, also featuring a world premiere, this one by composer Jeremy Turner. And that exotic sound you hear in the background? That’s the rumble of Maestro Larry Rachleff rehearsing Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, to be performed by the members of the Academy Festival Orchestra when they take their positions onstage at the Granada for their first Saturday-evening program on June 24.
Drawing equally on new and old material, and maintaining an established tradition of musical excellence while looking ahead to the next 70 years, the organizers of this season’s festival intend nothing less than full immersion for not only the fellows but their fans, as well. To this end, the Music Academy has introduced a new component to the early part of the season, a free two-day conference on Monday-Tuesday, June 19-20, called Classical Evolution/Revolution. Panels on the future of music in relation to new media, new audiences, alternative venues, financial viability, and much more will include some of the most influential people in the world of performing arts, such as Luke Ritchie, digital director of the Philharmonia Orchestra of London, and Christopher Koelsch, president and CEO of the L.A. Opera. The goal, according to MAW Vice President for Programming Patrick Posey, is not only to educate the fellows, who will be attending these sessions between rehearsals and master classes, but also to integrate the academy’s formidably knowledgeable audience more fully into the artistic conversation taking place over the course of the season’s eight weeks. “We want to get these big questions out there early,” Posey told me, adding that “the fellows are all coming from different places,” and that means they know things that we don’t — yet.
What else is new this season? A lot. There are 10 composers who will be in residence at one point or another, and a new program to solicit commissions from them. Some will be conducting their own work, others will perform, and still others will be participating as teachers in the Music Academy’s legendary master classes. It’s all part of an effort to connect the world’s top young musicians with the artists who are shaping the musical context they seek to join. Posey lists five items in a kind of big-picture “to do” list in order to be a successful musician over the next 50 years. “First, you have to take whatever steps are necessary to perform your best,” he said, “and then you have to remember that some composers are actually alive.” Musicians who go through the Music Academy’s program can expect to have their capacity to interact with an audience broadened to include public speaking and “asking hard questions,” both of the music and of one’s self. Finally, there’s the unavoidable commandment of all great collaborative art, especially at this exalted level — musicians must “enjoy one another.”
To get a full idea of what’s in store, either pick up a copy of the Music Academy of the West’s beautifully crafted season program at one of the concerts, or see musicacademy.org.