Or what I did on my summer vacation
I teach a lot during the school year, seeing students of all ages weekly, and marking their progress with biannual recitals. In the summer, though, lessons are, by design, few and far between. In-depth summer programs that accelerate the learning experience into just a week or two certainly fill in the gaps. One of those programs is the Amherst Early Music Festival, which, name to the contrary, is held at Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut.
I had the pleasure of working there for a week last July, running Baroque cello master classes and coaching chamber music every day, and watching the incredible results in performances after just five days of concentrated work. One of the great things about the Amherst Festival is that the participants are all different ages—some are emerging professionals, while others are older amateurs. My cello class was a delightful mix of older “amateurs”—all professional cellists, but eager to learn about Baroque cello—and a doctoral student of mine who was about to head off to a European competition. Discussion was lively and stimulating, and playing was at an extremely high level. Everyone was eager to learn and game to try new things. In chamber music, I coached three sopranos with a viola da gambist and harpsichordist on continuo, in a ravishing piece by a Dutch Baroque composer none of us had ever heard of. I also worked with a group of two flutes and continuo, as well as performed in a really fun faculty recital. So much in so little time—and I think I learned as much as my students!
A couple of weeks later, I hopped in my Prius and drove up the coast to Blue Hill, Maine, to spend a week preparing and performing at Blue Hill Bach. Here a small group of early music professionals puts on three back-to-back concerts with the stunning backdrop of the Maine coast. Preparation is very intense—I arrived on Monday and had three days to put together three totally different programs that began on Thursday.
I had a handful of solo vocalists, a local chorus, a solo trumpeter, two oboists who doubled on recorders, a keyboard player, and a tiny string orchestra—I was the only cellist. We performed in various buildings around town, including two beautiful churches. However, the most memorable setting this past season was where we performed Handel’s bucolic opera Acis and Galatea—on the porch of a magnificent early 20th-century “cottage” with a spectacular view of Blue Hill Bay. This is the type of house that might better be found in an American version of Downton Abbey—complete with servant bells and a direct line to the stables—and a view of seals sunning themselves on rocks in the bay.
Not to be forgotten any time soon! While everyone at Amherst lives in dorms and eats at the cafeteria, in Blue Hill, you are put up in local homes—and I have been fortunate to stay with a lovely couple in a historic 18th-century house for the last two summers—right on the water.
While our daily schedule was jam-packed with rehearsals and performances, I was able to fit in long early morning walks along the spectacular coastline. And then there was the dinner for all participants given at the home of the director of the festival—with lobsters plucked from the sea that afternoon.
For my final musical week in another state, I traded in my Baroque cello for my modern one and chamber music for sitting in an orchestra—I had joined the New Hampshire Music Festival in Plymouth, New Hampshire, for Verdi’s amazing Requiem.
I don’t often get to play in a big orchestra with a similar sized chorus. Two to three cellos are the norm in the early music groups I work with, so this was a treat—as was getting to spend time with wonderful players from professional orchestras all over the country. One of my best friends, a violist in the Seattle Symphony, was there as well, so we had time to catch up.
Since we were only preparing one piece that week, with two performances, there was plenty of time to explore picturesque towns, hike and swim in nearby Squam Lake (where On Golden Pond was filmed in 1981), and share meals in the little apartments provided by Plymouth State University. Some of the musicians had been playing this six-week festival for decades. And while they take their music making very seriously, they are also fanatical hikers. Over time, a number of them have hiked all 48 of the 4,000-foot or higher mountains in New Hampshire. At a postconcert party, one of the bass players proudly joined this elite group of musicians who belong to the Four Thousand Footer Club.
Added to this were performances on various summer series: One with my group, the Rowe’s Lane Quartet in scenic Portsmouth, New Hampshire; and another with my cello duo Tutti Bassi at a Bach’s Lunch library concert in Nashua, New Hampshire.
I would say I had an extraordinarily full and varied musical experience. I even played one concert in my hometown—the Rowe’s Lane Quartet joined in a celebration at the end of August for the placement of a plaque on the former Rowe’s Lane in Boston, to commemorate the first music conservatory in America: The American Conservatorio of Boston founded in 1800 by Francis Mallet, Filippo Trajetta, and Gottlieb Graupner, who went on to found the Handel and Haydn Society, of which I am a member, and which is now 200 years old! I can’t wait to see where this summer will take me.