MUSIC ACADEMY OPENS SEASON, ARMS OPEN WIDE

Summer represents the doldrums for classical music in most communities. But here in Santa Barbara, mid-June is when classical music lovers rejoice. For while the local ensembles and organizations are dormant and touring outfits are on hiatus, it’s also the time of the launching of the new Summer Music Festival at the Music Academy of the West.

One hundred and thirty-seven gifted young players gather together with more than 50 teachers and visiting performers drawn from today’s leading artists for an eight-week residency at the Miraflores campus right here in Montecito, just up the street from Butterfly Beach (access is off Fairway Road). And it truly is a classical music lover’s dream, for although the primary focus of the school is instruction and growth for its students, the community members can find almost anything they’d like to observe, from intimate masterclasses in virtually every conceivable classical instrument (save for harpsichord) to full-on orchestral performances taking on the great masterworks and contemporary compositions, and even a fully-staged opera. In between, there are frequent student chamber music ensemble programs (dubbed “Picnic Concerts” at MAW), faculty chamber concerts every Tuesday at the Lobero (hence the moniker, “Tuesdays At 8”), and many community outreach programs, including free weekly student concerts at the Art Museum. (For details on the full schedule, pick up a brochure on campus at 1070 Fairway Road, request one via telephone at 969-8787 or log on to www.musicacademy.org.)

As with any venerable institution – MAW begins its 59th season on June 17 – not that much changes from year to year. The student body, of course, is mostly new, as only a small percentage of young artists return for more than a single summer. But the school has found a formula that works, so president NancyBell Coe, who observes her second anniversary in charge on July 1, has made just a few additions for the new season.

Here’s a guide of what to look for this summer:

Opera Workshop: This brand new program is a three-week acting and movement workshop conceived and directed by Lotfi Mansouri, MAW alumnus and former general director of the prestigious San Francisco Opera, in collaboration with mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne, MAW’s voice program director. For the first time, all voice students will be trained in theatrical dramatic technique as well as singing – meeting three times a week for three weeks – and the results will be seen in the annual “Opera Scenes” performances. “Having an additional emphasis on acting is a great addition to our program,” Coe says. “We’ve always given some of this attention to singers cast as leads in the annual opera, but not every student has a principal role. Now everybody has access, and Lotfi is one of the best in the business.”

Orchestral Leadership Workshop: David Halen, concertmaster of the St. Louis Symphony, conducts a one-evening workshop on “Leading the Orchestra: The Role of a Principal Player” on July 12, a first for MAW. “The role of the principal player is hard to articulate, and it’s often a lot of trial and error,” Coe says. “This will be great training for budding concertmasters, who serve as the major link between the conductor and the orchestra.” Halen will also serve as substitute concertmaster and soloist for the Academy Festival Orchestra concert on July 15.

Faculty: For the first time in many years, there are no significant changes, as no new faculty members will be here for the whole summer. “Our faculty is great and they love it here, so we don’t have a lot of turnover,” Coe says. “These days, when there is an opening, you end up sharing new people with other festivals.” Thus, there are a few visiting artists who will take on the teaching role for shorter durations this summer. Among the new faces is cellist Matt Haimovitz (July 6-12), a MAW alumnus making his first return as a faculty member. Haimovitz is very familiar to local audiences through his several recital appearances at the Lobero and SOhO. Indeed, it’s his unusual approach to performance – taking the music into unlikely spaces such as the nightclub – that make him such an attraction. “He represents a different approach to building a career,” Coe says. “He’s not that much older than many of our students, so he’s really a great role model.” Haimovitz will also judge the Concerto Competition and perform at Tuesdays at 8 on July 11.

Clarinetist Richie Hawley, principal of the Cincinnati Symphony for a dozen years, who is at MAW for the first two weeks, should prove invaluable to the young musicians as he’s currently writing a tome called “The Audition Book.” Hawley, who is among several MAW faculty members who love to surf, is a frequent visitor to the area because his parents live here in Montecito.

Trombonist Peter Ellefson, who spent a decade with the Seattle Symphony and made recent appearances with the New York Philharmonic, joins the MAW faculty for the last two weeks of the season.

Visiting artists: To no one’s surprise the Canadian Brass is back for a sixth consecutive season, its members having fallen hard for spending two weeks basking in the Santa Barbara summer. Case in point, trumpeters Josef Burgstaller and Ryan Anthony, who both left behind permanent membership in the outfit, return to the fold for Canadian Brass’s MAW residency June 18-July 1. The Brass shakes things up by including organist Fred Swann in its annual concert, slated for June 21 at the First Presbyterian Church, with an eclectic repertoire to say the least.

The Takacs Quartet, who served at MAW a couple of seasons ago, returns in July for a two-week residency that includes a July 21 performance at the Marjorie Luke Theatre.

Violinist Donald Weilerstein, the 2006 Distinguished Alumnus (he was here more than 50 years ago), is in residency August 6-9, including a Tuesday at 8 date as part of the regular ensemble and with his own Weilerstein Trio. “It was an easy choice,” Coe says. “A long career as both a performer and teacher, he was a natural.”

Christopher Larkin makes his academy debut as conductor of the annual opera, which this year is Rossini’s “Il Viaggio a Reims,” at the Lobero on August 4 and August 6. Christopher Mattaliano, who directed the 1997 production at MAW, returns for the reprise – the two also teamed up for Portland Opera’s 2004 production of “Il Vaggio.”

Insider info and advice: Don’t miss the Academy Festival Orchestra concerts this year, because all four are being conducted by very young musicians, including two – Giancarlo Guerrero and Pavel Klinichev – making their MAW debuts.

If budget is an issue, there are more than 40 free events over the course of the summer, including all brass, wind and percussion masterclasses. Last year’s new offering, The Community Welcome Day, when all events on campus are free, returns on July 13. The Brass Ensemble’s concert on July 23 is free, as is the July 16 MERIT Community Concert, culminating the academy’s two-week mentoring program that pairs local young musicians with MAW students. And the Concerto Competition Finals (July 8), Marilyn Horne Foundation Awards Vocal Competition (July 22) and Chamber Music Marathon (July 29) are all-day events that cost only $15. The Opera Dress Rehearsal (August 2), which is often more fun than the actual performances, is only $20.

Try, if you can, to follow a single student throughout the course of the summer, from masterclasses to picnic concerts to the symphony performances and more. The progress in their development can be fascinating.

Any program that’s not posted on the website can always be found on the bulletin board inside the administration building, so you can get a jump start on Picnic Concert programs.

You can often attend events that aren’t specifically open to the public, such as practice sessions and rehearsals, simply by quietly walking in and selecting a seat. (But don’t tell ‘em I sent you.)

Coe recommends that newcomers check out the masterclass samplers, which group three different instruments and instructors on one stage. For old-timers Coe suggests to “go to something unfamiliar – in fact, something you’re not sure you’ll like at all. It usually ends up being great.”

Summer Opener

The season-opening concert honoring pianist Jerome Lowenthal brings back three of the 37-year MAW veteran’s more recent students: Konstantin Soukhovetski (1999), Orion Weiss (2000) and Alpin Hong (2002), who will perform individually and together, including a four-piano piece with Lowenthal, at Abravanel Hall on June 17. Hong – who has long black hair, a penchant for playing piano with his feet, and has a guest spot on the “Blind Date” TV show – says he was thrilled to be asked to join in the tribute.

“Jerome Lowenthal always had the best students, and teaches the most talented people,” Hong says. “For the longest time I thought I didn’t even belong in his studio. He’s had so many incredible students, there are so many amazing alumni. So I had to check twice to make sure they really wanted me for this concert.”

Hong played nearly 150 recital concerts last season, but he hasn’t lost his fun-loving approach. Lowenthal should be prepared for “a concert that rocks, and a little gentle teasing,” he cautions. “I’m going to see if I can embarrass him a bit.”