Oh, yes, there is a bright future for classical music in this nation, despite what some doomsayers in our midst might declare. Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to some of the young musicians who are competing in this year's scholarship competition. They come from all over Connecticut, and all fell on love with classical music at a very young age. This is not to say they don't appreciate contemporary music, as there was mention of the Beatles, Rolling Stones and other newer bands. They are all outstanding students and well-rounded young people, no ivory towers here.
We caught up with violinist Samuel Weiser, from Westport, was dashing back and forth between airports to Texas and Illinois for college auditions, but he stopped long enough for a chat. He started at age 3 with the Suzuki Method, and his teacher of many years is Katinka Kopec and his repertory is already extensive. He also enjoys working with alternative music, playing the bass viol and piano. He has a generous sense of humor, in fact all of the people I spoke with have that. They know how to have fun and relax with friends. I believe he mentioned that he would be watching the Super Bowl.
Effervescent Bridget Bertoldi is a flautist from Torrington High School who is already spending time at Hartt College, taking a pre-college performance certificate. She studies with Greg Shearer, first chair flautist of the Hartford Symphony. She knew by the first grade that she wanted to be a musician. She is an avid reader, and loves thrillers, especially Stephen King. She is also looking at several colleges with outstanding music schools.
Next, we spoke to Shannon Reilly, also a violinist, who studies with Richard Rood, the concertmaster of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and has had coaching and master classes with Calvin Wiersma, also of Orpheus and Christopher Wu, concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony. Shannon told me that she studied and danced ballet from the age of nine, but the violin won out. She comes from a musical background, since her mother is a flautist and her father works with progressive rock music.
Last but in no way least, we talked with Zoe Miller a violinist from Brookfield who commutes to Englewood Cliffs, N.J., to work with her teacher, Elizabeth Faidley, and goes in to the Manhattan School of Music once a week. She has studied for 12 years and loves to play chamber music, and of course, orchestral. She mentioned that she loves the Wagner operas, and other romantics like Brahms, but has no real "favorites."
There were several common threads. They all began at a very young age and have supportive families. Several mentioned affinity for math, not at all surprising, and are avid readers, though video games did come up in the conversations. They listen to all kinds of music, but practice their instruments an average of four hours a day, maybe not all in once chunk, but at least that long. They are all excellent students academically, and at the same time, are open, outgoing and filled with enthusiasm. I really enjoyed talking with them.
Observing the competition itself was a revelation. In the course of the day, we were treated to the music of composers from Bach to Shostakovich played by ten remarkably talented musicians, again all high school seniors, all planning to go on to conservatories or university music schools. There was one flautist, one pianist, two cellists and six violinists. The four judges had a very hard time choosing the winners, but it had to be done. The finalists played for us a second time, and the winners were then chosen. First place, with a generous scholarship, went to Alex Beyer, a phenomenal pianist, who played Bach, Ravel and Liszt. Second place, and another scholarship, went to violinist Anastasia Dolak, with Bach, Lalo and Cesar Franck. Two Honorable Mentions went to violinists Samuel Weiser and Lindsay Thompson. All four will be introduced at the next Stamford Symphony concert.
They are but a microcosm within the surge of classical music that is now going on, led by established musicians who, understanding the importance of the life of their art, are taking the time to communicate that importance, inspiration, love and joy to children and young people
in schools and concerts all over the country. The Stamford Symphony, by the way, has wonderful programs for children of all ages. As a result, a whole new generation of musicians is growing and learning, and hearing the young artists throughout this extraordinary day was part of that, and proof of its success.