The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Amateurs who dream of playing with a professional orchestra should listen to this story. | July 19, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

Violinist Tanesha Mitchell (below in a photograph by Richard Anderson) isn’t alone.

Academy Week  tanesha mitchell CR Richard Anderson

Like her, there are many string and brass players, wind players and percussionists, who have studied music and have become pretty accomplished amateurs.

And many of them, The Ear, suspects, dream of playing even just one concert with a professional orchestra.

Enter the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (below top) and its famed music director and conductor Marin Alsop (below bottom).

Baltimore Symphony November 20, 2008

Baltimore Symphony November 20, 2008

Marin Alsop big

Talk about community outreach!

Each year, the BSO holds an amateur week – it is called Academy Week — in which 80 talented amateurs get to play with and under the tutelage of professionals in the symphony orchestra and its conductor. Participants get seven rehearsals and a full concert as well as private lessons.

The Ear wonders how much it costs and how they choose participants.

You can hear more about it in a YouTube video from 2011 at the bottom.

It seems kind of like Interlochen summer music camp, but for adults instead of teens.

Here is a story that aired Saturday on NPR or National Public Radio.

For those amateurs with dreams of professional music-making glory – for even just a week – it is a must-hear story.

And it makes you wonder if it could help the future of classical music if more symphony orchestras and chamber orchestras – including the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra – adopted something similar.

What do you think?

The Ear wants to hear


  1. It’s an intriging idea I think our orchestras should follow up on. The MSO does some wonderful work with young musicians; it would be edifying and hopefully productive to have an “Adult Artists Competition” along the lines of the Bolz, perhaps. Many other formats could be very worthwhile also. Cutting edge perhaps, but for me nothing surpasses Beethooven and Mozart for pure delight. If enough artists were auditioned the music could take care of itself.

    Daryl Sherman

    Comment by Daryl K.. Sherman — July 24, 2015 @ 7:10 pm

  2. Great idea!

    Comment by Deb — July 19, 2015 @ 6:56 pm

  3. It would be a win-win in Madison — we have a lot of very accomplished amateur musicians; both they and the classical music environment here would benefit.

    Comment by slfiore — July 19, 2015 @ 8:33 am

  4. This is such a wonderful happening, and is otherwise so difficult to come by if a person is an amateur. Very cool.

    Comment by aswecrochet — July 19, 2015 @ 8:14 am

  5. Terrific initiative in Baltimore. Here in Cincinnati we just had the news that a foundation grant will make it possible to underwrite a new training program at our College-Conservatory of Music, which will open up opportunities for advanced students from underserved populations to begin to fill positions in symphony orchestras around the country.

    Comment by Rafael de Acha — July 19, 2015 @ 7:51 am

  6. “And it makes you wonder if it could help the future of classical music if more symphony orchestras and chamber orchestras – including the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra – adopted something similar.”

    I completely agree.

    And it also raises the question of: how creative is the classical musical scene in the otherwise very creative city of Madison? In my opinion, the musical leadership locally struggles way behind other sectors and fields. To its credit, the MSO is on a much sounder financial footing now (Overture Hall is probably also responsible for that), and the orchestra itself is much improved with far better playing than in the past.

    On the other hand, there is scant evidence of innovation in programming or elsewhere in comparison to other cities (Baltimore and Seattle come to mind). You are spot on about Marin Alsop. She is truly a wonderfully innovative and courageous orchestra leader. I hope the NYP hires her as their next conductor/music director; she deserves a larger stage. By contrast, programming and innovation in general has been relatively timid in Madison and I do not recall that the orchestra has underwritten any new compositions for a long, long time.

    Another conductor one has to take one’s hat off to is Gerard Schwarz, the former conductor of the Seattle Symphony who elevated that group into a national body and also recorded and sponsored much new and current music, especially by Americans. He created a “niche” for that orchestra and now it is internationally known and widely recorded. And lest anyone say that Baltimore and Seattle are larger than Madison, Schwarz, now at 67, is doing the same thing now with a group of musicians in North Carolina, The Eastern Music Festival. And he has set up an entirely new orchestra, The All Star Orchestra which has programs available to the public on internet streaming. In the past decade, he has made dozens of recordings that have not only been acclaimed, but have presented lots of “new” music (contemporary music that was never before recorded).

    Let’s hope that the next MSO conductor is vigorous and innovative, like Alsop and Schwarz. There’s a lot of creativity and talent in Madison which I suspect has not been harnessed.

    Since Maestro DeMain is in his 70’s, is the MSO (perhaps very quietly) beginning to look for new blood? That often takes lots of time and planning.

    Comment by fflambeau — July 19, 2015 @ 2:31 am

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