Idyllwild, CA

Dear Readers,

Greetings from a sore hiker in the high desert of southern California! I went out exploring in the San Bernardino National Forest three times this week, and my leg muscles are pretty exhausted. Packing my suitcases half an hour ago, I tried squatting down to reach something on the floor but tipped over instead. Sad, I know. But at least this will make me stronger for the next time I find myself in steep wilderness.

Hiking was not all I did this week. I spent a number of days here rehearsing with the Idyllwild Arts Academy orchestra – a group of international high-school musicians who spend their school year up in this remote section of the West Coast, studying music and arts and each other and all the other usual pre-college subjects. Through the course of the year, they learn solo works, sonatas, chamber music, orchestral repertoire; they compose music; and they experiment with jazz when they have the chance. Many of the students take their instrumental lessons in Los Angeles – a couple of hours away – so once every week or two, they pile into a bus and head to the big city. Then, at the end of the day, they return home to the mountains.

While my musical education took place in a very different environment, the Idyllwild Academy did feel familiar – it’s relatively small, it’s international, and everyone knows everybody else, which is the way it was for me at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. As a matter of fact, a few former Idyllwild students have wound up at Curtis for their college work, and a couple of current high-schoolers here are preparing to audition at Curtis in a few weeks.

It was fun to be working with a group of musicians a little younger than I. Our repertoire was the Edgar Meyer violin concerto, and the conductor was Ransom Wilson (a flutist with whom I’ve played several times at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center). Since the Meyer was new to everyone in the orchestra , we rehearsed it all week – every day – making sure that each note was in its proper place, every dynamic was acknowledged, and every phrase fit into the overall shape of the work. Having that much time for polishing and repetition was refreshing for me: there can be something efficient about the usual custom of having just two rehearsals before a series of concerts, but on the other hand, some of the most spontaneous performances come out of thorough preparation. So, being able to spend time getting the details right helped the concerts to go quite smoothly, and we were able to sink ourselves into the Meyer without losing our way musically or technically.

We played three concerts. One was in Idyllwild, for the faculty and the non-orchestral members of the student body (the actors, writers, and visual artists); the second was in Redlands, at Redlands University, which had a beautiful hall and an audience of all ages; and the last was in Temecula, in a medium-sized high-school auditorium (I could see everyone in the audience, to the last row). After the final concert, we all went out to a pizza place and had a school party. That gave me a chance to hang out with some of the kids without their instruments – a talented and enthusiastic gang, supportive of each other and happy to be musicians.

Tonight I’m packing my stuff, so that tomorrow I can head out to Toledo, Ohio, where I’ll be switching repertoire to the Mendelssohn Concerto. I haven’t played that in a while, and I’m getting ready to record it – so it’s high time to perform it again. I’ll get to know it very, very well in the next month or so. But for now, Mendelssohn can wait: packing and sleep are calling!

Yours from Idyllwild,