Chamber music is the “music of friends,” said English composer Richard Walthew. If that’s so, then prepare to find yourselves immersed in fellowship — and in the company of superb performances — when the Taos School of Music Chamber Music Festival begins its 55th season.
The landmark 2017 season premieres Sunday (June 18) at the Taos Community Auditorium with a 7:30 p.m. performance by the acclaimed Borromeo String Quartet featuring the music of Franz Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann.
Members of the quartet, recently commended by The Washington Post for interpretive adeptness so “rich in detail and variety one might have thought an entire orchestra was playing,” hail from the distinguished New England Conservatory and are part of this year’s school faculty.
Tickets are $25 – $10 for those younger than 18 – and may be purchased online at TaosSchoolofMusic.com or at Taos Mudd N Flood, 103-A Bent St. They will also be available at the Taos Center for the Arts box office the evening of the performance.
The Chamber Music Festival continues through Aug. 6 with performances by the Shanghai String Quartet and the Brentano String Quartet, both of which are also on the school’s faculty.
The Shanghai Quartet is noted for its music — a juxtaposition of Eastern and Western musical traditions — and for appearances on international performance and cinematic stages. The Brentano String Quartet was founded at The Juilliard School, has performed across the best of international stages and is presently the quartet-in-residence at Yale University.
Of course, at the heart of the schedule are the performances by this year’s Taos School of Music Young Artists.
“Perhaps calling our students ‘young artists’ is misleading,” said Kathleen Anderson, executive director of the school. “They come to us already equipped with established academic and technical maturity and, under the direction of our outstanding faculty, emerge as true professionals.”
There is, then, no surprise that the Taos School of Music has a venerable standing among the country’s elite summer music conservatories. Its reputation for rigorous training and stellar faculty attracts only the most serious and talented musical students to the Hotel St. Bernard in Taos Ski Valley, where, for eight weeks, 19 of them will be challenged and inspired.
The musicians are divided into five ensembles: three string quartets, one piano trio and one piano quartet. Each group has no more than 13 days — a grueling four times over — to master a program of previously unrehearsed music and elevate that program to a performance-ready standard.
“The students may find it daunting at first, but we offer them an atmosphere of guided discovery and coaching, which frees them to concentrate on learning demanding new pieces of music, forming positive relationships with their talented colleagues and delivering excellent performances,” Anderson said. “We want the program to be difficult enough that it’s something for them to sink their teeth into, but not so much they get discouraged.”
Anderson adds, “Unlike most conservatories, we have entire quartets working with our musicians. And those who serve on our faculty are otherwise in residence at acclaimed music educational universities, which makes them uniquely qualified.”
In addition to the visiting faculty quartets, Anderson is referring to the school’s artistic director, a foremost educator and musician who, since 1982, has also been its resident pianist. Robert McDonald, from the faculty of the Juilliard School and Curtis Institute, is also joined this year by Thomas Sauer, a faculty member at both Vassar College and Mannes College.
The resident pianists will not only provide student musician support, but will accompany the faculty quartets, give solo performances and host seminars during the festival.
More than 1,000 student musicians have participated in the program, virtually all of whom have gone on to notable careers as soloists or become members of national and international orchestras, members or founders of chamber groups or faculty at the world’s leading music education institutions. Indeed, today, alumni of the school comprise more than 20 percent of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Symphony’s violinists, violists and cellists.
Yet, what may be the most extraordinary characteristic of the Taos School of Music is that its chamber music program is not simply the “music of friends.” It is the music of family.
In the 55 years of the school’s existence, Anderson is only its second executive director; the first was her late father, Chilton, who envisioned its conception after co-founding a chamber music group in Taos during the early 1960s.
Loving the ranching life that Taos provided him, but missing the classical music he left behind in “Main Line” Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the elder Anderson gathered a group of like-minded friends with whom he could make music. From that passion, the Taos School of Music was born. Besides its reputation in the international conservatory world, it is also one of the oldest nonprofits in Taos.
“After half a century of momentum, the wheels keep turning,” Kathleen Anderson said.
The family tradition continues. “My mother, Judith, who is still on the board of directors, has missed only two performances of all these groups in the 55 years of the school’s existence, one of them being the day I was born,” Anderson recalled with a laugh. “She’s our memory. She’s got the funny stories. She’s my support.”
Alumni have gone on to establish ensembles together, with Anderson noting that three members of the Brentano String Quartet are alumni, as is pianist Sauer. Participants have maintained professional affiliations with each other and even married. The enduring relationships that have been formed here are a tribute to the experience of the school as a familial sanctuary.
In a 1989 segment of “The Today Show” with Jane Pauley, Chilton Anderson said, “I can get very emotional about the way the kids play sometimes and the youthful vitality that goes with it. It’s gratifying to know you were successful in a small way.”
Small? One thinks otherwise.
The performance and seminar schedule may be found on the school’s website at TaosSchoolofMusic.com. Tickets for faculty performances are $25 and $10 for youth under 18. Tickets for Young Artists performances at the Taos Community Auditorium are $10 for all. Performances at the Hotel St. Bernard are free of charge.
The Taos Community Auditorium is located at 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. The Hotel St. Bernard is at 112 Sutton Place in Taos Ski Valley.
For more information, call (575) 776-2388.