Strings in the Mountains music directors Katherine Collier and Yizhak Schotten found a hidden treasure in Steamboat Springs last summer. In the midst of a picnic, they stumbled upon some exceptional chamber music played by students from the Rocky Mountain Summer Conservatory, Steamboat's summer music camp that makes its home at the Lowell Whiteman School and focuses exclusively on chamber music for students ages 11 to 22.
The day after the picnic, Collier stopped by to "check us out and see who we were," said Ernest Richardson, the Rocky Mountain Summer Conservatory's founder and artistic director.
What: Rocky Mountain Summer Conservatory 2004 Public Performance Schedule June 25 Faculty Recital, 7:30 p.m. June 30 Strings in the Mountains and Rocky Mountain Summer Conservatory. The collaborative community concert starts at 7:30 p.m. at Festival Park. Tickets are $12 for adults and $5 for children. July 1 Student Recital, 7:30 p.m. July 2 Faculty Recital, 7:30 p.m. July 6 Student Solo Recital, 7:30 p.m. July 7 Faculty Recital, 7:30 p.m. July 8 Student Recital, 7:30 p.m. July 9 Student Recital, 7:30 p.m. July 10 Student Recital, 10:30 a.m. at Lowell Whiteman School July 16 Faculty Recital, 7:30 p.m. July 22 Student Recital, 7:30 p.m. July 23 Faculty Recital, 7:30 p.m. July 27 Student Solo Recital, 7:30 p.m. July 28 Faculty Recital, 7:30 p.m. July 29 Student Recital, 7:30 p.m. July 30 Student Recital, 7:30 p.m. July 31 Student Recital, 10:30 a.m. at Lowell Whiteman School Public Performances are located at St. Paul's Episcopal Church at Ninth and Oak streets, unless indicated otherwise. All performances are free, except the Strings in the Mountains performance.
They turned up a world-class surprise. The conservatory is home to faculty from such prestigious institutions as St. Louis Symphony, the Kansas City Symphony, the Amarillo Symphony and the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University.
"(The conservatory's faculty) are giving up large salaries to come here and teach because they're very passionate about this music," said Jan van Straaten, board president of the nonprofit conservatory. "(Collier and Schotten) couldn't believe they were side by side with this for seven years."
Schotten said he knew about the camp but hadn't really realized how far it had progressed until he heard the students play last summer.
"I think it is a wonderful thing they are doing. We are very supportive of education," Schotten said.
Strings in the Mountains and the Rocky Mountain Summer Conservatory will hold their first collaborative concert June 30. It will be the opening chamber music event for the Strings in the Mountains Music Festival. The performance features one piece by the festival artists, one by the conservatory faculty, and a concerto for two violins that features a festival artist, a faculty member from the conservatory and an orchestra composed of the conservatory's best students.
"We are pleased and flattered to collaborate with a program like this," said Richardson, who spends the rest of the year as the resident conductor of the Omaha Symphony. "I think the world of Yizhak and Katherine."
In addition to the collaborative Strings performance, conservatory students and faculty have their own busy performance schedule that includes 16 free chamber music concerts throughout June and July.
"They're all free concerts, and they're spectacular," van Straaten said.
About 68 students from across the country will spend three- or six-week sessions at the conservatory studying violin, viola, cello and harp this summer. Even on a shoestring budget, the conservatory has given more than $40,000 worth of scholarships to promising young chamber musicians this year. Prospective students were required to audition in a "very competitive process" during the spring, Richardson said.
"They really have to be accomplished," van Straaten said, emphasizing that the students come to refine, perfect and learn how to play chamber music, a skill that is entirely different from playing with an orchestra. The conservatory's exclusive focus on chamber music is rare for summer music camps, she said.
Each day, the music students receive coaching with two assigned chamber groups and three hours of scheduled practice time. They also take two master classes a week, where students play for the faculty and their peers to gain broader artistic input, Richardson said.
This summer, some of the Strings in the Mountains artists will be teaching master classes for the conservatory, Richardson said.
But there is more to music education than just chamber music at the Rocky Mountain Summer Conservatory.
"Playing is a very physically strenuous thing to do," Richardson said. He said musicians rarely think about stretching, aerobic exercise or building their strength, so they end up playing in pain by the time they are in their late 20s.
"We think of the player as a performing athlete," Richardson said.
That means the students' curriculum ventures much further than just music lessons. They study tae kwon do -- a martial art that requires discipline, artistry and control skills not unlike playing an instrument. Students stretch in the morning and hike on Sundays. They also take interdisciplinary classes that include photography, video and recording, skills that will help carry them into a professional music career, Richardson said.
"We don't just teach the player, we teach the whole person," Richardson said.