by William Short, principal bassoon
Summer music festivals, taking place when many orchestras and schools are not in session, can take a number of different forms and aim to provide different experiences. Two of our musicians, Principal Trumpet David Krauss and cellist Julia Bruskin, lead festivals with very different missions. David fulfilled a lifelong ambition when he and his wife founded a festival to educate young piano, brass, and string players; meanwhile, Julia and her husband have been appointed artistic directors of the Skaneateles Festival, which provides top-quality chamber music in an intimate setting.
Julia and her husband, pianist Aaron Wunsch, were thrilled to be chosen as the new artistic directors for the Skaneateles Festival last summer. Founded in 1980, the festival presents world-class chamber music in the Finger Lakes region of New York from mid-August through Labor Day weekend. It has presented artists including Hilary Hahn, David Zinman, Peter Serkin, Marcus Roberts, and the Brentano, Miro, and Shanghai Quartets. Last summer, the Skaneateles Festival received Chamber Music America's Adventurous Programming award. About their new roles, Julia says, “We're lucky that we get to do all the fun things - planning the repertoire and musicians for the summer season and performing during the festival. We have a great executive director and a supportive board who take the lead on festival logistics, fundraising, and publicity. Aaron and I have always loved performing together and we now have expanded our collaborative skills to include playing good cop/bad cop with artist managers!”
David’s festival, Berkshire Summer Music, is a two-session workshop in which students work closely with faculty to improve performance skills. A brass workshop (June 14-20) gives high school and college-aged brass students the opportunity to work closely with faculty members from the MET Orchestra, Boston Symphony, and Philadelphia Orchestra. The longer second session (June 21-July 3) is a festival for string and piano students between the ages of 8-14. With faculty from Juilliard Pre-College, the Boston Conservatory, and New York’s School for Strings, students are immersed in chamber music, string orchestra, and private lessons.
David and his wife, violinist and teacher Kristen Krauss, had wanted for years to start a program like this in the Berkshires. “It's such a rich environment - Tanglewood, the mountains, the restaurants, the local artistic community. It seemed like all we needed to do was find a place to house the students. So I met Leon Botstein, President of Bard College, at a reception at Carnegie Hall. I told him what we’d like to do and how Bard’s campus at Simon’s Rock would be perfect, and we were off! It's been a lot of work, but it’s absolutely been worth it. Kristen and I both have such fond memories of being students at summer festivals like Interlochen, Aspen, and the Boston University Tanglewood Institute, and we’ve seen the impact that great summer programs have had on our own children. Our goal is to create a festival for students that embodies our favorite aspects of these festivals. So far, so good!”
“I definitely think working with [Skaneateles] is a great complement to my ‘day job’ at the Met,” says Julia. “For one thing, playing in an opera orchestra and playing chamber music both require you to constantly listen and react to everything that’s going on around you. One learns to lead and follow at the same time, which actually parallels what an artistic director does, too. We have a lot of ideas about how to make our ideal festival, but as new artistic directors, we are spending a lot of time getting to know the festival's community, supporters, and history so that we can preserve the unique atmosphere and mission of the place.”
Uniqueness is a quality that every festival must have - especially as the number of music festivals nationwide is ever-increasing. Both David and Julia have a very clear idea of what makes their festival special - what niche it fills. David explains, “Berkshire Summer Music is truly a workshop environment. Because of our location, we draw top-notch faculty from the New York and Boston areas. Last year, Joseph Silverstein, retired Boston Symphony concertmaster (and Berkshire resident), give a three-hour masterclass, much to the delight of the students.” For a young student, experiences like this can create a tremendous impact.
Of the Skaneateles Festival, Julia says, “[What makes it] unique is its remarkably devoted community of supporters and audience members. They house festival musicians in their homes, cook dinners for them, and make them feel like part of the festival family. This tradition goes back to the first years of the festival, when all of the festival musicians stayed with founders David and Louise Robinson in their home, Brook Farm. Concerts took place in the Robinsons’ living room and on their back porch. The Robinsons’ devotion to music and musicians have always set the tone for this festival. While Brook Farm concerts now often draw up to 1,000 audience members (some seated, some picnicking on the lawn), they still have the feeling of being in someone's home, amongst friends. David Robinson passed away in 2006, but Louise is still active at the festival, hosting musicians, coming to every board meeting, and welcoming us with elegance and grace.
“I think we have a terrific line-up of music and performers for this summer's season,” says Julia. “During our opening week, a group of musicians from the Met, including concertmaster David Chan and soprano Lisette Oropesa, will be coming to perform a chamber arrangement of Mahler's Fourth Symphony and a selection of arias. We'll also feature the Miro String Quartet, the East Coast Chamber Orchestra, the Claremont Trio, and a new collaboration between the NOW Ensemble and the Grammy-winning vocal octet, Roomful of Teeth. Other musicians include violinists Jennifer Koh and Tai Murray, pianist Benjamin Hochman, and clarinetists David Krakauer and Anthony McGill (formerly of the MET Orchestra).
When asked what he’s looking forward to, David says, “Kristen teaches violin full-time and I fill many hours a week teaching trumpet, but at Berkshire Summer Music, we get to collaborate with our friends and colleagues while teaching. We eat together, play together, and have the luxury of time with the students.” In the midst of a busy performing, parenting, and teaching schedule, that is luxury, indeed!
For more information about the Skaneateles Festival or to purchase tickets, please visit www.skanfest.org or call the festival office at 315-685-7418.
For more information about Berkshire Summer Music, please visit http://www.berkshiresummermusic.org.