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Young Concert Artists Develop Skills - 2001-08-28


Norfolk, Connecticut is a tiny dot on the state road map. About 1,600 people make their home here, surrounded by hills, lakes and small rivers. Local people are used to hearing their town called the icebox of Connecticut because of freezing cold winters. But in summertime, it warms up with music and crowds.

The Yale University Summer School of Music makes its home in Norfolk as part of the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival. Sixty-five young, aspiring musicians on the verge of their professional careers come here from colleges across the United States and around the world to live with families in town and perform.

"Norfolk is a very, very small town, which I think can be a great thing. I remember when we first arrived here." Twenty-one year old Julia Bruskin from Cambridge, Massachusetts is an accomplished cellist in the summer school. "We walked into a small store and bought some coffee," she said. "And they were like 'Oh, you must be the Music Festival, welcome!' I said, 'Thank you. I walked into the pharmacy and the man behind the counter said, 'Oh, I heard you play last night. That was really great.' You walk into the library and you meet people you saw at a concert. It's really friendly, really welcoming and I think that's a great asset for a festival, to have a community that supports it."

Students spend 10 hours a day practicing on a beautiful estate in the center of town. As much as four hours of that time is devoted to coaching sessions with professional musicians.

But after a day of learning and practicing, students enjoy a night of performing. Violinist Emily Bruskin, twin sister of cellist Julia, says Norfolk gives them the setting and the audience they want and need. She said, "The thing about having a small town, also a place where there really isn't other music right here, music that people can go listen to, people will come to the student concerts every week. And people often hear us week to week and look forward to our next performance, and it becomes a kind of a relationship between us and many of the audience members. It's pretty rare to get to play for the same people six times in two months."

The student recitals draw people from Norfolk and neighboring towns. The performance space is so intimate that some of the audience members sit right on stage with the musicians.

Anita and Tom Barrett attend the concerts, driving in from nearby Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Mrs. Barrett says there's something special about these events. "Well," she said, "you're really sitting in the seats that the choir would be sitting in, behind the stage. The performers are right in front of you and you can see everything they're doing, every note they're playing. And all the problems they have with it. If there happens to be a mosquito flying around their head while they're trying to perform with the violin!"

"I love these concerts," says Herman Tanner. A New Yorker, Mr. Tanner spends his summer in nearby Torrington, Connecticut. "I prefer coming to these student recitals than going to hear a symphony orchestra in Carnegie Hall in New York," he said, "because there's an intimate quality to these, an enthusiasm in the players and in the audience that is unsurpassed. And it's a very intimate experience when you're sitting on the stage. You're enveloped by the music rather than sitting the hall somewhere and having the music come at you."

Tonight's concert features a brass quintet, a wind quartet and a string and piano trio. After performances, student musicians mingle with the audience. Tonight, cellist Julia Bruskin meets a fan.

Fan: "Congratulations, bravo!"
Julia: "Thank you very much."
Fan: "I'm Jesse Levine. You're a young concert artist now?"
Julia: "Yes, we are."
Fan: "That's great, congratulations."
Julia: "Thank you very much."

As summer turns to fall, some of the young musicians return to their studies. Others move on to the concert stage, having built on the experiences of performing for the appreciative audiences of Norfolk.