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Jacob Egol ’23: Brevard Music Center: College Orchestral Institute Program

Project Date:
Project Date: Summer 2022

A 7-week Orchestra program at Brevard Music Center Summer Institute & Festival provides an opportunity to elevate skills as a classical cellist by participating in lessons with BMCO professors, practicing in orchestras, and string quartets.

About the Program

Jacob Egol and conductor JoAnn Falletta

I used my Benenson Award to attend Brevard Music Center’s College Orchestral Institute, a summer music festival located in the Blue Ridge Mountains in western North Carolina, where I spent 7 weeks honing my skills as a classical cellist. I first attended Brevard in Summer 2021, when its program and offerings were abbreviated due to COVID-19. After witnessing firsthand how magical a summer at Brevard can be, I reapplied to study there again this summer and take in their full experience.

The centerpiece of a typical day at Brevard is a 2.5-hour orchestra rehearsal, usually with the Brevard Sinfonia, which is comprised of all college musicians at Brevard. I and three of my colleagues were appointed the principal cellists of this orchestra, and we rotated throughout the summer playing repertoire ranging from Stravinsky’s Firebird and Ravel’s La Valse, to a concert featuring music by lesser-known African American composers, to a film night in which we played the entire score of Star Wars: A New Hope live to the movie. College musicians at Brevard are also invited to play in the Brevard Music Center Orchestra: the festival’s flagship ensemble. The BMCO is primarily comprised of faculty, and each college musician has a faculty stand partner. Highlights of my weeks in the BMCO included playing next to the principal cellist of the BBC Concert Orchestra, and learning the entirety of Mahler’s Third Symphony– one of the longest in the standard orchestral repertoire! A given week at Brevard concludes with concerts for both orchestras, and with each new week, we played new repertoire under the baton of a different conductor from a major professional orchestra. Two of the renowned conductors under whom I played were Keith Lockhart from the Boston Pops, and JoAnn Falletta from the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

The cello section of the Brevard Sinfonia after performing the score of Star Wars: A New Hope, with conductor Damon Gupton

In addition to orchestral programming, I was part of a string quartet. We learned Ravel’s quartet throughout the summer, rehearsing up to three times per week on our own and once weekly with a faculty coach, and performing the piece’s first two movements during the festival’s finale weekend. I also had weekly lessons and studio classes with Benjamin Karp, a professor at the University of Kentucky School of Music and a cellist in the Lexington Philharmonic. In my lessons, I continued to learn Brahms’s Sonata in F Major and Britten’s Suite No. 1, the latter of which I plan to perform on my senior recital at Duke. And during the last two weeks of the festival, I enjoyed performing new music that the composition students at Brevard had written during their program.

The opportunities at Brevard are limitless. There were also three fully staged operas (with pit orchestras comprised of faculty and a few college students) and numerous faculty chamber recitals throughout the summer to which we had free admission as students at the festival.

They say at Brevard: “Be inspired. Be Here.” Places like Brevard, where you can immerse yourself in classical music and improve your musicianship in such an idyllic setting—with peers from across the country and around the world—are beyond inspiring.

What changes did you notice in your summer experience due to COVID-19?

Brevard did not abbreviate or cut back their program offerings in any way this year; they returned to a full schedule of concerts and a full set of ensembles. However, the impact of COVID-19 on their program this summer was still evident. First, in each of their venues, Brevard required all musicians and audience members to wear masks. The sole exception to this rule was for woodwind and brass musicians, who could not remain masked while playing their instruments and were instead tested for COVID-19 prior to their first rehearsal of each week. The spread of COVID-19 also impacted musicians’ ability to participate while isolating and recovering, as well as musicians’ ability to participate when contact-traced. However, perhaps the biggest impact of COVID-19 at Brevard was the fact that everyone was so grateful to be at the festival in person, working and performing together!