We first came across Avaloch Farm Music Institute's website last November. As a free(!) retreat for chamber ensembles to live, work, and rehearse, away from the distractions of everyday life, this place looked like exactly what we needed to develop as a group. Further tantalized by phrases like "heaven for musicians" and "delicious, creative meals", we submitted an application in December. For the next 6 months, we dreamed about Avaloch, speculated about what it would be like and what we would accomplish there.
Before we knew it, June 1st was upon us, and we packed up the cars for Boscawen, New Hampshire. As soon as we arrived at Avaloch, we knew that "heaven for musicians" was no exaggeration. We were shown to our own 4-bedroom apartment, complete with a common area and our own rehearsal studio. In an adjacent building was the main hall with a dining room and a living room for informal concerts. Large open fields, ideal for frisbee practice breaks, surrounded the campus.
But the biggest luxury at Avaloch is time. Even though we all live in and around Hartford, our schedules and professional obligations prevent us from rehearsing more than a few hours each week. We often meet late at night, when we're tired after full days of work. Because of these time constraints, we've often had to push aside or put off learning certain pieces simply because we don't have the rehearsal time they require. Besides our musical practice, the quartet takes some considerable administrative work - writing emails, researching venues and grants, developing marketing materials, and more. We work as a team on all these things, but because we're rarely in the same room, it often takes us a bit of time to establish group consensus.
At Avaloch, all these obstacles vanished. We practiced an average of six hours a day, learning 45 minutes of new music and polishing another 30 of our existing repertoire. We got the chance to focus on the music we had to put off at home, including Erberk Eryilmaz's new piece, Dances of the Yogurt Maker, our arrangement of Philip Glass's 5th String Quartet, and an arrangement of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, the last of which requires some pretty intense intonation work! We devoted time each day to tackling administrative work as a group, bouncing ideas off each other and collaborating on tasks as we've never been able to do before.
Avaloch also gave us much more. While there, we were inspired by our fellow residents, the flute/percussion new music ensemble A/B Duo, renowned Early Music vocal quartet Liber Ensemble, and pianist Rosabel Choi. Most days, one or more of these musicians would perform a piece or two they had been working on. These informal concerts were refreshing and thrilling, opening our eyes and ears to new artistic possibilities and motivating us to aspire to new levels of performance. We thoroughly enjoyed their company throughout our stay and will miss them a lot!
Avaloch is also committed to enriching it's surrounding community, and we were thrilled to present an outreach concert at Boscawen Elementary School, organized by David Seaton - thank you, David! We spent the previous day planning a program we hoped would engage the 200 + students, and we were delighted at how they responded to our concert with enthusiasm and full attention.
We would be leaving out a significant part of this place if we didn't mention the food. For two weeks, we ate like kings. The resident chef is Will Gamble, a real virtuoso in the kitchen. Will is also a personal trainer who looks like he could rip you in half if he wanted to. In reality, he's one of the most friendly, thoughtful people we've ever met. We loved learning from him about the artistry of cooking. When not indulging in huge gourmet meals, we snacked on cookies, baked fresh almost every day by Diane, who became our adopted grandma over the two weeks.
You're probably wondering by now how this improbable, utopian place came to exist. The story of Avaloch begins with two amazing people: Deborah Sherr and Fred Tauber. Deb is a cellist and director of a high school summer music camp in Massachusetts. Fred, a renown physician and philosopher of medicine, began attending concerts at the camp. Impressed by the profound affect of music on young people, he approached Deb and asked her if she had an idea of a project he might fund through his family foundation to help young musicians. Deb had thought about the lack of professional development opportunities available for emerging professional chamber ensembles, and proposed an artist retreat dedicated to these young artists. Three years later, in 2013, Avaloch welcomed its first residents.
We're so grateful to Deb and Fred for their vision and dedication in making Avaloch a reality. We have benefitted tremendously from our time and we can't wait to share what we accomplished there!