FOR THE RECORD:
Colburn Conservatory: An article in Sunday's Arts & Books section about the Colburn Conservatory of Music said the Jascha Heifetz Studio now at the school was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright; it was designed by his son Lloyd Wright. Also, the last name of the executive director of the Colburn Foundation, Ruth L. Eliel, was misspelled as Elial. —
It's midmorning and naturally there are yawns among these college-aged students in their shorts and flip-flops, but their excuse is valid since most have been up practicing for a couple of hours. The orchestra's intonation is pitch-perfect, attacks are precise, and the music swells with deeply felt emotion. Assistant conductor Maxim Eshkenazy stops only twice to make minor adjustments.
Brest, who transferred to the Colburn Conservatory of Music from the much larger Juilliard School in New York, tells me later she was surprised when Eshkenazy initially plucked her from the orchestra to serve as narrator. In the spirit of the Colburn culture, she accepted with enthusiasm. "Musically," she says, "this is the best orchestra I've ever played with."
At Colburn a visitor can observe the pleasures and frustrations of musical learning at the highest level, watch a world-class violinist lead a master class and soak in the energy of young people expressing their artistic feelings. Soon these students will deal with careers and adult responsibilities -- never an easy transition for any college graduate, especially in hard times. For now those concerns are over the horizon. This is the time to hone their skills and live inside the music.
The conservatory and its 105 students occupy a cloister-style campus across the street from Disney Hall. Located here is also the Colburn School of Performing Arts, a community school where more than 1,500 preschoolers to adults study music, dance and drama. This year's incoming conservatory class of 43 was selected from more than 400 applicants from around the world.
James Conlon, Los Angeles Opera musical director, recently conducted the Colburn Orchestra. On the program was Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5 and, as he put it, "three very difficult Dvorák overtures."
"They were marvelous," he says. "In five minutes you know the technical level of an orchestra -- this one is very high. In about an hour you know if they can actually digest what you're asking for -- they can. The ability to focus and work every day with the concentration that is necessary, they have all of that."
Surely a big reason students gravitate to the conservatory is its cost -- nothing. Richard Colburn, the late businessman behind the music school, contributed an endowment that saw to those needs. The Colburn Foundation, run by Ruth Elial, provides additional grant support. As she notes, the school serves the larger community such as the L.A. Chamber Orchestra, which has rehearsed here for many years.
Elicia Silverstein, a first-year student, sits ramrod straight in the violin section at the morning rehearsal, wearing stovepipe jeans and low patent-leather heels.
Growing up in Short Hills, N.J., she attended Juilliard Pre-College for six years assuming she'd remain at Juilliard for college. Last year Silverstein and her mother flew across the country for a one-hour lesson with violinist Robert Lipsett of Colburn's faculty. With some anxiety she played the Violin Concerto by Alexander Glazunov. "I was afraid he'd throw me out," she recalls. Instead Lipsett gave her suggestions to occupy a year's worth of practicing. She was hooked on applying for Colburn.
At one-tenth the size of Juilliard, Colburn deliberately focuses its curriculum. It does not, for example, offer jazz, opera or voice programs. "We are strictly performance-oriented," says Lipsett. In that regard Colburn is more akin to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, which has 160 students and like Colburn is tuition-free.
In the wind section sits Francesco Camuglia, a first-year flute player from Las Vegas. He's a big guy, but his delicate touch and subtle playing dazzle. "There was lots of competition," he says later about getting into Colburn. "Fifty applications for two flute positions -- 20 were invited to audition."
Was the tryout stressful for the 18-year-old? "It was pretty fun!" he says, wide-eyed, recalling the moment with relish.
Camuglia, like the other students, loves to perform. It's their passion and why they come to Colburn. The faculty shares tricks of the trade and suggests fine points that make the difference between being a very good player and getting a position in a top ensemble.
Michael Byerly, a clarinet player from Oregon, is in Colburn's postgraduate program and studies with Yehuda Gilad, who is also the music director of the Colburn Orchestra. Gilad has played with the Israel Chamber Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic and Los Angeles Master Chorale. Dozens of his former students play professionally around the world.