Brevard Music Center celebrates 80 years with 80-plus shows

COMBINING EDUCATION AND ENTERTAINMENT: The 80th anniversary season of the Brevard Music Center features more than 80 performances in a wide array of styles, settings and ticket prices, and includes many free events. Pictured: BMC's artistic director Keith Lockhart. Photo by Christian Amonson

There’s something for most every musical taste during the Brevard Music Center’s 2016 season. Less than an hour’s drive southwest of Asheville, the center not only mounts an impressive array of performances but bases all of its activities around the education of more than 425 students in classical symphony, opera, chamber music and other disciplines. “We’re both a music institute and a summer festival,” says Cally Jamis Vennare, BMC’s director of marketing and communications. “We are all about our mission, which is to train these students who come in from all over the country, if not the world. They’re the next generation of musicians and singers.”

The Brevard Music Center’s season usually lasts seven weeks, but this year things started early, with the Brevard Blues N’ BBQ Festival in early June. While the center’s primary focus leans toward the finer musical arts, the overall program is intentionally eclectic. “We want to provide diversity in what our students and our audiences hear,” says Vennare. “We want to expose them to classical, but we also try to bring in diverse audiences with sets featuring pop, gospel, blues and bluegrass.”

That wide-ranging musical approach means that the center’s 80th anniversary season will include performances by classical pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet (Friday, June 24), contemporary Christian singer-songwriter Amy Grant (Saturday, June 25) and innovative banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck (Tuesday, June 28), as well as major symphonic concerts. The opening weekend’s events will prominently feature Keith Lockhart, BMC’s artistic director, who is also the principal conductor of the Boston Pops and an alumnus of the Brevard Music Center.

The summer schedule also includes the world premiere of Falling Angel, a new “opera noir.” Vennare describes the collaboration with the New York City-based Center for Contemporary Opera as “the culmination of a multiyear process. We did read-through workshops in New York, we did a black-box production last year in Brevard, and this year we’re doing a fully staged production at the Porter Center.” Calling the modern opera “edgy,” Vennare says, “It’s not a Magic Flute-type piece.” (That particular opera, by Mozart, will be staged on Thursday, July 14.)

The BMC’s 2016 season offers everything from full-orchestra performances at the indoor Porter Center and the open-air Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium to several smaller, more intimate venues on the BMC campus. Vennare notes that fully 50 percent of the performances are free and open to the general public. And low-cost options exist for some of the pricier shows: Lawn tickets at Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium shows start at $15, with free admission for kids.

Many major musical talents (including Lockhart, countertenor David Daniels and violist and Curtis Institute of Music president Roberto Diaz) received important training early in their careers at BMC. For the anniversary season, the center is bringing back some of those distinguished graduates. “We’re reaching out to our alumni — conductors, composers, musicians and singers — in a way we never have before, inviting them to come back here and celebrate the season with us,” says Vennare.

Plans for the celebratory season began some time ago. One of the changes that return concertgoers will note is the improved sound at the 1,800-seat Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium. In addition to covering the orchestra pit, thus moving the music closer to the audience, BMC has done what Vennare calls an “acoustic enhancement.” That project — installation of mobile, modular panels to improve musicians’ ability to hear one another — is part of a larger $2 million project for improving staging, renovating the band shell and making additional technology upgrades related to rigging and LED lighting.

The entire summer schedule at the Brevard Music Center aims to combine education with entertainment. One example is the Dvořák in America Festival, featuring multiple events and culminating in a Saturday, July 30, performance of the composer’s “New World Symphony.” The Dvořák festival will be curated by Joseph Horowitz, a prominent and widely published author on American music, and will also include a string quartet and a recital.

“All of those elements are part and parcel of the Dvorák festival, which will also include lectures and preperformance talks,” says Vennare. “The idea is to help the audience understand what they will be experiencing. It’s also a great learning experience for our students, because it puts into context for them what the composer was experiencing, and how that influenced his composition.”

WHAT: Brevard Music Center’s Summer Institute & Festival
WHERE: Various locations on the BMC campus, 349 Andante Lane, Brevard
WHEN: Thursday, June 23, through Friday, Aug. 19. Full details and ticket information online at brevardmusic.org

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About Bill Kopp
Author, music journalist, historian, collector, and musician. His first book, "Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon," published by Rowman & Littlefield, is available now. Follow me @the_musoscribe

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