WALLINGFORD – Earlier this summer, 16 student soloists performed with a live festival orchestra to cap off the first Summer Music Festival at Choate Rosemary Hall.
The program, directed by Gene and Chika Wie, took place from June 27 to July 2 at Choate’s Ann and George Colony Hall – a state-of-the-art auditorium with more than one thousand seats. For five consecutive days, the festival offered students the opportunity to prepare for a final solo performance with professional orchestra players.
“I’ve never really performed with an orchestra, so it was a really cool experience,” said Joyce Liu, a violin player and member of Choate’s Class of 2025.
In addition to rehearsing, students engaged in discussions and workshops on practice strategy, musician wellness and careers in music. In preparation for the performance, each player focused on their own piece of music and practiced for at least three hours every day.
“It was a very rigid schedule,” said Gavin Boudreau, the only clarinet player present and a member of Choate’s Class of 2024. “But I kind of liked that just because it meant that we were always doing something some time.
“The workshops and sessions really helped,” said Liu. “My performance went better than I expected.”
Gene Wie, the director of orchestras at Choate, a private school, started developing the model of the festival with his wife Chika around 10 years ago. Previously residing in California, they ran the program in community centers, public schools and their last school, St. Margaret’s Episcopal School.
“Our goal for doing this was to find a different way to do a music festival,” said Gene Wie. “The barrier to entry to playing a solo orchestra is really, really high. And usually, it’s not very equitable.”
During the pandemic, the Wie’s continued offering the program with a self-developed online system, which allowed hundreds of children to play and connect with each other despite being at home.
After taking on the role as director of orchestras at Choate, Wie brought the program back in person to continue fostering a community of young musicians and offering a solo stage that is otherwise inaccessible. Anyone — a six-year-old from New York or a high-school student from Tokyo — can apply by submitting a recording of themselves playing.
Artemis Simerson, assistant concertmaster of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra and a violin teacher at Choate, said, “It’s just beautiful to watch kids from all over the world mixing so beautifully together socially, musically.”
Although the transition from the West Coast has distanced the Wie’s from their prior connections in the music education community, word of mouth has already gained them a following on the East Coast.
“I actually already have a couple other clarinet students that have inquired about next summer,” said Gene Wie, which pushes the program to be open to both string and wind players as opposed to only strings plus one clarinet.
After successful experimentations this year, Gene Wie hopes to extend the festival to two weeks and include an evening chamber music element, furthering the immersive learning experience.
“When you see people work that hard and are that happy and still want to do it again, that’s great news,” said Simerson. “Kudos to the Wie’s for inventing all of this, certainly.”
Yoyo Zhang is a member of Choate's Class of 2024 and a section editor at the Choate News.