Spencer Martin and Andrew Whitfield, Luther music faculty members, had long dreamed of establishing a festival to bring together pianists, string players, singers, and composers for three weeks of intense, collaborative music-making in an inspiring place. When they first visited the United World College of the Adriatic in the picturesque village of Duino, Italy, in 2011, they knew they’d found the right place to launch the International Music Festival of the Adriatic (IMFA).
Over the past five summers, some 131 undergraduate and graduate students (25 of whom hailed from Luther) have spent three solid weeks immersed in a vibrant culture that blends Italian, Slovenian, and Austro-Hungarian history while refining their musical skills, cultivating community, and learning how to collaborate and communicate as a member of a chamber ensemble, a group of musicians that performs without a conductor. This is a new experience for many student musicians.
“To develop our craft, we musicians spend so much time by ourselves, and then we later realize that to be functional as a musician, we have to step back and say, ‘I am not in the center of this picture. I am working with other people. I am serving the music. I am serving the composer. It is not just about me,’” Whitfield says. “Students do take that away from IMFA, and that is key for their future development as both musicians and community members.”
So what exactly does the experience entail for program participants? As 2017 participant Sarah Bauer ’18—cellist and current Symphony Orchestra president—related in a blog post last summer, each day kicks off with a glimpse of the Adriatic Sea before heading to breakfast (think Nutella rolls) and listening to morning announcements. The rest of the day is filled with coaching and master classes. Of course, there is plenty of free time to explore the historic surrounds, and there are lots of concerts—up to 15 concerts are performed by the participants during the festival each summer, giving the musicians the opportunity to showcase what they have learned through hard work.
The formula appears to be working—and working exceedingly well at that. Enrollment has grown each year, from 18 students in 2013 to 39 in 2017, and Martin says they are on track to meet their optimal goal of 40 students for the 2018 program, which will run from June 10 to July 7 and include seven expert faculty members from various institutions, including Martin (viola), Whitfield (voice), and Nicholas Shaneyfelt (collaborative piano) from Luther. This summer’s biggest draw? Paul Kantor of Rice University, one of the most sought-after violin teachers in the world, will serve for a week as a guest artist in residence. “He is a big deal,” Whitfield says simply.
“Kantor’s participation is an excellent indicator of how far this program has come in stature and reputation in five short years,” Martin says. “And we can’t wait to see how much further we can go in the next five.”
To learn more about the IMFA, visit luther.edu/imfa.