New Director Leads Heifetz Summer Festival

Jun 27, 2019

The Heifetz International Music Institute's new artistic director, Nicholas Kitchen, works with a student violinist.
Credit Heifetz International Music Institute

How do young musicians hone their craft?  By working with the pros, and the Heifetz International Music Institute, based in Staunton, has spent decades doing just that.  The Institute's annual summer music festival featuring their work kicks off this weekend.  WMRA's Kimberlea Daggy has this preview of the festival, and the story of how it all got started.

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Violinist Daniel Heifetz – a distant cousin to 20th century superstar violinist Jascha Heifetz – founded the Institute back in 1996.    Every summer, the Institute brings young musicians, from teenagers to twenty-somethings – to the valley for six weeks of intensive training.  Heifetz stepped down in January 2018 and, after an international search, the Institute named violinist Nicholas Kitchen as artistic director.  Kitchen teaches at the New England Conservatory and is first violinist of the conservatory’s resident ensemble, the Borromeo String Quartet.  The quartet is also the ensemble-in-residence at the Heifetz Institute, where they – and Kitchen – have taught for the last three summers. I asked him what is was about the students that attracted him to the festival in the first place. 

NICHOLAS KITCHEN:  Well, to put it obviously, they’re so talented.  Music is in all of us.  That said, musical talent is one of the miracles that occurs in people. We all depend on this talent to be like the explorers that have the special equipment that allow them to go to Antarctica.  That talent is what allows them to go to these places that are treasured places, that are privileged places.  And we benefit from it as an audience, as listeners.  But as teachers, we have to raise the next generation of people that are going to be able to go to those places.  And we have to gather enough of those talented musicians that they can teach themselves.  It really is gathering these tremendously talented young people, and these tremendously talented faculty members into one place.

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NICHOLAS KITCHEN:  The summer is really where it becomes all concentrated in Staunton.  Everyone is just putting themselves into it 200 percent.  And that is magic, to put all of that in one place, and, basically, let it do its thing.

KIMBERLEA DAGGY:  Immersing one’s self in music for the summer is a time-honored tradition.

NICHOLAS KITCHEN:  That’s right.  Brahms wrote some of his greatest pieces in the summer and there’s a special thing that happens in the summer where you’re in momentum from the year, but somehow the environment changes and it opens up a door that you just can’t open other times of the year.  Something like the Heifetz Institute is just living in that doorway and trying to bring as much as we can to the students so they can really just drink in all that they can to grow.

DAGGY:  What’s your vision for the festival and the institute?

KITCHEN:  A lot of it is to continue what’s already happening. Preserving its quality, preserving the goals and the principles.  I think what Daniel Heifetz identified was that you would have performers playing their instruments quite well, but their heart is not meeting the heart of the audience.  So he said I’m going to create an institute that puts it front and center for the students that we have to do both of these things.  The tangible part of that is the communications training.  This is the way humans help each other out.  This is the experience they create that people love.  When someone sits in the audience of a concert and they’re inspired, transported and they’re thrilled 

KITCHEN:  Combine that with those things you have to do with your fingers and that you have to do with your bow and you have to do with this and that.  All those have to be taught as a whole.  The musician is going to do something brilliant on all fronts and the Heifetz Institute is gonna do everything that it can to prepare that musician to do that.

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KITCHEN:  You’re gonna see people that are from all over the world, all over the country.  You have this wonderful slice of what it means to share talent and share the gift that is music itself and the gift to be able to make music.  That’s a beautiful experience and I look forward to sharing it with all the people that are listening today.

DAGGY:  Violinist Nicholas Kitchen, the new artistic director of the Heifetz International Music Institute, and young musicians from the institute playing Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings.  The institute’s annual Summer Festival opens on Saturday and runs through August 10th, with concerts every day in various venues throughout Staunton.