The Heifetz Institute brings “Spring in the Highlands” to the Highland Center April 28th
There is a hidden gem in the City of Staunton, Virginia where young unbelievably talented musicians from around the world gather to learn and play great works of classical music. It’s the Heifetz International Music Institute, founded in 1996 by violinist Daniel Heifetz. Daniel is related to that other Heifetz, Jascha, one of the most famous violinists of the 20th century. Daniel studied with Jascha, but he also pursued studies with other musicians and went on to have a very successful career as a soloist in his own right.
“Daniel is an extremely charismatic performer and when he walked on stage people sort of go ‘ahhh’ – they sort of hold their breath because they knew something exciting was about to happen.”
That’s Benjamin Roe, President and CEO of the Heifetz Institute. The Highland Center in Monterey will host a concert by Heifetz Institute musicians on Sunday April 28th – more about that later in the story.
After many years of playing upwards of a 150 concerts a year, Daniel developed problems with the ulnar nerve in both arms which required surgery. Realizing that he could no longer adhere to such a grueling schedule, Daniel decided to channel his passion for the music and performance into building the Heifetz Institute.
“He wanted to take some of that innate charismatic behavior that he had and really try to teach it,”said Roe.
Roe said Daniel was one of the first to say that declining audiences in classical music were not necessarily the audiences fault. He instead asked ‘what are we doing with the product and how are we presenting it?’ That became the trigger for what he would call the Heifetz Institute Communication Training method.
“Students that come to the Institute don’t just play well, they play really well, they’re little prodigies,” said Roe. “But that’s not enough to make a career. So what we teach them through communication training is public speaking lessons, they have to make an address before they play a piece of music. We give them singing lessons; they’re instrumentalists, but we need to teach them how to use their voices to convey emotion and drama and pathos and joy and that translates to their instrument.”
They also do that by teaching them how to move, about choreography and blocking and how to present themselves to an audience. They even give them yoga and wellness instruction including avoiding injuries and following a healthy diet.
The teenage students vying for acceptance into the Institute’s summer program are well accustomed to auditioning, but this is an audition with a twist.
“They come in and play their party piece and they’re dazzling us with their virtuosity and then we pause and say well, that was wonderful,” said Roe. “Now would you please sing it? And you should see the color go out of their faces, because no one has ever asked them to sing an instrumental piece before. But we really believe that if you can’t sing it, you can’t really understand it and express it.”
Perhaps even scarier than singing the piece, they then have to explain the emotion behind the music.
“For some of them this really is almost a like a mini crisis, that they’re thinking about music in an entirely different way,” said Roe. “Those same students six weeks later will tell you a story, they’ll take you on a journey, they’ll think not only in the technical terms but also in the emotional and the pictorial sense, what does this mean.
This summer, they will also add a double bass program along with violin, viola and cello and a vocal program. A dozen singers will take part in a vocal workshop learning 17th & 18th century baroque music techniques culminating in a final concert at the 17th century style Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton.
Roe said visitors to Staunton are often surprised to find a music conservatory of this caliber tucked away in the Allegheny Highlands. But he said they’ve made a concerted effort over the years to become an indelible part of the community.
“The French have a fancy word for [it] terroir; that’s where they say wine has to come from a certain region or truffles or bourbon, right? We like to think we’re part of the terroir here of the Shenandoah Valley.”
The Heifetz Institute was scheduled to have their concert debut in Highland County last December but got snowed out. Roe said they are very excited about their upcoming spring concert at the Highland Center.
“We’ve got 3 students who were at the Heifetz Institute last summer and will be back this year,” he said. “A [violin] student from Seattle named Ria Honda, a pianist from China who grew up in Indiana and just graduated from the New England Conservatory [of Music], Jingxuan Zhang is his name, and Dominic Lee who is a cellist from New Zealand.”
“Our typical program is to really kind of showcase both their solo abilities as well as their abilities as a chamber group. We’ll have some really fantastic solo works, the Carmen Fantasy which is always a lot of fun, we have some fiddle tunes by Mark O’Connor, a great piece for cello and piano by Manuel De Falla. And the second half, I cannot think of a composer who to me suggests spring more than Felix Mendelssohn, so we have a fantastic Mendelssohn trio and then a little Astro Piazolla for some Argentinean tang-o to top things off.”
The Heifetz Institute’s “Spring in the Highlands” concert is Sunday, April 28th at 3pm at the Highland Center in Monterey. Tickets are $10.00 for adults, $5.00 for students 15 to 18, and free for children under 15.