Chestertown wows with 200 rehearsals and 35 concerts

Gwen Woolf

The National Music Festival brings 100 apprentices from 28 states and 15 countries together with 30 mentors.

“I don’t like people walking out of concerts thinking about where they’re getting dessert. I want them to be excited about what they heard,” says Richard Rosenberg, artistic director and principal conductor of the National Music Festival. This year’s event is June 5–18 in Chestertown on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The small historic river town is a 78-mile drive from Washington, D.C.

Some 100 apprentices from 26 states and 15 countries will team up with 30 mentors from all over the world to hone their skills and learn the ins and outs of becoming professional musicians. The bonus is that the public will have numerous opportunities to hear first-rate music at rehearsals and performances.

“People will be surprised by the level of commitment and ability they’re going to hear in Chestertown,” says Rosenberg.

The festival takes place at various venues around Chestertown and Kent County. A third of the concerts are at Washington College, with the rest at churches, parks, fire halls, community centers, and even the Saturday farmers market.

Rosenberg says that all kinds of music will be performed, ranging from classical to contemporary to new pieces. He likes a mixed repertoire of fun and serious music; some are familiar pieces and some are surprises. Dixieland jazz and film music are examples of lighter fare. Sometimes, he throws in an off-the-wall choice.

The National Music Festival brings 100 apprentices from 28 states and 15 countries together with 30 mentors.
The National Music Festival brings 100 apprentices from 28 states and 15 countries together with 30 mentors.

The festival’s “not just for the Beethoven crowd,” says Rosenberg. “Everything is done in the spirit of exploration and joy.”

The public can take its pick of 200 rehearsals to attend. Rosenberg says that rehearsals are an especially good way to become familiar with the music and see how it’s put together, which makes the concert-going experience more enjoyable. Rehearsals also are a good way to introduce young children to music.

The 35 concerts will range from solo recitals to small ensembles to large symphony orchestra performances. Apprentices will play side by side with mentors at concerts, which inspires both to play their best.

A schedule of all events is on the website. If you can only attend one event, Rosenberg suggests the June 10 full orchestra concert, which will include music from the 1940 Hollywood film Thief of Bagdad, Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins, and pieces featuring a banjo and tuba.

Rosenberg and his wife, Caitlin Patton, who serves as executive director, founded the nonprofit festival in 2010. They felt there should be “some sort of forum” for musicians on the cusp of their professional careers to practice their craft.

Apprentices, normally college and graduate-level students, are selected in a competitive application process. They receive full scholarships and housing to participate, something Rosenberg feels strongly about since the time he was a student in Aspen and was forced to sell his piano to afford a musical opportunity.

Apprentices stay in dormitories at Washington College or in private homes, where friendships have
blossomed through the years.
Many apprentices from past festivals have gone on to join major orchestras.

Rosenberg says a goal was to make the festival affordable to the public. All rehearsals and some concerts are free. Tickets for single concerts are in the $10 to $18 range. Season passes are $225, which guarantee admission and preferred seating at every ticketed event, plus invitations to parties and a souvenir festival guide.


The festival:

What: National Music Festival

When: June 5–18

Where: Chestertown, Md.


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