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Musicians of all ages prosper in intense summer music camps

The pressure is on!

Musicians of all ages, all over town, are practicing wildly – because this week brings three different classical music camps. They’re short and absurdly, unreasonably intense. And all of them culminate in public performances.

Monday brought the start of the Bravo! International Chamber Music Workshop, which challenges kids from ages 10 to 18 to play trios and quartets all day, every day for a week. Run by Roman Mekinulov, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s fiery principal cellist, and music educator Mary Handley, it takes place at Niagara County Community College in Sanborn.

Wednesday, the curtain rises on Cadenza, a weeklong boot camp for aspiring, serious opera singers taking place at Buffalo Seminary. Cadenza is run by Mekinulov’s wife, soprano Sebnem Mekinulov, and Holly Bewlay, music professor at Fredonia State College.

Finally, on Saturday, Kleinhans Music Hall is playing host to the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Fantasy Camp. During one crammed, crazy day, starting at 8:30 a.m., 35 adult amateur musicians will be working with Philharmonic musicians and, finally, performing in a public concert conducted by BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta.

Fantasy Camp’s 35 participants have only a few hours on Saturday before they take their places on the legendary Kleinhans stage to perform music by Alexander Borodin, Aaron Copland and Tchaikovsky.

The budding Bravo! instrumentalists are drilling for challenging chamber pieces hand-picked by Roman Mekinulov.

Cadenza’s singers are also warming up, getting ready for demanding opera scenes from Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” and Gounod’s “Faust.”

If the students go through the wringer, the teachers do, too.

Roman Mekinulov, dashing from a BPO rehearsal, is so stretched for time that the only opportunity he has to talk is on his cellphone from Wegmans.

He has put at least as much time into preparing as his students have, figuring out what music they would play, and in what configurations.

“The hardest was to assign groupings,” he said in his Russian accent. “I really put a lot of care in assigning groups in Bravo! because I think it’s important that kids have a good experience. I really think it’s important. This is part of success.”

From valet to assassin

Cadenza is valuable to singers because it emphasizes stage movements. Sebnem Mekinulov, a native of Turkey who early in her career sang with the Turkish State Opera, has noticed that stage skills are not generally taught in school.

Opera, she explained, often requires a singer to step back in time. “It’s hard to put a student from 21st century, 18th, 17th or 19th. You have to do your homework. When I was a student I used to read everything about it, link it to literature and books. You have to re-born yourself into a character,” she laughed.

“Some students are very lazy. That’s why you send them an email: please, can you think of your role and your character?”

She and Bewlay love when, watching the assigned opera scenes take shape, they see signs of success. “When we see them on stage finally, no one is there to stop them, most of them get more relaxed, start adding things by themselves,” she said. “It makes you feel this is worth it.”

One Cadenza success was Nicholas Kilkenny, who sang the Notary in Nickel City Opera’s recent production of Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale.”

Kilkenny, 24, is earning his master’s degree at the Eastman School of Music. He participated in Cadenza in its first year, 2010, and returned twice.

“They start you from the ground up,” he said.

He loved the program’s intensity. His first year especially stands out in his mind, because he was required to sing scenes from three different operas, all in one evening.

The first, he recalled, involved him singing “Non Piu Andrai,” the famous aria from Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” that is sung by Figaro, the valet at the opera’s center. “I went from that to ‘Rigoletto,’ the final act, where I was Sparafucile, this alcoholic, depressed assassin. And after that we did the champagne scene from ‘La Traviata,’ and I was a high-class guy at a party. It allowed me to do different characters, different acting, all in one performance.”

In March, at Eastman, he sang Kurt Weill’s “Street Scene,” which involved intricate singing and dancing.

“Without doing the basic foundations at Cadenza, I would be completely lost.”

Falletta on Skype

At Bravo!, now in its fifth year, Roman Mekinulov requires the same dedication his wife does.

“I want them to stew in their own juices,” he has said of his students.

Bravo! participants, like their counterparts at Cadenza, often return for several years before going on to big things.

“We almost always have 50 percent repeat or more,” Roman Mekinulov said. “The kids – I can tell you what happens to previous participants. Some of them are onto, like, really fancy camps, really super intense, like Meadowmount or Round Top. Some are in the quartet program at Fredonia. Some are going to Juilliard next year.”

Bravo! might not be crucial to their success, he laughed, but it helps. “For many of them we are the first music festival for the kids who are now going to Meadowmount or Round Top or all the big music festivals.”

Bravo! instructors include Ansgarius Aylward, the BPO’s assistant concertmaster; violinists Jacqueline Galluzzo and Andrea Cone; and Principal Violist Valerie Heywood. A special guest teacher this year will be Norman Krieger, the concert pianist featured at the BPO’s Artpark concert on Thursday.

Falletta cannot be there but will be in touch with the students on Skype.

Now in its second year, the Fantasy Camp has the same number of participants, 35, as last year. Eleven of them are back for the second time.

“When the participants gave me feedback, some of their favorite things surprised me,” said Robin Parkinson, the BPO’s education coordinator.

“A lot of people really appreciated having a chance to tour Kleinhans as part of the day. Another request was, they wanted more of a chance to talk with the musicians themselves. They did a lot of playing with them, but they wanted more chance to hear about their lives. This year, I added a Q&A at the beginning of the day with four musicians, to talk about their lives and answer questions.”

Listen in

Want to hear the fruits of your friends’ and neighbors’ labors?

Cadenza participants will perform their opera scenes at 4 and 7 p.m. Sunday at Buffalo Seminary, 205 Bidwell Parkway.

Bravo! musicians play chamber music at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and 1 p.m. Sunday in the Fine Arts Auditorium on the Niagara County Community College campus. Suggested donation is $12.

The BPO’s Fantasy Camp winds up with a free concert at 7 p.m. Saturday in Kleinhans Music Hall.