Classical on tap at Summer Festival
Brevard, North Carolina, offers a ‘music in the mountains’ setting.
Singer and actress Audra McDonald will present an evening of Broadway classics with full orchestra Wednesday. COURTESY OF ALLISON MICHAEL ORENSTEIN
Ken Lam serves as resident conductor of the Brevard Music Center’s orchestra.

The Brevard Music Center in North Carolina, first and foremost, offers intensive summer training for high school and college musicians.

But its summertime festival of concerts and operas is also a big draw for classical music lovers, and Brevard is just a threehour drive from Atlanta.

Either as a short excursion or a destination trip, Brevard offers a “music in the mountains” setting not unlike Aspen, Colorado, or Tanglewood, Massachusetts. A typical schedule during the festival season, which runs through Aug. 6, features a major, ticketed event each day, plus a smattering of smaller, free events.

The flagship Brevard Music Center Orchestra, one of six orchestral ensembles, includes a mix of faculty and college students.

The program at one of its summer concerts included Bartók’s demanding Concerto for Orchestra as well as two lesser known works: Gabriella Lena Frank’s “Three Latin American Dances” and Manuel de Falla’s “Nights in the Gardens of Spain.”

“I feel this amazing energy in the back of my head. They are so serious,” Charles Mutter, the orchestra’s concertmaster and the associate leader of the U.K.’s BBC Concert Orchestra, said of the student musicians.

Each of the symphonic concerts features a large orchestra and benefits from the surprisingly good acoustics of the Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium, an open-sided, 1,800-seat hall nestled in nature. During the pauses in the evening concerts, a chorus of crickets makes itself heard. Fireflies are abundant, along with songbirds, geese and, later, bullfrogs.

My favorite experience during five days here was a faculty concert in the new, gorgeous Parker Concert Hall, which seats 400 and is acoustically superb.

At one concert, Juliet White- Smith on viola and Deloise Lima on piano performed a lovely work by Ulysses Kay, an African American composer who died in 1995.

In a discussion, White-Smith said she’d discovered one of Kay’s viola works in a library and tracked him down, ultimately championing and performing that one, as well as this work.

Another excellent pianist, Yu-Lien The, played a set of pieces by three female composers. She then returned with saxophonist Henning Schröder to perform a wonderfully original piece, Hot- Sonate for Alto Saxophone and Piano, written by German composer Erwin Schulhoff in 1930 before he was killed by the Nazis.

The opera program included a fully staged production of “La Traviata” at the Porter Center, a splendid 550-seat theater across town on the Brevard College campus.

The hall’s size and acoustics are ideally suited to young voices. The smallish orchestra — 21 musicians, comprising faculty and students from the college program — gave the evening a chamber intimacy.

Opera program students — college and graduate voice students as well as recent graduates — sang all roles and served as the chorus.

Dean Anthony, who heads the Brevard institute’s opera program, was the stage director. His production featured a simple, very traditional unit set with movable curved walls and elegant period costumes.

I spoke with a number of the students in Brevard for the summer, including two from the Atlanta area.

Caiden Follmer, a French horn player, will be a senior at Hillgrove High School in Cobb County. “My dream is to play in an orchestra,” he said. “I love my Mahler and my Beethoven.”

His experience at the summer institute has been a positive one, he said.

“The seriousness and the competitiveness is very motivating.

Everyone wants to be good,” said Follmer, who has been accepted into the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra. “It makes you strive for more. But it’s also really friendly. I like that a lot.”

Hazel Patty, a bassist who will be a junior at Decatur High School, 

said she doesn’t plan on a career in music but always wants music to be a part of her life. Patty played with the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra for the past two years and next will join the Emory Youth Symphony Orchestra.

She said appreciated her time at Brevard. “The music here is awesome. You get to play and practice with your friends. I like the free structure. And I love our conductor,” she said. That conductor, Ken Lam, is also music director of both the Charleston Symphony Orchestra in South Carolina and the Illinois Symphony Orchestra.

The summer institute includes about 500 students in its core programs and more than 80 faculty members. In addition to the high school and college orchestra programs, the core programs consist of piano, composition, opera and high school voice. In recent years, other programs have been added: jazz, classical guitar, high school music theater, bluegrass guitar and banjo, bringing the total student population to more than 700.

The summer festival runs through Aug. 6. Tickets to individual performances start at $24.

Pianist Jeremy Denk will perform Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Brevard Sinfonia on Friday. The Brevard Music Center Orchestra will perform Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 on Saturday.

Superstar Audra McDonald will present an evening of Broadway classics with full orchestra Wednesday. Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Into the Woods” is on tap for July 27 and 29. Students from the opera program will present George Gershwin’s works Aug. 3.

The season finale Aug. 6 will feature the Brevard Music Center Orchestra and Chorus performing Verdi’s Requiem. 


ArtsATL ( is a nonprofit organization that plays a critical role in educating and informing audiences about metro Atlanta’s arts and culture.

Founded in 2009, ArtsATL’s goal is to help build a sustainable arts community contributing to the economic and cultural health of the city.

If you have any questions about this partnership or others, please contact Senior Manager of Partnerships Nicole Williams at