Greenbelters, if you like orchestral music played well but prefer something closer and cheaper than the Kennedy Center, this month you’re in luck. Throughout June, we can hear great orchestral music at the University of Maryland in College Park, which is not just close and affordable but even provides free parking for the events.
This unique event is the National Orchestral Institute + Festival, now in its 32 year. Students at U.S. colleges and conservatories audition for one of the 100 positions in the orchestra, and work their tails off to get five full concerts ready for the public.
What’s most unique about the festival for us locals is the chance to not just hear music, but to learn about music and be a part of the process of preparing students for careers in orchestras,
The top draws of this esteemed festival are the public concerts on Saturday nights, with nationally recognized conductors taking the baton. The first is a much-anticipated production of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess in conjunction with the Wolf Trap Opera this Saturday, June 1.
Regular prices are $20-35 regular; it’s $10 for students and youth. As always, it’s free for UMD students.
(The handful of Greenbelters enrolled in the University’s Golden ID program for retirees – including me – attend for free also, like we do for everything at The Clarice.)
And get this – before the concerts and after most of them there are free talks in the pop-up Spark! Lounge. The website describes it this way:
Join us before and after select concerts to meet, mix, and mingle with the performers, conductors, composers, and guest artists of NOI. Hosts will guide conversations, but there will always be a chance to ask questions. Our Encore Bar will be open for snacks and beverages, so pull up a chair and join us for this lively conversation.
How well can these students play? So well that last year the recording of one of their performances was nominated for a Grammy!
Staff at The Clarice Center for the Performing Arts where the festival takes place tell me they know of local concert-goers giving up their (expensive) season subscriptions to the National Symphony Orchestra, preferring to attend the NOI each June.
FREE Open Rehearsals and Master Classes
There’s lots more going on, and the public is very welcome:
- Full rehearsals, which the public can watch from the choir loft!
- Master classes in horn, violin, flute, and cello. The faculty includes UMD profs and members of orchestras across the U.S.
While the mission of the festival is to give students a professional orchestral experience, there’s a mission for us attendees, too: to create a warm and welcome atmosphere, according to NOI director Richard Scerbo. Thus the pop-up lounge where we can speak with the musicians, and the festival’s open rehearsals and master classes that we can attend.
This reminds me of a rehearsal-watching opportunity I once had at the Kennedy Center that I’ll never forget. (Okay, it was Mikhail Baryshnikov!) And the thrill of watching one of the U.S. military bands while standing behind but very close to the percussion section, something that’s easy to do when they perform at the U.S. Capitol steps.
The National Orchestral institute’s Festival seems perfect for up-close-and-informative musical experiences like those. Plus, they tell me the concerts are “phenomenal” with an “off-the-charts energy level.” I intend to find out for myself and report back.
Try the App!
One more way to get immersed in the music during the festival is to download the EnCue app, which displays commentary on the music as it’s being played, in a low-light way that doesn’t disturb anyone. The app was developed by professors at UMBC and is now used by orchestras worldwide, including the London Philharmonic.