Summer offers us all sorts of surprises as we take to the road and explore places we’ve never been.

Such was the case recently when we had the pleasure of driving 90 miles east of Waterville to the tiny town of Hancock, home of the famed Pierre Monteux School for conductors and orchestra musicians.

People come from all over the United States and abroad to study there for six weeks in the summer, learning to conduct and playing in the orchestra, which performs for the public on Sunday evenings. A professional chamber ensemble made up of Monteux school alumni also performs Wednesdays and Sundays in August.

The setting is rural and rustic and includes a large screened-in performance hall and little cabins the students live in during their stay at Monteux.

They work hard and it shows.

As we drove onto the wooded grounds early in the evening of July 23, we were struck by the silence, broken only by the sound of hardwood tree leaves fluttering against a backdrop of still pines.

The concert hall was reminiscent of those you see at Maine summer camps — simple, wood-framed construction, high ceilings and large screen walls offering views of only trees and sky and through which a soothing breeze served as balm after a week of hot weather.

The 60 or so young performers entered the stage and from the moment the concert master placed bow to string, the evening was extraordinary, with performances of Johannes Brahms’ Tragic Overture, Opus 81, and Symphony No. 3 in F major, Opus 90. After an intermission, the orchestra played Maurice Ravel’s “La valse” and Richard Strauss’ “Tod und Verklarung, Opus. 24” (Death and Transfiguration).

Student conductors directed the first three pieces and the school’s music director, Michael Jinbo, conducted the Strauss in what turned out to be a powerful concert finale.

Jinbo’s name should sound familiar to central Mainers. He lives in Augusta and has directed theater at The Center in downtown Waterville.

Jinbo is the Monteux School’s third music director since it was founded 74 years ago. He has been director for 22 years. He succeeded Charles Bruck, who was a student and longtime friend of Monteux in Paris. Jinbo had been a pupil of Bruck. A violinist as well as a conductor, Jinbo also is music director of the Nittany Valley Symphony (Pennsylvania) and former assistant conductor of the North Carolina Symphony. He has conducted orchestras all over the U.S. and beyond.

Monteux, of course, was the school’s first music director, having founded it in 1943.

Born in Paris in 1875, Monteux studied viola and violin, performed in orchestras and later became a world-renowned conductor, premiering works including Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” and “Petrushka” and Claude Debussy’s “Jeux.” He also led the Metropolitan Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra and others. His students included Andre Previn, Seiji Ozawa and Neville Marriner.

Monteux’s wife, Doris, was from Hancock County and that is how Maine became the beneficiary of his genius and generosity. He and his wife spent vacations in Hancock, called it home and eventually started the school, which has survived thanks to friends and supporters who launched a campaign to preserve, renovate and provide an endowment for the school. A club also was formed for those who opt to leave gifts in their wills to ensure the school continues into the future. Monteux died in 1964.

We went to the school recently with longtime friends who also are friends of Jinbo.

The performances were top-notch — stunning, really — and we knew we were fortunate to have found this gem in the woods of Maine.

There is something about music and nature that makes them more than compatible. You might call it sympatico. As we soaked in the exquisite performance, which on that evening was a memorial concert to those who founded and supported the school, the breeze wafted through the hall, caressing our bare summer arms.

We watched as these serious young performers worked hard at their craft, offering us the beautiful phenomenon that is music — music that soothes our souls and challenges our intellects.

I wondered, as I sat there, what each of their lives was like, where they had come from, and what brought them here to the woods of Maine.

I imagined their lives 20 years from now, gracing the stages of concert halls all over the world, performing, conducting and sharing the precious gift I was fortunate to have been given by my father — the love of music.

It’s a gift that makes all our lives richer.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 29 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.


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