For Michiganders "up north" is synonymous with summer: it means cabins, lakes, and bonfires; it's our summer-land destination, made up of numerous counties and hundreds of small towns we flee to in search of sunshine and relaxation, a few hours north of whatever busy metropolis we call home. For Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians, "up north" evokes thoughts of Interlochen Center for the Arts, where play and practice combine to create transformative experiences for young musicians from around the globe. From attending as campers, to teaching, playing concerts, and passing the torch to their own students, DSO musicians have a long history with Interlochen, and this July the full orchestra will return there for the first time since 2006.
"I feel like Interlochen changed my life. I was very into music but had never been to camp. Going to Interlochen and being surrounded by music—the immersive experience—was very important for me. It was the start of my career."
-DSO cellist, Úna O'Riordan, Interlochen camper 1992-94
Interlochen's story begins in the 1920's, amidst a cultural landscape where few schools had music programs. The idea of a summer music camp to help foster an interest in school music growth across the country was born, and in 1928 Interlochen hosted more than 200 students for its National High School Honors Orchestra during its first year of operation. The camp expanded its offerings with a fine-arts boarding school and now welcomes 2,500 students each summer.
The Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s association with Interlochen goes back to 1926 when Orchestra Hall hosted 275 members of the National High School Honors Orchestra, the precursor program from Interlochen founder Joseph Maddy (pictured above). DSO associate conductor Victor Kolar conducted the young players. Though then-DSO music director Ossip Gabrilowitsch did not conduct the group, he did listen to a rehearsal and was astounded by their high level of musicianship, and in his later years he often served as a guest conductor at Interlochen during the summer.
This relationship developed with DSO performances in the 1960s and ‘70s, and the orchestra later appeared there annually from 1991 to 2006. This year's DSO residency will take place from July 24 to July 28 and features a performance by the orchestra and side-by-side opportunities with the DSO and Interlochen students, master classes, and individual training sessions led by DSO musicians.
DSO cellist Paul Wingert's first memory of Interlochen is a decidedly Michigan one: hunting for Petoskey Stones, the gray fossil-etched rocks found in the Traverse City area of the state, when he was five years old. "I went with my mom who was attending an adult post-camp session. She was a bassist and an elementary school teacher who attended Interlochen as a camper herself in 1948 and 1949."
Paul would later attend as a high schooler for the 1973-75 camp seasons: "Attending Interlochen confirmed that I wanted to pursue a career in music. It's such an immersive atmosphere that's competitive and requires a high level of professionalism; I learned twenty-four major works in three summers. And you're able to learn technique from a diverse peer group: I remember sharing a stand with a kid from Germany, and actually shared a stand with my future wife."
As a DSO musician in the early 1990s, Paul returned to teach and encountered tenth grader Úna O'Riordan in his cello masterclass. "I played the Dvořák Cello Concerto for Paul in the McWhorter Shed, and it was nerve-racking!" says Úna.
"I remember this magazine photo shoot with Paul in the field *(below)! The photographer had us pose there because it was more picturesque, and my 16-year-old mind was like 'but we didn’t play in the field!'"
During her summers at Interlochen, Úna was also able to work and perform with DSO Music Director Emeritus, Neeme Järvi, and soloists Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma, and she still has the cassette tapes recorded of the performances: "I'm not sure I even have a player to play them on," Úna laughs, "I was in awe of then-DSO Concertmaster Emmanuelle Boisvert, who I had a great view of from my orchestra seat for the DSO-World Youth Orchestra side-by-side."
Contact with industry professionals and the professionalism expected of campers opened a new world for her. "We had weekly sectional challenges. Our coach would have us each play the same piece in turn, challenging the chair ahead of us. It was grueling, and I would practice late each night before a challenge to prepare, but it pushed me and prepared me for auditions and performing in a way I couldn't get anywhere else."
The camp—situated between two lakes, with sunlight reflecting off them in sparkles— seared itself into Úna's memory, along with the creativity that's spurred by making connections with people from all walks of life. Returning this summer as a teacher, she's guessing she'll be inspired by the youthful enthusiasm of the campers, just beginning their love affair with music. "I'm really excited to be going back. The DSO has a lot to offer, and I hope to be able to impact current students there."
Those who have attended Interlochen themselves unreservedly recommend the experience to others. It was Paul Wingert who introduced Interlochen to 18-year-old Jane Hepp (pictured below), a 2019 graduate of Novi High School, and former student, who attended the Cello Institute in 2017.
"It makes a lot of sense for the DSO to go back to Interlochen," says Jane. "They have a symbiotic relationship because of the long history between them. Paul is close friends with many of the professors there."
Artistic excellence is another unifying theme between the two organizations. Jane's been thinking back over her school years and the instructors who taught her—coaches and teachers alike—and Paul easily rises to the top. "Paul is a really good teacher, and an amazing player. He is super-efficient: he notices the smallest details that need to be tweaked, and when you make the change, your playing is much stronger. Some people aren’t able to hear or see those small details, but he does."
Roads in woods are known to diverge, and the path to Interlochen is no different. "To get to camp we had to drive through a huge forest. The roads were long with no one on them," remembers Jane. "I was excited, but nervous to be going. When we got really close to camp the streets were named after musicians. I remember one named after the composer Percy Grainger."
The start of every musician's experience with Interlochen begins with that declaration: music marks our world. And each student leaves camp knowing there's a place in the woods where others understand the meaning of that as deeply as they do.
On Saturday, July 27, Interlochen will present the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in concert at Kresge Auditorium as part of the 2019 Interlochen Arts Festival. Matthias Pintscher, music director of France’s Ensemble Intercontemporain, will conduct the DSO in a program including Ravel’s “Mother Goose” Suite, Saint-Saëns’s Piano Concerto No. 5 with soloist Joseph Moog, and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances.