VCU summer music initiative preps Williamsburg debut

A symphony of worldly musicians fostering an exchange of cultures and ideas is the motivation behind Virginia Commonwealth University's Global Summer Institute of Music. The program offers a series of masterclasses and concerts, including one in Williamsburg for the first time this year.

"It stems from the idea of bringing my artistic contacts, like professors and students, to have a week of artistic exchange," said Dr. Yin Zheng, an associate professor of piano at VCU and founder of the program. "It was very embryonic in the beginning."

The program started in 2014 with 13 students; this year features almost 70. They hail from all over the world, including Europe, South America, China and southeast Asia. The program has expanded over time, initially focusing on piano and then adding viola, voice and woodwinds. This year marks the debut of flutes and clarinets.

"It's great visibility for VCU," Zheng said, noting that some participants go on to apply for admission to the university's music program. "We really get the experience of working with professionals."

The audition process is entirely online, where students apply and send recordings of their performances from wherever they might be. Those selected get the chance for artistic as well as cultural growth throughout the region, including a trip to Richmond's Virginia Museum of Fine Art followed by a concert there. A performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C, is also new this year.

"It's an opportunity for us to nurture students from all over the world," Zheng said. "It's great to experience American culture and to work with top musicians from around the world in an American setting."

From around the world to Williamsburg

Adding a performance at the Williamsburg Regional Library flowed naturally out of that initiative.

"Williamsburg is such an iconic place in American history. I think of Williamsburg as understated," she said, adding that many foreigners don't know the significant role the town played in U.S. history.

In their down time, students will be able to explore some of the sites around the historic area.

"It's a great opportunity for both the festival people and the audience," Zheng said. It's an opportunity for students and locals both to learn from one another.

Most of GSIM's events are free with the intention of introducing the musical repertoire to people. One ticketed concert features GSIM faculty collaborating with the Richmond Symphony Orchestra as a part of the symphony's summer concert series.

The Williamsburg ensemble focuses mainly on the program's younger talent as they perform chamber music. The performers hail from Belarus, Germany and France, alongside some VCU students.

The concert features a "really fantastic piece" by French composer Claude Bolling, a suite for flute and jazz piano heralding a hybrid of classical and jazz, among others.

"We wanted to offer an environment to make friends, to interact with their peers," Zheng said. The Williamsburg concert is the "fruit of that collaboration."

Birkenmeyer can be reached by phone at 757-790-3029.

Want to go?

VCU's Global Summer Institute of Music runs July 31 through Aug. 10. The free mixed chamber concert at Williamsburg Regional Library is Aug. 7 at 7 p.m. For information on the other performances, visit go.vcu.edu/gsim.

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