Press Room

MARLI – Music Academy of the West’s Remote Learning Institute – Is “One of the Web’s Most Impressive and Joyous Classical Music Experiences”

The Music Academy of the West nimbly transitioned to become the Music Academy Remote Learning Institute (MARLI) this summer, when the pandemic made it necessary to cancel the 2020 Summer School and Festival in Santa Barbara, CA. Aptly taking its theme as innovation, MARLI’s pioneering six-week program offered a career-building curriculum for the 21st-century musician, combining teaching and mentorship from the Academy’s outstanding faculty artists with musical, technological and entrepreneurial challenges and a diverse array of artistic and educational video content, made available to audiences worldwide. Drawing to a triumphant close today (Fri, July 24), MARLI represents an inspiring model of just how much distance-learning can deliver.

As the Santa Barbara Independent marveled:

“This four-week virtual version of our city’s most ambitious music education program and festival has blossomed into one of the web’s most impressive and joyous classical music experiences. Thanks to the talents of the academy’s faculty and fellows, and to an enormous effort on the part of the staff, participating musicians around the world received technical assistance, including special equipment kits, and that has allowed them to not only stay in regular contact with their teachers but also to begin producing spectacular online content. … From every point of view – technical, musical, and emotional – [their virtual performances] will blow you away with their virtuosity and kinetic sizzle.”

Already viewed more than 10,000 times, MARLI has presented 30 videos by faculty artists, alumni, speakers and fellows, all available from the Music Academy Concert Hall Online. Among the educational highlights was a studio class with director of collaborative piano Jonathan Feldman and guest artist Emanuel Ax, while performance highlights included a piano recital by faculty artist Jeremy Denk, a chorus from Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel featuring the elementary school students of the Academy’s Sing! program, London Symphony Orchestra chamber ensemble performances, and the fellows’ multi-layered recordings of Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and the final movement of Haydn’s “London” Symphony, led by conductor Christian Reif. Program highlights also included a series of talks on the theme of innovation from a stellar lineup of guest speakers. These included U. S. poet laureate Tracy K. Smith; Pulitzer Prize-winning composers Jennifer Higdon and Paul Moravec; conductors Marin Alsop and Michael Tilson Thomas; soprano Julia Bullock, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke (’02), and tenor Lawrence Brownlee; flutist and arts entrepreneur Claire Chase; contemporary opera, music-theater and multimedia artist Beth Morrison; opera and theater director Francesca Zambello; London Symphony Orchestra managing director Kathryn McDowell; Lincoln Center chief of staff and innovation Clive Chang; writer and journalist Anne Midgette; and arts activist, spoken word artist, librettist and speaker Marc Bamuthi Joseph.

To make MARLI possible, the Academy provided all 134 full-scholarship 2020 fellows with audio and video technology, as well as the training to use it. Fellows around the world received packages containing an iPad mini and premium cardioid condenser microphone from leading California-based audio company Apogee, Sennheiser closed-back studio headphones, an iPad mounting stand, and a small LED light kit. Expert New York-based audio engineers and producers and Los Angeles-based film and opera specialists led interactive seminars to help the fellows embrace their new digital environment.

Over the first four weeks of the program, each fellow took part in five or six seminars a week, led by 45 experts, and participated in more than 500 private lessons and coaching sessions with 51 teaching artists in multiple time zones, besides being offered a range of wellness activities in yoga, meditation, equipment-free workouts, Alexander Technique and counseling. An additional two-week Creative Extension allowed the fellows to build on their learning, participating in programs and competitions to further their skills and give them the tools for potential professional projects.

All the 2020 fellows have been invited to participate in the Music Academy’s 2021 summer program, where they will finally meet in person their Compeers, the volunteers who welcomed them into the Music Academy family by means of weekly video meetings this summer.

Creative Extension: announcing the winners

The three areas of focus in the Creative Extension were the London Symphony Orchestra Keston MAX program auditions, the Fast Pitch Awards, and the newly introduced Digital Challenge. All the participating fellows received a professional stipend of $1,250, and while most used this for the audition or one of the competitions, they also had the option of putting the stipend towards further education or personal projects.

London Symphony Orchestra Keston MAX program
In 2018, the Music Academy of the West launched a partnership with the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) that saw the orchestra perform to a sold-out audience of 4,500 people at the Santa Barbara Bowl last year, and that will soon ensure its eagerly anticipated return to the Academy. Meanwhile, as another key component of the partnership, each summer since 2018, five LSO principals have mentored Music Academy fellows and adjudicated auditions for the Keston MAX program. This is the process by which twelve fellows are selected to travel to London the following year, to perform with the eminent British orchestra under the baton of Music Director Sir Simon Rattle. Other features of this invaluable ten-day experience include coaching, mock auditions, community engagement work, mock professional recording, and chamber ensemble performance.

This year, the LSO coaches taking part in the program were violin co-leader Carmine Lauri, principal cello Rebecca Gilliver, principal oboe Juliana Koch, principal tuba Ben Thomson, and principal percussion Neil Percy. Selected by audition during MARLI’s Creative Extension, the twelve fellows heading to London next April are:

-Violinist Hannah Duncan, 19, born in Sioux Falls, SD
Attending Cleveland Institute of Music

-Violinist Wenqi Ke, 21, born in Anqin, Anhui, China
Attending Colburn Conservatory

-Cellist Charles Barnard, 26, born in Dayton, OH
Alum of University of Colorado, Boulder

-Double bassist Andrew Gantzer, 18, born in Arlington, VA
Attending The Juilliard School

-Flutist Devan Jaquez, 25, born in La Habra, CA
Alum of Colburn Conservatory

-Oboist Benjamin Brogadir, 24, born in San Diego, CA
Attending San Francisco Conservatory of Music

-Clarinetist Gerbrich Meijer, 23, born in The Netherlands
Attending Colburn Conservatory

-Bassoonist Vincent Igusa, 18, born in Baltimore, MD
Attending Shepherd School of Music, Rice University

-French horn player Ava Conway, 21, born in Los Angeles, CA
Alum of Eastman School of Music

-Trumpeter Gustavo Leite, 27, born in São Paulo, Brazil
Attending Shepherd School of Music, Rice University

-Bass trombonist Noah Roper, 22, born in Aledo, TX
Alum of Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University

-Percussionist Jeremy Sreejayan, 22, born in Sydney, Australia
Alum of Cleveland Institute of Music

Fast Pitch Awards
Music Academy of the West’s second annual Fast Pitch Awards took place in a livestreamed event on July 22, in which seven finalists, all 2020 fellows, pitched entrepreneurial ideas and new innovations in classical performance, presentation, social impact, and audience development. They received live feedback from industry leaders Clive Chang, Lincoln Center’s Chief of Innovation and a member of the Music Academy Board; Dean Carter, Patagonia Vice President of Human Resources and Shared Services and Chair of the Music Academy Board; Ariel Davis, Arts Administrators of Color Network and Kennedy Center Program Manager, Community Programming; and viola soloist, chamber musician, curator, and broadcaster Nadia Sirota. They selected the three winners, each of whom receives a $1,500 award and the chance to participate in a 2021 Innovation Residential in Santa Barbara. With links to their video presentations, the 2020 Fast Pitch winners are:

-Tuba player Cristina Cutts Dougherty, 22, born in Louisville, CO
Attending Curtis School of Music
Project: Book exploring the legacies of women in brass

-Violist Jay Julio, 22, born in Uniondale, NY
Attending The Juilliard School
Project: Sound Off: raising awareness & funds to fight rising incarceration through music

-Clarinetist Javier Morales-Martinez, 19, born in Los Angeles, CA
Attending USC Thornton School of Music
Project: Mexico–US community music education partnership

Digital Challenge
The fellows who entered Music Academy of the West’s new Digital Challenge were instructed to create a three- to seven-minute video that would be judged on (a) musical and artistic excellence, (b) technical proficiency, i.e., sound and video quality, and (c) creativity and innovation. Fellows could collaborate with other artists, both in and outside of the Academy, to explore interesting direction, storytelling and visual imagery. A preliminary round of judging was conducted by 21C Media Group, and the final winners were selected by a judging panel composed of violinist Jennifer Koh, MARLI Keynote speaker and Beth Morrison Projects founder Beth Morrison, Music Academy Board member Pamela Strobel, and pianist and composer Conrad Tao. The winners each received a cash prize of $2,500 and will be featured today (Fri, July 24) at 8pm EDT (5pm PDT) on Concert Hall Online. With links to their videos, the winners are:

-Pianist Byeol Kim, 30, born in Pohang, Korea
Attending Northwestern University
Video: The Serpent’s Kiss (music: William Bolcom)

-Baritone Byron J. Mayes, 29, born in Houston, TX
Attending University of California, Santa Barbara
Video: I, Too (music: from Bonds’ Three Dream Portraits with text by Langston Hughes)

-Cellist Lavinnia Rae, 22, born in Nelson, New Zealand
Attending Royal College of Music, London
Video: Lamentations (Music: Perkinson with Tahirah Whittington, cello and Alex Hoare, artist)

Also selected for Honorable Mention is:

-Clarinetist Gerbrich Meijer, 23, born in The Netherlands
Attending Colburn Conservatory
Video: The Plog

About the Music Academy of the West

Music Academy of the West advances the development of 21st-century, classically trained musicians and cultivates discerning, appreciative and adventurous audiences. Founded in 1947, the Academy operates on a ten-acre, ocean-side campus in Santa Barbara, California, where its world-renowned eight-week Summer Festival offers nearly 200 public events. Programs comprise voice, vocal piano, collaborative piano, instrumental, and solo piano. In 2018, the Academy launched a four-year partnership with the London Symphony Orchestra, focusing on education and performance on both sides of the Atlantic. The Academy’s Innovation Institute supports alumni entrepreneurship through its Alumni Enterprise Awards and annual residential program. Two hundred young members of the local community participate in the Academy’s expanding choral program, Sing!. Music Academy of the West plans to present the 2021 Summer School and Festival from from June 14 to August 7 next year. For more information, visit

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