City’s Summer Strings Festival begins today

The brand new Williamsport Summer Strings Festival is built around a classical music camp for area students. From today through Friday, students will receive private, intensive training in chamber music each morning, followed by concerts at noon – featuring camp faculty or students – at Mary L. Welch Honors Hall at Lycoming College that are open to the public.

The festival is the brainchild of violinist and violist Anna Draper, who was inspired by a chamber music festival in Michigan.

“A former teacher of mine holds a chamber music festival for participants of all ages and ability levels in Ann Arbor, Michigan, called the Phoenix Phest,” she said. “I have always wanted to offer something on a smaller scale for my students and my community.”

Chamber music is, according to Williamsport Symphony Orchestra principal cellist Andrew Rammon, music that is “meant to be played in small venues … for the last 300 years, people have been doing it to entertain themselves in an intimate setting with family and friends.”

The 3 hours of focused practice the students will receive each day is much more than most of them get during the regular school year, when they’re restricted to half-hour or hour-long practice times.

“The purpose of the festival is two-fold – to allow students to experience chamber music and for the community to come and hear high-caliber music,” Rammon added.

Rammon and Draper both are faculty members of the camp and will perform during the daily noon concerts as well.

The festival kicks off at noon today with a performance by The Eaken Piano Trio, a group that Rammon has played with since 2000.

“The group has been performing for over 25 years,” he said. “They have a Grammy nomination and 13 or 14 commercially available CDs. Our new one is coming out in December and it will feature Christmas music.”

Tuesday’s concert will be an “All American” one, and will be performed by Rammon, Melissa Becker on viola, Draper on violin, Gretchen Lee on violin, Amanda Gunderson on piano and Jason Laczkowski on saxophone. They will play selections from the catalogues of Philip Glass and Charles Ives.

Wednesday’s show will be “Children’s Concert Day,” the highlight of which will be a collaboration with the James V. Brown Library, 19 E. Fourth St., including storytelling “complete with characters brought to life by live musical themes,” according to a press release.

Thursday’s concert will “Double the Brahms,” with performances of the German great’s Stringe Sextet No. 2 in G major and Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor by cellist Jonathan Dexter and violinist Jennifer Updegrove. Pianist Amanda Gunderson also will return for the piano quartet.

The festival will conclude with “Student Concert Day,” an chance for camp students to show off what they’ve learned through the week.

Throughout the week, there also will be other activities for concert attendees.

“(There will be) displays of instruments for people to try, an instrument ‘petting zoo’ and even a workshop on electric violins with Yamaha performing artist Martha Mooke,” Draper said. “It is a string-player dream week.”

Draper acknowledges that this is the “test year” for the festival-camp, and hopes that it will become an annual event.

“We need to see how many people in our community come out to participate and support the program,” she said.

She thinks that it will add to the already strong, local, classical music scene that exists in the city.

“It isn’t often that you can hear a Brahms string sextet, or an Ives string quartet performed right in your backyard – let alone five days in a row,” she said. “We have some great music lined up and enthusiastic musicians who are eager to share these pieces.”

For more information, visit