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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 17, No. 9 June 2012

The Brott Music Festival turns 25

by L. H. Tiffany Hsieh / June 1, 2012

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The 25th season of the Brott Music Festival is about to get under way in the Greater Hamilton and Burlington Area, and despite funding challenges in recent years, organizers are finding more ways than ever to engage the audience. “There’s enough electricity on the stage to light up a city,” says founding artistic director Boris Brott of the National Academy Orchestra, the festival’s full-time professional orchestra-in-residence.
The deficit-free NAC, the country’s only professional mentor-apprentice program, will mark its quarter century next year. Yet, its members are young and dynamic. “They have honed their skills at the finest schools worldwide and we’ve chosen the best of the best,” says Brott. Only one in eight applicants gets a position. Once accepted, principal orchestral players mentor them in rehearsal and performance. Over the last 23 years, the program has “graduated” more than 1,500 musicians to traditional and entrepreneurial employment. Many return as associate and full mentors of the orchestra.
Brott explains that while there is no question government funding and particularly private fundraising have been challenging since 2008, the number of participants have remained steady at 41 apprentices and between 10 and 12 mentors with some extras for large programs. “We have had to hold the line in many areas of production and take great care in expenditures,” he says. However, “I view the challenges as healthy and invigorating. No one can afford to rest on past laurels,” he adds. “The world needs great music and there is no question that the younger generations are there and plugged into personal listening devices. We need to use our imaginations and talents to plug into where they are.”
 From a repertoire standpoint, Brott says audiences have learned to trust festival organizers with varying programs from rock, pop and jazz to oratorio, opera and symphonic repertoire. With the festival’s multimedia approach, concerts have in the past included the likes of Music and Culture of the Inuit, Beethoven and the Bully, the Music and Art of the Group of Seven and the Underground Railway. “The needs of the academy dictate that we give opportunities to play the great Classical, Romantic, Impressionistic and 20th-century repertoire, but we enthusiastically embrace contemporary repertoire,” clarifies Brott. This year, the academy’s composer-in-residence is Maxime Goulet, an associate composer at the Canadian Music Centre.
Showcases aside, central to the festival’s mission are educational concerts. “These first impressions must be magical as we first need to dispel the general impression that orchestral music is boring,” he expresses. “Then we need to involve our audiences so they emerge from the concert experience saying, ‘Wow, that was cool!’ This first experience can change lives.”

Brott Music Festival runs June 3 to August 16

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