Music and education a tradition at Luzerne Music Center in Lake Luzerne

Students come from all over the world; summer-long music festival also scheduled
Elizabeth Pitcairn speaks at a concert at Luzerne Music Center in 2017.
Elizabeth Pitcairn speaks at a concert at Luzerne Music Center in 2017.

There’s something captivating about hearing chamber music in the woods; being surrounded by the sound of plucking strings or adagio melodies rather than the rattling and pulsing symphonies of cell phones. 

It’s part of the reason the Luzerne Music Center’s summer camp and music festival is so successful. 

One day in the program for most students equates to a month of training outside of it, said Elizabeth Pitcairn, the president and artistic director. There are certainly fewer distractions, but there are also more opportunities to listen and learn from world class teachers. 

The summer music camp helped Pitcairn’s own career when she attended in the late 1980s. 

Founders Bert Phillips of the Philadelphia Orchestra and pianist Toby Blumenthal not only created a well-rounded program, they also gave musicians like Pitcairn a stage to perform on. 

When she’s not running the Music Center, Pitcairn is performing all over the world with the famous Red Violin or the 1720 Red Mendelssohn Antonio Stradivari, which was the subject of the film that shares its name. 

However, even when she’s traveling, she’s always spreading the word about Luzerne. 
“I’m like the pied piper,” Pitcairn said. 

That’s perhaps why a healthy percentage of the 145-plus students this summer are international students. Young musicians from ages 8 to 18 will be coming from Afghanistan, Hungary, Poland, Costa Rica, Ukraine, Singapore, Turkey and others. 

From her own experiences at the camp, Pitcairn said that students from other countries quickly form bonds that can last a lifetime with students from around the United States.

Even if they don’t necessarily speak the same language, they have one in common.  

“Classical music is the one true common language,” Pitcairn said. 

Throughout the summer, the students study music from 8:30 in the morning until the late afternoon, including composition and various styles of music. Then, they typically have free time or can participate in traditional camp activities. Several evenings a week they attend concerts around the Capital Region, including at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Skidmore and others. 

Pitcairn has noticed that the day after students attend a Philadelphia Orchestra concert at SPAC, there’s a marked difference in their playing. The difference might have something to with the fact that students also have a chance to perform and work with professional musicians from the Philadelphia Orchestra. 

According to Pitcairn, the Center the founders had a strong vision for the Center when they opened it and it’s stronger than ever today. 

“I really believe in the style of the program. It’s well-rounded,” Pitcairn said.

Throughout the summer, students also take to the stage to perform on a regular basis, during student showcases, symphony ensembles and piano preludes. These 24 performances are all free to visitors. On Friday, William Lauricella, a Bethlehem Middle School student who has won several local competitions and was selected as WMHT’s Classical Musician of the Month in June, will perform at 1:30 p.m. in the Indoor Lodge.

On top of the summer program for students, the Center hosts a summer-long music festival, bringing in musicians like Paul Roby of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Chris Brubeck and others. There are also performances by the 25 faculty members, some of whom were Luzerne Music Center students. 

It’s the 39th season of the Center and they’re celebrating its legacy with a concert with founder Toby Blumenthal, Pitcairn and Hai Zheng Olefsky on Monday, July 22. 

Then, Chris Brubeck’s Triple Play will return to the Center with Joel Brown and Peter Madcat Ruth on Monday, July 29, bringing jazz to the series.  

Later on in the season, Pitcairn will perform with members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, including Roby, William Polk, Che-Hung Chen, Kerri Ryan, Priscilla Lee, Hai-Ye Ni and Nathaniel West. The program will include W.A. Mozart’s String Quintet No. 4 in G minor, K. 516 and Antonín Dvorák’s String Quintet No. 2, Op. 77. 

This performance and the Philadelphia Orchestra’s involvement with the Music Center is a longtime tradition for the program, one that Pitcairn hopes to continue in the years to come. 

Since taking on the role of artistic director in 2010, Pitcairn has noticed that the program has started to welcome second-generation students, as well as teachers and performers who were once students. 

In order to carry on the legacy of the camp, though, the Center is in serious need of facility improvements, according to Pitcairn. 

The campus, which was first established in 1909 as Camp Tekakwitha, sits on 20 wooded acres right off of Lake Luzerne. It’s got a rich history and it certainly makes for a unique performance setting. However, the student and faculty cabins date back to the early 1900s and have experienced the sort of wear and tear one would expect buildings that have weathered well over 100 years. There are holes in some and others are starting to lean. 

Thus, the Music Center is working to raise the $2 million needed to replace each cabin with new Amish-built cabins. Some of those funds will be raised during the annual gala on Saturday, August 3, and some of it has been raised already. 

To keep the legacy going, Pitcairn also points to the importance of scholarships. Around 75 percent of the students who attend the summer program receive scholarships of some kind. 

“We don’t have an endowment to rely on yet, so we fundraise for this every summer.

Our gala and 5K supports the scholarship fund, so any more supporters and volunteers would be welcomed with open arms,” Pitcairn said. 

Those who sponsor students receive letters from the students and can follow their careers. 

For more information on the Luzerne Music Center and for the full schedule of performances, visit The Center is located at 203 Lake Tour Rd, Lake Luzerne. 

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