World-Class Musical Instruction in the Adirondacks Returns This Summer
In 1988, a 14-year-old girl stands on the stage of the Luzerne Music Center, about to perform. Her name is Elizabeth, and she’s passionate about the violin. As she prepares to play, along with her fellow orchestral musicians, she has no idea that in just two years, she will be secretly gifted the 1720 Red Mendelssohn Stradivarius, “The Red Violin,” and will go on to tour the world as a virtuoso solo performer. But on this night, she’s experiencing the same thrill and camaraderie most young people do when they attend Luzerne Music Center’s summer camp.
“I remember finally feeling like I belonged,” recalls Elizabeth Pitcairn, acclaimed violinist and now also the CEO and artistic director of LMC. “For the first time, I was around other kids who cared about their instrument as much as I did.”
After her transformative experience in 1988, Pitcairn’s life continued to dovetail with Luzerne, culminating in a performance at LMC celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Red Violin in 2005. Once again, on Luzerne’s familiar Lodge Stage in front of an adoring crowd of 500 people, Pitcairn performed The Red Violin Chaconne by legendary composer and Luzerne guest instructor John Corigliano, backed by an orchestra of Luzerne campers.
“It was a magical moment,” says Pitcairn. “One that changed my life.”
These moments of magic and transformation are part of why Luzerne Music Center, located in the scenic Adirondack Mountains on the shores of Lake Luzerne, has become a world-renowned classical music sleepaway camp. Luzerne Music Center was founded as a passion project in 1980 by Philadelphia Orchestra cellist Bert Phillips and Steinway pianist Toby Blumenthal. For children ages 9 to 18 who are passionate about music, LMC provides the type of expert instruction they crave in a summer camp environment. The goal, says Pitcairn, remains the same today as it was 40 years ago: to steward the next generation of classical musicians and foster a continued fascination in classical music audiences.
Pianist William Lauricella is part of this next generation. At LMC in 2019, William had the type of Luzerne experience parents of talented musicians want for their children. Even though it was his first time at a sleepaway camp, William made fast friends with his bunkmate, Jorge, who is from Spain, and performed a concert with him during the session. William is a pianist first, but he is also a percussionist, and by taking advantage of LMC’s courses in a wide range of subjects like voice, conducting and music theory, William was able to use his elective time that summer to branch out into musical composition. Not only did he win the concerto competition on piano, William was honored when the composition he wrote at camp was performed by the entire LMC orchestra, an experience he credits as a real confidence booster.
“It was a great experience,” says William. “The camp has really helped me, not just as a musician, but as a person as well. I got to meet a lot of people I’ll keep in touch with a long time.”
As it was his first time at a sleepaway camp, William admits to being hesitant at first, but he says, “Once I got there, I was really comfortable. Everyone was really friendly, and all the counselors and teachers are really nice.”
The passionate and personal instruction—the student-to-instructor ratio is as low as 7 or 8 to 1—is something William’s mother, Lori, noticed right away. “The staff, the people and the diversity are what make Luzerne special,” says Lori. “Conductors and teachers and students from all over the world learning together in a nurturing and encouraging atmosphere. This is what we were looking for.”
Lori recounts how William’s composition instructor, Jake Walsh, wrote her and her husband, Peter, a personal email outlining further resources to help encourage William’s talent for composition. In December 2019, when William performed his concerto with percussion that he had written at camp, Walsh drove three hours each way to make sure he was in attendance, even going so far as to present William with a gift, a beautiful manuscript book in which William can write future compositions.
“The instructors at Luzerne go above and beyond,” says Lori. “I saw a renewed and excited attitude about his instrument after Will came home from his month at camp. I can’t recommend LMC enough to parents with a child who’s passionate about their instrument.”
Luzerne offers 4-week sessions for Senior Camp (15–18), and Junior Sessions (9–15) are offered in 2-week and 4-week intervals. Camp Director and clarinetist Emily Dobmeier notes that the structures of the 2-week and 4-week sessions are identical and that both inspire the same combination of encouraging instruction and outdoor recreation, but the shorter sessions provide the option of a more condensed time period for kids who may not want to be away from home for longer than two weeks.
While prospective Luzerne campers are required to audition in order to attend, both Dobmeier and Pitcairn stress that a child’s passion for the instrument is also strongly taken into account. Once accepted, children are placed with other campers of similar skill levels. Parents and children who are curious about what a typical day at LMC looks like can get an overview of life at LMC as well as answers to frequently asked questions. Updates to policies and procedures, with regards to COVID-19, will be periodically updated in the banner on their website.
The coming year is shaping up to be the best yet at LMC. Founder Bert Phillips’s beloved Philadelphia Orchestra continues to be deeply involved with life at Luzerne, as does the New York City Ballet Orchestra. But the 2021 season will be even more exciting, because a ten-year renovation plan of the camp’s facilities is being completed, and Luzerne will be unveiling its entirely renovated campus, which features brand new cabins for both the campers and the world-renowned faculty, as well as three new teaching villages with more than 17 studios for the 25 teachers in residence to offer private lessons and chamber music coaching daily, plus infrastructure updates. The final phase will include renovation of the dining hall and an administrative building that will house a welcome center, medical facilities and offices.
“Bert never had the budget or the funding to do what he truly wanted,” says Pitcairn. Since Phillips’s death in 2008, Dobmeier and Pitcairn have worked tirelessly to attract musical prodigies from all over the world while simultaneously creating and maintaining lasting partnerships that help keep LMC a one-of-a-kind haven of musical instruction and personal development.
“We want Luzerne to be a place that would make Bert proud,” says Pitcairn. Judging by the world-class talent it attracts, the dedication to stewardship and instruction by its world-renowned players and composers, the friendly staff, its beautiful Adirondack setting and the success and adoration of campers like William, it’s safe to say they are succeeding in carrying on Phillips’s legacy.
If you’d like to learn more about Luzerne Music Center and all the incredible experiences it has to offer your child, please visit luzernemusic.org.