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Bethesda Summer Music Festival to showcase young D.C. talent

Wednesday - 6/19/2013, 8:41am  ET

The Bethesda Summer Music Festival begins Monday, June 24 and ends Sunday, July 7. All performances will be held at the Bethesda Presbyterian Church. (Courtesy of Mira Yang)
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Natalie Tomlin, special to

WASHINGTON - This summer marks the 11th season of the Bethesda Summer Music Festival, a two-week intensive workshop for young vocal professionals and high school and college students.

George Mason University Professor of voice and Artistic Director of the festival Mira Yang created the program in 2002 to share her love of music with students and the community. The Bethesda Summer Music Festival allows local artists to gain experience and learn from older vocalists without having to travel far from home to attend this type of program.

"They can learn behind the scenes what it really takes to put a production together," Yang says. "Some children, especially little ones, come through our program very shy, not willing to speak up. But once they go through this process they are the first ones to raise their hands."

After auditioning this past spring, Maddy Paulson, who will be attending the University of Maryland in the fall, is returning for a second summer at the festival. She will join about 60 others in the festival's two-week run.

"It's always wonderful to have the opportunity to perform because that's a lot of the fun of it, but also you get to interact with others who are so much more experienced than you," she says. "It was just a wonderful opportunity that I couldn't give up."

The program begins June 24 with master classes and other seminars taught by professionals from the Washington Opera and other acclaimed opera houses. They will conduct health and pedagogy seminars and teach the young vocalists how to master their improvisation skills.

After the first week of classes, the series of performances will begin with the Art Songs Recital on Saturday, June 29 at 5 p.m., followed by an Opera to Pop Concert at 7:30 p.m.

The singers will perform "Into the Woods" on Friday, July 5 at 7:30 p.m. and on Saturday, July 6 at 2:30 p.m. The festival will culminate with Mozart's "Le nozze di Figaro" on Saturday, July 6 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, July 7 at 7:30 p.m.

The four performances will be held at the Bethesda Presbyterian Church, 7611 Clarendon Rd., in Bethesda, Md.

According to Rev. Charles Booker, the festival's aesthetic value supports the church's purpose of healing, and this is why he continues to provide the space for the vocalists to perform each summer.

"A lot of times churches are hesitant to support music festivals or larger arts projects," Booker says. "And our vision is very much a place of healing one of those aspects of wholeness or healing is to see where the aesthetic and the ethic emerge and there's so much meaning that can come from the aesthetic being appreciated."

Read below to learn more about this year's performances and vocalists:

  1. Art Songs Recital, Saturday, June 29 at 5 p.m.

    High school students, college students and professionals in their 20s and 30s will perform about 20 solo art songs to kick off the two weeks of opera and musical theater productions.

    According to Yang, the Art Songs Recital is all about communicating a story to the audience while educating the young professionals.

    "One little art song has an entire life cycle in it. It takes four acts to have story-telling for an entire opera," she says.

    For Yang and her students, studying the composer's purpose, inspiration and reason for writing the arts song is essential for complete understanding of the work.

    "If we didn't study that, then it would be just noise. It will not be really singing Art songs are important because we are trying to educate young singers, so they must submit a synopsis of the song or else they cannot perform it," Yang says.

  2. Opera to Pop Concert, Saturday June 29 at 7:30 p.m.

    The Opera to Pop concert will be a sneak-preview of what is to come in "Le nozze di Figaro" and "Into the Woods."

    It will also include popular songs to please the audience and let them sing along, Yang says.

    Those who do not have major roles in "Le nozze di Figaro" and "Into the Woods" will have the opportunity to sing a solo or duet in the Opera to Pop concert.

    Yang says each participant will have an equal opportunity to perform and improve as a vocalist, regardless of his/her age or skill level. The goal is to give everyone the chance to sing a solo, she says.

  3. "Into the Woods," Friday, July 5 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, July 6 at 2:30 p.m.

    The most popular storybook characters come together in the classic fairytale "Into the Woods," a musical based on "Little Red Riding Hood," "Cinderella," "Jack and the Beanstalk," and "Rapunzel."

    Sierra Wynn, 16, who will be playing Jack from "Jack and the Beanstalk," chose to participate in this two-week program because she wanted to work with new people and build her repertoire as a singer.

    "I feel like with different teachers, you have more to learn and they teach you something that maybe somebody else missed or didn't find in your voice because there is always something to add," Wynn says.

    This will be her first time performing for the Bethesda Summer Music Festival.

    In addition to the new performers, there are always singers who return each year to Yang's program.

    Anya Newsome, 16, is returning for a second summer after her school, Duke Ellington School of the Arts, sent out an email about the opportunity.

    "I love performing so I love being in shows," Newsome says. "I prefer singing more than acting, but I think it's important to learn both. It'll be exciting to see my friends I made last year."

  4. "Le nozze di Figaro," Saturday, July 6 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, July 7 at 7:30 p.m.

    Mozart's "Le nozze di Figaro" is a comic tale of love, deception and forgiveness set in Seville in the late 18th century.

    Joseph Pleuss, a professional and pre-professional bass-baritone, will be playing Count Almaviva in the festival's final performance.

    Although it's his first year with the program, Pleuss has played the Count role before and is looking forward to performing it again.

    "I'm excited to do the role in a different framework," he says. "I've done it in the past so it's always exciting to do a different production. It was my first opera role so I'm excited to revisit it because it has a special place in my heart."

    Pleuss thinks there are definitely going to be challenges putting an opera together within a few weeks, but he is confident it will be a success.

    "Any time you can go through a role, it's a good thing," he says. "For the long term, I really see this as helping my audition skills and helping my resume so I can get a young artists program at one of the houses for maybe a year and then move up to more of the in-stage opportunities."

    Yang assigned roles to all 60 singers who auditioned this year, but not everyone got exactly what they wanted.

    She tells the vocalists they can use the assigned role, no matter how major or minor, to get one step closer to their dream role.

    "Your dream can be one thing but goals are another," Yang says. "Goals can be immediate, what you can achieve this summer. Sometimes we mix that up and get disappointed. It is really a step-by-step process."

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