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Innsbrook provides rustic homes for classical concerts and students

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 7, 2011 - The 2011 Innsbrook Music Festival concert series kicks off at 8 p.m. Friday, June 10, and, as always, this year's musical lineup is full of nationally and internationally celebrated musicians.

Innsbrook is a resort community with thousands of acres of untouched forest and hills and nearly 100 lakes spattered with houses, chateaus and A-frame cabins.

This year's festival is focused on "the human story," and is set to begin with "Stories from Prague," a concert highlighted by Dvorak's Piano Quartet No. 2 in E-flat major, Op. 87 and Janacek's Sonata for Violin and Piano.

"Every night is a different theme," said Grace Fong, a pianist who performs and teaches at the institute, "which makes it more exciting for the audience."

The festival held at Innsbrook, about 45 minutes west of St. Louis, holds musical events during the daytime hours as well as evening programs, and offers audiences a unique musical experience.

"It's not your typical classical music audience," Fong said. "You don't have to wear a suit and tie. Some have wine and other snacks. It's very relaxed, which is why people come back every year."

Ron James, executive director of the Innsbrook Institute, agrees.

"You've been to the symphony and heard beautiful music, but it's in a huge hall with 100 people on stage," James said. "When you sit four rows away with four people on stage, it's mind boggling."

'Amazingly Intimate'

Before and after the performances, audiences can talk with the musicians, creating connections that are normally lost in conventional concert environments.

"It's an amazingly intimate experience," James said. "We want them to see music in a way they've never seen before."

Some of the performances are held outdoors to highlight the resort's abundant preservation of natural forest, as well as local historical landmarks such as the Innsbrook Log Cabin.

On June 11, the "Tales of Brother v. Brother" concert will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War outside the restored Antebellum-era cabin.

"To see [the musicians] and be surrounded by this natural beauty - hills, lakes, almost 8,000 acres - it's such an incredible thing to happen," James said.

Other concerts include "The Language of Jazz" featuring the local Erin Bode Group, as well as "Vessels of Song," which combines Hebrew Klemzer music with Argentinean tango. For a complete schedule, check out www.innsbrookinstitute.org/concertschedule.

David Halen, St. Louis Symphony Concertmaster and artistic director of the institute since its conception, described the festival as combining nature with "the best Western music known to man" and "the most exciting and exhilarating performers in the United States."

"It's really about having a great time and expanding your horizons," Halen said.

Being so close to the St. Louis area, the festival allows audiences to plan a one-day getaway to see a concert or two. For those looking for a weekend vacation, or for staying for the whole festival, condominiums and chateaus are available.

Growth In 10 Days

Also performing at the festival are soloists from the Innsbrook Institute Academy and Professional Flute Seminar students. Proceeds from the concerts benefit the Innsbrook Institute Music Academy, which brings young musicians from the area and around the country to the resort to study with world-renowned musicians and teachers.

This is Fong's third year being involved with the Innsbrook Institute. The pianist is one of the many world-renowned musicians who come from across the country to work with the young musicians who attend the academy.

"It's very rewarding," Fong said. "I get to see students improve and grow. When I teach at my university, it's over a long time, but at something like Innsbrook you see them grow in 10 days."

Emma Kinsley, who attended the Institute in 2005 and 2010, agrees that the Institute gives music students a unique opportunity.

"It's really great because you get intensive chamber coaching," said Kinsley, who just graduated from Kirkwood High School. "You also work with world renowned musicians that you can't necessarily work with at other camps."

The institute allows music students to form unique bonds with professional mentors that can become much more than a normal student/teacher relationship. Kinsley's favorite memory from her time at Innsbrook was during a nightly performance by one of the musicians who, while going through the crowd on a rolling chair, played Transylvanian folk music on the violin.

The Innsbrook Institute, founded by Halen and Innsbrook Corporation chairman Ed Boyce, has been adopted by the Innsbrook community, James said. "They put up the students, write checks, volunteer to be ushers," James said. "They've made cookies for all the students."

During their stay at Innsbrook, students stay with host families who, according to Halen, become just as much personal mentors as their teachers become musical mentors.

James agrees, saying the students "work with teachers who give them an idea of what they can become. To open up their horizons and show them what the landscape looks like."

"It's amazing what can happen when a community comes together and the lives it can change," he said.

Ryan Schuessler, a student at the University of Missouri, is a Beacon intern.