Dr. Peter Boonshaft leads students in practice on Thursday afternoon as they prepare for the New England Music Festival, which will be held on Saturday at
Dr. Peter Boonshaft leads students in practice on Thursday afternoon as they prepare for the New England Music Festival, which will be held on Saturday at Mount Anthony Union High School in Bennington. (Holly Pelczynski/Bennington Banner/photos.benningtonbanner.com)

BENNINGTON -- This weekend, Mount Anthony Union High School will host about 450 of New England's best musicians for the 87th annual New England Music Festival.

Six students from MAU will be participating in the festival. Junior Nolan Downey will play tuba in the orchestra, sophomore Nadine Morgan will play trumpet in the concert band, and senior bass Nathaniel Durfee, senior bass David Hojnowski, junior alto Jessie Kuzmicki, and junior soprano Sarah Solari will perform in the chorus. The concert will be on Saturday March 22, at MAUHS, with the band and orchestra performing at 2 p.m. and the chorus performing at 4:30 p.m. Tickets are $12.

One of the biggest challenges for Lynn Sweet, the choral music teacher, and Marjorie Rooen, the band teacher, who organized the event on the MAU end, was finding places to stay for the visiting students. After months of asking local residents to open their homes, the final beds were found with less than seven days remaining before the event. "Many hosts are taking at least eight students," said Sweet, mentioning one person who invited 24 students to stay at her home. Sweet herself has students sleeping on her futon and on air mattresses.

As part of the audition process, each student must select a solo piece from the library on the New England Music Festival Association's website. Downey, for example, chose Malcolm Arnold's "Fantasy for Tuba Op.


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102." Hojnowski chose George Frideric Handel's 1741 oratorio "Messiah," and Morgan went with Johann Nepomuk Hummel's trumpet concerto. In total 15-20 MAU students auditioned, mostly for the chorus.

"I think the overnight festival experience is different," said Downey, who has participated in the festival each of the previous two years. It was held in Connecticut both years he participated. Last year, he said, he and Hojnowski had stayed in a house with four other students. "It was fun," agreed Hojnowski.

Dr. Peter Boonshaft, director of bands at Hofstra University will direct the band, Dr. Adam Glaser, conductor of the Julliard Pre-College Orchestra from New York, will direct the orchestra, and Dr. Pearl Shangkuan, professor of music at Calvin College in Michigan, will direct the chorus. Kathleen Bartkowski, who accompanies the University Chorale at Central Connecticut University, will accompany the chorus on the piano.

"I want to congratulate you," said Boonshaft, addressing the assembled band during their first rehearsal on Thursday afternoon, "This is a great honor." Boonshaft pointed to the history of the festival, which began in 1928, although it missed several years in the 1940's due to World War II. The first band director for the festival, according to Boonshaft, was none other than famed composer of American marches, John Philip Sousa.

The band will be performing Steven Reineke's "Celebration Fanfare," Frank Richelli's "Rest," and "Istvan" from Jan Van der Roost's "Sinfonia Hungarica." The orchestra will be performing "La Gazza Ladra Overture" by Gioacchino Rossini, "La damnation de Faust: Rakoczy March" by Hector Berlioz, and "Marche Slave, op. 31" by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The chorus will be performing Ludwig van Beethoven's "Hallelujah from Mount of Olives," Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Bogorodiste Devo," "La Danza" by Gioacchino Rossini, arranged by James Mulholland, "Ave Maris Stella" by Mark Thomas, "El Vito" by Mac Wilberg, and "John the Revelator" a traditional gospel piece arranged by Paul Caldwell and Sean Ivory.

Boonshaft, who holds a Doctorate of Musical Arts, currently directs the Hofstra University Symphony Band and Wind Ensemble, and has previously served on the faculty of Moravian College and the University of Hartford. He was the founder and director of the Pennsylvania Youth Honors Concert Band and the Connecticut Valley Youth Wind Ensemble, and has been the director of the Metropolitan Wind Symphony of Boston. He was the first ever recipient of the National Association for Music Education's George N. Parks Award for Excellence in Music Education, named for the University of Massachusetts band director who died unexpectedly in 2010. "I have the coolest job in the world," said Boonshaft, "I get to do this for a living. I've done nine of these festivals in a row now, and I love it more than anything in the world."

Glaser is the resident principal conductor of the Usdan Center for the Arts on Long Island, N.Y., and is known as one of the most promising composers on the music scene today. His work has been performed by over 20 major orchestras throughout the U.S. and Canada. A former marketing executive and consultant for Fortune 500 companies, Glaser founded Glaser Music Inc., which specializes in the creation of original music for film, televison, adverting, and other media.

Shangkuan is the chorus master of the Grammy-nominated Grand Rapids Symphony, and, prior to her position at Calvin College, taught at Rutgers University and at the Westminster Conservatory of Music at Rider University in New Jersey. She is a sought-after conductor and clinician, and has served on the National Board of the American Choral Directors Association, as the President of the Central Division from 2007-2009 and as the Michigan ACDA President from 2003-2005.

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB