The Music Academy of the West’s sold-out Opening Night Gala was indeed an evening to remember for 300 guests at a celebration of the 2016 Summer School and Festival and dedication of the Marilyn Horne Main House located on Miraflores, the organization’s 10-acre garden estate.
“We are celebrating two momentous events tonight — the opening of the Music Academy 2016 Summer School Festival, and the academy is opening a renovated building with a new name of it,” president and CEO Scott Reed told Noozhawk. “Of course, that name being the incomparable Marilyn Horne.”
A jovial crowd formed near a giant purple curtain that concealed the historic main house, where guests mingled and indulged on delicious appetizers and spirits waiting in gleeful anticipation for a special concert to commence in Hahn Hall.
At the folds of sunset, the elated group was ushered into the dimly lit, classic wood panel theater and settled in for the 18-part program. The spellbinding recital was performed by esteemed Metropolitan Opera singers Simone Osborne, Ben Bliss, Quinn Kelsey and Isabel Leonard and accompanied by pianists Speranza Scappucci, Nino Sanikidze and Warren Jones, who each took turns playing the grand piano on center stage.
The performers showcased their talents with an array of classical and modern solos and duets in honor of Horne, whose passion for opera and classical music was nourished and refined as a student at the academy in 1953. She studied and trained with one of the academy’s founders, Lotte Lehmann, and pianist and instructor Gwendolyn Kodofsky.
Horne returned to the academy in 1995 as an opera star, and, since 1997, she has graciously devoted her life to teaching and mentoring young singers to find their own voice and successful careers.
Thus, it seemed fitting that most of the musicians and singers on stage during the hourlong tribute were academy alumni, facility artists and former students of Horne.
Under the artistic direction of Matthew Epstein, the artists performed some of her signature and favorite songs and arias, including the time-honored melody by Leonard Bernstein, “Somewhere” from West Side Story. The piece was sung by soprano Leonard, whose lyrical range and vulnerability seemed to stretch far beyond the interior of the building — a whisper that evolved to a shout of inspiration for the future of musical culture and spirit of the academy.
The universal appeal of telling stories through music and song was repeated, admired and rejoiced throughout the evening as patrons admired and looked on in rapt appreciation.
The encore of the evening featured the four singers on stage performing a soul-stirring four-part harmony of Stephen Foster’s “Beautiful Dreamer.” Horne, who sat in the front row, was visibly moved to tears.
After the concert, Horne was invited on stage as the audience gave her a standing ovation. She declared that the recital was one of the greatest concerts she had ever heard in her life.
“To think that I had the absolute chutzpah that I could teach these people anything. They were all my students, and it’s been incredible to see them shine — it’s unbelievable,” Horne told Noozhawk. “All this glorious music that I heard tonight was so moving, and I couldn’t help but think of the people that I sang with over the years that are gone. I’m old now, so there are so many memories, so many. I wish that I had a tape recorder in my brain just taking it all in because it was just gorgeous.”
The evening’s festivities continued as guests dined under the stars flanked by the purple hue of lighting reflecting from the oak trees. The atmosphere was coupled with the romantic amber glow from the windows of the main house as guests enjoyed scrumptious cuisine prepared by Season’s Catering with beautiful floral arrangements designed by Rose Story Farms.
During a brief speech, Reed praised the generosity of Shirley and Seymour Lehr, whose matching grant of $3 million contributed to the completion of the renovations of the main house.
Reed also thanked donors, board members and staff for all of their efforts in making the evening a success, proclaiming that the Marilyn Horne Main House will carry on the history, talent, prestige and notoriety of the academy for another 100 years.
“Marilyn has the most generous heart and is the most generous artist, and if all musicians and artists could have the humility, artistry and passion that she has, we would be such a better world,” Reed said. “We are so lucky to have one person who has it all.”
To commemorate the historic occasion, Horne joined Reed for the ceremonial smashing of a bottle of champagne to christen the building.
Horne expressed her gratitude to the academy and the community for the prestigious honor.
“This is just beyond expectations, and I’m just so thrilled about it,” Horne said. “I have such karma in this place because I went to school here when I was 19 years old, and now I’m here teaching and having the time of my life.”
Founded in 1947, the Music Academy is a full scholarship training program for the world’s most talented classical musicians. All proceeds benefited the full-scholarship program, where 140 fellows from across the country and around the world study with world-class faculty and guest artists in Santa Barbara during the eight-week Summer School and Festival.
The Opening Night Gala marked the milestones reached through the academy’s ongoing capital campaign that funded the renovation and renaming of the Marilyn Horne Main House, design and construction of the new Hind Hall Teaching Studio Building, an instrument fund including 11 Steinway pianos, and a campus-maintenance endowment.
The 9,390-square-foot Main House had not been renovated since 1915, although some cosmetic updates were made in 1951 when the campus was readied to be used by the academy. Major renovations included making the building seismically sound, reflowing the administration offices, updating plumbing from 1915, adding four practice studios to the lower level, restoring the back patio and more — allowing the structure to remain sound and practical for generations to come.
Alumni of the Music Academy include prominent solo artists and members of major ensembles, opera companies, chamber and symphony orchestras, and university and conservatory faculties.
The Music Academy presents more than 200 public events annually with performances by fellows, visiting artists and faculty, who display a variety of instrumental and vocal talents as showcased at the signature gala.
Jeremy Denk will be in recital this Saturday, June 18, in Hahn Hall. Festivities will continue at The Granada Theatre with an “Afternoon of a Faun” on June 25, “Rhapsody in Blue” on July 2-3, “Gilbert Conducts Beethoven” on July 16 and “The Bartered Bride” on July 29 and July 31.
— Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.