The Core Programs of Study at Music Academy of the West

The Core Programs of Study at Music Academy of the West


For more than six decades, Music Academy of the West has trained some of the world’s best musicians through its intensive courses of study that include private lessons, masterclasses, and opportunities for public performance. Acceptance into the program requires a demanding audition encompassing several different pieces of various styles. At present, Music Academy of the West offers the following five core programs of study.

The Solo Piano Program

This program emphasizes solo piano performances and challenges participants to build an impressive repertoire of concerto and chamber music written for the piano. Under the direction of Jerome Lowenthal, students also study a wide range of other interpretative and stylistic pieces to gain exposure to the full range of solo piano compositions. Over the course of the program, pianists receive one-hour individual lessons on a weekly basis. To encourage versatility, they are also assigned to at least one ensemble that plays pieces designed for three or more instruments. In addition, pianists are encouraged to study a particular concerto in preparation for the concerto competition, which is open to all solo piano program participants. A panel of judges chooses at least three winners during this event and these pianists gain the opportunity to play alongside the Academy Festival Orchestra.

Solo pianists also have the chance to play for the public during the weekly Picnic Concerts on Friday evenings, as well as during weekly community concerts that take place in downtown Santa Barbara. All solo pianists can also participate in PianoFest, an annual local celebration of the instrument.

The Collaborative Piano Program

Students interested in the full range of piano repertoire outside of solo performances can work with Jonathan Feldman to perfect their technical and professional skills. The small, advanced program accepts a maximum of eight participants who focus on techniques for partnering with other musicians and explore the pianistic concerns of musical collaborations. Students study duos, character pieces, sonatas, and orchestral reductions. These individuals also typically compete in the Music Academy of the West’s concerto competition.

In addition to one-on-one training and masterclasses, collaborative pianists work frequently with other instrumental faculty at the school to learn about professional collaboration. Students also have the chance to address practical concerns, from repertoires and resumes to stage decorum. Throughout the program, these students cover keyboard parts in orchestral concerts and have other opportunities for public performance.

The Vocal Piano Program

A part of the Music Academy of the West’s voice program, the vocal piano program offers advanced pianists the opportunity to explore operatic repertoire and gain familiarity with the professional responsibilities of piano accompanists. The six students chosen for this program all have access to a private studio at the Cate School to practice and prepare for the Marilyn Horne Song Competition, a prestigious contest that remains one of the most popular events at the school each summer. The competition allows singers and accompanying pianists to team together to develop a short program that displays excellence across a repertoire. Musicians in the competition are also judged on their ability to interact with the audience and draw them into the performance. The two winners chosen in the competition will give subsequent performances in Santa Barbara, Dallas, and New York City.

The Voice Program

Vocalists who show promise for careers in music can expand their knowledge of musical repertoire while working on diction, style, interpretation, and presentation in the voice program at the Music Academy of the West. Fewer than two dozen students gain entry to the program each year to work with Marilyn Horne, an award-winning mezzo-soprano. Before the start of the program, participants receive opera and scene assignments to memorize for festival performances. Vocalists are held to strict standards and may be dismissed from the program for failing to memorize the songs or for not showing adequate progress.

At the end of each summer, the Academy’s Voice Fellows put on a fully staged production of an opera at Santa Barbara’s Granada Theatre, which seats 1,600 people, as part of the annual Summer Festival. This past year, students performed Rossini’s Cinderella. In addition to this performance, each student participates in two semi-staged opera scenes accompanied by piano. Vocalists receive private lessons and also participate in the private lessons of the Vocal Piano Fellows. Regular studio classes provide another formal setting for vocalists to train alongside vocal pianists. If necessary, vocalists also receive training in German, Italian, and French diction.

The Strings, Winds, Brass and Percussion Program

Orchestral performers attend weekly private lessons and make up the Academy Festival Orchestra, which performs each year during the Summer Festival under the direction of acclaimed guest conductors. Students also participate in smaller ensembles and have the opportunity to play in the Academy Opera Orchestra. Instrumentalists are also welcome to participate in the concerto competition.

Violinists can participate in the String Leadership Program under Glenn Dicterow. This program provides concertmaster training and prepares violinists to take on leadership positions within an orchestra. Recently, the Academy also reintroduced the String Quartet Seminar, which allows four quartets, each composed of two violinists, a cellist, and a violist, to undergo intensive training that culminates in a public performance.

In a unique opportunity, all instrumentalists are also able to audition for the New York Philharmonic Global Academy, an intensive 10-day program that includes a variety of professional development opportunities.