Hot Spring Music Festival Aims to Spread Appreciation of Classical Music

Zoie Clift
The Hot Springs Music
Festival brings together hundreds of international musicians each year to the
. Starting next weekend (from May 30- June 12) over 200 international musicians will present 20
concerts and 250 free open rehearsals of symphony orchestra, chamber orchestra,
chamber music, oratorio and opera.

“From our very first day we
have been an International music festival that happens to be located here in
Hot Springs,” said festival director Laura Rosenberg.

Over 20,000 people attended
the festival last year, and millions have heard its concerts via broadcasts on
National Public Radio, Public Television and CD’s released on the Naxos label.  

Now in it’s 15th
year, the two-week festival has put the city on the nation’s classical music

The larger concept of the
event is to make sure classical music is and remains relevant to people today
by making the music easily accessible to a wide audience range.

Rosenberg said the most
misunderstood aspect of classical music is that you need special training or
education to appreciate it. To combat this, the organization tries to make the
festival welcoming to everyone. The festival is casual in atmosphere and events
take place in a variety of non-traditional venues such as historic buildings,
art galleries, and open-air spaces.

Also of note is that
rehearsals, as well as concerts, are all open to the public; a rare scenario in
the realm of festival and symphony orchestras. Rehearsals are also free to
attend. “If a child only has a 15 minute attention span it isn’t a problem to
come in and out at a rehearsal,” said Rosenberg. “It doesn’t have to be a
situation of feeling you have to make a commitment of an entire two hour
concert so it’s a delightful way to get a first taste of what we do.” 

The rehearsals also offer the
opportunity to observe the process of the music being built. “From the first
time the musicians read the music together to the final concert is a process
and that process is sometimes even more fascinating and revealing than the
concert result itself,” Rosenberg said. 

Another goal of the event is
to demystify the concert experience for attendees. “Our musicians don’t dress
in 19th century formal wear as they still do in a lot of symphony
orchestras,” said Rosenberg.  “We
are trying to evolve a new comfort level for our performers in dressing how the
audience dress.”  Rosenberg said
historically musicians started wearing formal white tie and tails or event
black tie for concerts because their audience was doing the same thing. “That’s
what people wore in the evening,” said Rosenberg.  “And now they don’t. Now it’s different. So we feel the
concert experience needs to reflect what’s going on in peoples real lives. Or
else it will literally become a museum piece. I think it’s important people be
able to realize the music still has meaning for them. And not be distracted in
that realization by the trappings of another era.”

The festival also creates
an interesting musical mix in that it pairs world-class mentor musicians with
pre-professional apprentices. The two groups play “side by side” in
various repertoires throughout the event. 

“I particularly love the
orchestral concerts because you hear more of our young musicians performing at
the same time than you do in the chamber or smaller format concerts,” said
Rosenberg. “The energy of these young musicians when they play side by side
with their mentors presents the core of our mission. You have the experience of
the older musicians tempered with the freshness and enthusiasm of the younger
ones. It is a marvelous dynamic that I think can’t be underestimated for it’s
impact on the musicians themselves and on the audience.”

The orchestra concerts are
performed in a 1952 fieldhouse originally built for sports. It has a curved
wooden roof ideal for acoustics. All the concerts performed at the festival are
unplugged and performed in natural acoustic environments.

People fly in from all over
the world to be part of the apprentice program and there is no geographic
preference given in the selection process. According to Rosenberg, about 3-5%
of the apprentices are from Arkansas or have a strong state connection, a strong
representation in a program filled with very competitive and high caliber
prospects.  “I think that speaks
well to the level of interest among young Arkansans for this field,” she said.
“We have a very loyal Arkansan audience as well and one that is growing. That
is in addition to the national and international cultural tourism audience we
enjoy from the people who travel here for the festival.”

Rosenberg and her husband
(Richard Rosenberg, who serves as artistic director and conductor) created and brought
the festival to the city after spending almost 20 years working all over the
world in various aspects of the genre. “We really felt from the beginning of
our careers that it was extremely important for this music to stay relevant to
people and we felt existing classical music organizations were not positioning
themselves to perhaps make that happen,” she said. “We decided we wanted to be
part of the solution.”

The pair spent 10 years
(while working other jobs) preparing a plan to create an organization to
address these issues.  They then
went out in search of a host community in which to grow the organization.  They traveled all over the country in
search of the right location (56 communities to be exact) and chose Hot Springs
out of 5 finalists.

“Hot Springs was a perfect
combination of a place that had cherished it’s historic downtown district which
we felt was extremely important for doing what we wanted to do,” said
Rosenberg. “It had a lot of those historic buildings left and could also comfortably
accommodate a large number of visitors at all socioeconomic levels…Equally
important was the fact that we fell in love with the city so it was a choice of
the heart as well as the head.”

Since coming to town, the
festival has become an integral part of the thriving local arts community, both
bringing people together and helping spread the appreciation of classical
music. “Music is communication,” said Rosenberg. “And any way that you can
communicate better either through music or about music I think is another way
of people being able to communicate with each other.”

A schedule of events and
further details on the festival are available at

or by calling 501-623-4763.

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