Violin Student Montserrat Siles Writes from the Tanglewood Music Center

Montserrat Siles

Montserrat Siles

Class of 2020 B.M., Strings

Violin student Montserrat Siles (B.M. '20) spent the summer of 2018 as a fellow with the Tanglewood Music Center (TMC), the premier summer academy for emerging musicians. As a TMC fellow, Siles performed with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and served as the assistant concertmaster for the Tanglewood on Parade concert, one of the biggest events of the Tanglewood season.  

The Tanglewood Music Center Fellowship (TMC) is a world-renowned, eight-week program for young professionals in classical music, located in the Berkshire Hills in western Massachusetts. This annual summer program immerses musicians in chamber and orchestral music and provides master classes and professional advice on building successful careers.

I learned about TMC from my current violin teacher, Markus Placci, when I came to the Conservatory two years ago, but got the courage to apply when a colleague from the Conservatory, Nathaniel Taylor (P.S.C. '18, cello), who has been a TMC fellow for the last two summers, attended last year. Everything he said about his experience described what I had hoped to hear, and more. Many people audition every year, and I am very blessed to have been accepted this summer.

The program always starts with the String Quartet Seminar, which lasts about ten days, and is the most intense part of the festival. The daily schedule consisted of two 90-minute coachings, followed by a two-hour rehearsal, and individual practice. We also had three evening master classes in which all groups played for each other. My group was coached by Joseph Lin, current first violinist of the Juilliard String Quartet (JSQ), and Samuel Rhodes, former violist of the JSQ. Their guidance and inspiration led our group to gain a lot of confidence and become much more open minded, resulting in a successful and fulfilling performance in Seiji Ozawa Hall.

Following the seminar, we started preparing for our first concert as the TMC Orchestra. We normally get a week to prepare for every concert, which can be pretty scary. I had never prepared for an orchestra concert in such a short period of time, so I have to admit that having Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben in the program—a very long and musically demanding piece—looked like a big challenge. Of course, this was all before knowing how amazing the orchestra would sound.

We were very privileged to have Andris Nelson, conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO), conduct our first concert. I have watched him with the BSO many times but never thought I would see him conduct up close, let alone play under his baton. The first rehearsal with him was very satisfying and productive. I was so impressed by how he didn’t need to use many words because his conducting perfectly demonstrated what he wanted from us. He made conducting Ein Heldenleben look like the easiest thing ever. He was always very kind to everyone and made lots of jokes to cheer people up. It completely made me forget about how nervous I was.

This past Monday, we had the honor of playing Brahms’s Symphony No. 4 with Herbert Blomstedt, honorary conductor of several orchestras around the world, and a living legend. I was sitting in the first stand of the second violins section for this program, and I am sure my admiration was quite obvious when he first walked on stage, even though I was trying to look very professional and not distracted by the fact that Maestro Blomstedt was right in front of me.

Orchestra is a priority in this program, and it takes up most of our time now that String Quartet Seminar is over. However, there are various extracurricular activities available to us throughout the summer. Fellows can enjoy free BSO concerts, explore the Berkshires, or spend their free time at Stockbridge Bowl, better known as the BSO Beach, which is on Lake Mahkeenac.

Additionally, there have been opportunities like the mock auditions, where fellows present orchestral excerpts in the manner of a professional audition, to get a chance to play with the BSO in one of the summer concerts and get coached by BSO members. They also bring guest artists to give master classes—just a few days ago Yo-Yo Ma was brought in for a chamber master class that my quintet had the honor of being chosen for, and today all the violinists sat in a master class given by Pamela Frank.

The Festival of Contemporary Music is getting close, and so is Tanglewood on Parade, a combined performance with members of the BSO in which I am serving as assistant concertmaster, alongside Conservatory alumnus Weiqiao Wu (G.P.D. '17, violin), who will be the concertmaster for the performance.

The more time I spend here, the more fascinated and inspired I become, and it is all thanks to the kindness of my sponsor here at Tanglewood. I already feel like I have met so many people, and accomplished so many things, that it is hard to believe I have only been here for a few weeks. There are still many exciting experiences to come, and I am sure I won’t want to leave at the end of the summer.