Seventy five years ago, a professional choral singer named Doris Gertrude Hodgkins brought her new husband, the renowned French conductor Pierre Monteux, home to her native Maine.
A year later, amid a world-wide war, the couple established a peaceful haven for the serious study of music in the piney woods and rocky shores of Hancock.
The Pierre Monteux School outlived that war and, eventually, its founders, and has in its lengthy history, become a preeminent training ground for conductors and orchestral musicians.
The Monteux, School, which also stages an annual Summer Music Festival, has helped produce such luminaries as André Previn, Sir Neville Marriner, David Zinman, Erich Kunzel, Hugh Wolff, Werner Torkanowsky and many other famed maestros who have conducted the world’s symphony orchestras.
Every July aspiring young conductors and talented musicians from around the globe pack up their batons and instruments and make the journey to this small Maine coastal town to hone their craft with masters in their fields. As part of their month-long intensive, they perform a public concert series.
Masters such as three-time guest artist and violinist Jeff Thayer.
Thayer’s resume begins in Pennsylvania, at the age of 3, when he began his violin studies with his mother. Since then his virtuosity has led to a soloist career with prestigious orchestras throughout the United States, Europe and Asia and now finds him in the first chair as concert master of the San Diego Symphony. Apparently, his career is well known to the Monteux School’s Music Director Michael Jinbo, who first met the young prodigy at a music competition when Thayer was in grade school.
“I recall it being a big honor meeting Michael,” Thayer recalled in a phone interview from San Diego. “Part of the award was being invited to play with a symphony for the first time.”
It was the first of many times Thayer won a place in the string section of some symphony orchestra. Some 20 years later, when Michael Jinbo invited the accomplished violinist to be a guest artist, Thayer said he didn’t have to think about it for too long.
“What more could you ask for,” he said. “A summer in —what do you folks call it? uh, Downeast — working with some extraordinarily talented young conductors and musicians all tucked away in the Maine woods.”
He described the dynamic at the school as being both intense and relaxing.
“The students work very hard on a very impressive and extensive repertoire” he said, “but they are also encouraged to socialize and have fun.”
He said this combination, not to mention the salty sea air, has already produced an illustrious list of alumni and continues that legacy every year.
A large part of the pleasure coming back these past three years for Thayer is connecting with the extraordinary young talents who find their way to Downeast Maine.
Nor is not lost on him that the Monteux School is once again a bright bubble of creativity in a troubled world.
“It often happens,” he said, “that in the darkest of times the light of our creativity shines the brightest.”
In its beginning the Monteux School could rightly be described as a self-contained bubble —much like the ubiquitous Maine summer camps that have little to do with the surrounding community. But gradually the music leaked out when the school began to open their concert doors to the public.
Today the Pierre Monteux School hosts a full music festival, with students performing six symphonic concerts, including a pops concert, at the school’s intimate Forest Studio; five chamber concerts and a children’s concert.
This year’s concert series kicked off with “Mainely Chamber Music” at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 28, and runs through Sunday, July 30. Ticket prices range from $12 to $22 per adult. The children’s concert is free. For a full schedule, visit www.monteuxschool.org.
If the spirits of Maestro Pierre and his wife, Doris, occasionally pass by on the salty, pine-scented winds of Hancock, surely, they would be pleased to hear the strains of Mozart, Stravinsky, Bartok and other classic composers still wafting from the school they started. And, perhaps, they’d be even more pleased to hear the tap of a baton on a stand, the music stop and a young voice say something like, “that viola entrance at the fifth bar was a little ragged; it needs to be crisper. Let’s start again from the top.”