OBU Music Students Dazzle Tanglewood Personnel

May 8, 2001

It's easy for musicians to say that Tanglewood Music Center is the most well respected, well-known summer music program in the United States.

It's not as easy to say that you've been accepted to the prestigious organization.

Two of OBU's music students can say just that, despite the limited spots available and the thousands of students who are not accepted each year.

Junior Caleb Harris was one of only six vocal pianists chosen from worldwide auditions, and senior tenor Randy Umstead was one of only 17 singers to earn a coveted opera role.

The Tanglewood Music Center's 2001 Opera Program will feature a fully staged production of Ravel's "L'Heure Espanol," conducted by Seiji Ozawa, longtime conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The program also includes a performance of "L'Enfant et les Sortileges," conducted by Robert Spano, music director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic.

Umstead will sing the only tenor role in "L'Enfant et les Sortileges," and Harris will accompany one fully staged opera and several partially staged performances.

Founded in 1940 by former Boston Symphony Orchestra musical director Serge Koussevitzky, the Tanglewood Music Center is a musical think-tank of 150 top students and faculty from around the world.

Located in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts, it is the summer home of the Boston Orchestra, and home to the Boston Pops' free outdoor concerts.

Both Harris and Umstead grew up knowing the reputation of Tanglewood and listening to musicians who had attended or worked there. New York City baritone Stephen Salters' performance during OBU's Spring 2000 guest artist concert series whetted their appetite for the Tanglewood experience.

Winner of the Queen Elisabeth International Competition of Singing and also a Tanglewood alum, Salters recommended the program to Harris after hearing him accompany a master class. Later that year, Salters invited Umstead to New York City to train with him for a week. He encouraged the up-and-coming musician to audition for the program.

Travelling to one of seven worldwide audition sites, the students auditioned at Rice University in Houston, Texas, on Nov. 29.

In early December, Harris received a phone call congratulating him on his acceptance to the program. Umstead's call came a few weeks later with the release of the lead vocalists' names.

"I had a good idea that the audition had gone well," Harris said. "The judges spoke as if they really wanted me and were interested in me. But the main thing I was concerned about was being the youngest person. I didn't know if that would be a factor in their decision.

"The judges were impressed that here was a university they had not heard of, but here were musicians that they respected."

Students of the music center receive fellowships covering the full cost of tuition, room, and meals.

"The chances of this happening are so small," said Dr. Paul Hammond, dean of OBU's College of Fine Arts. "It's a real feather in our cap. It says a lot about the initiative and motivation of our students.

"I was very excited for them, first of all, and for OBU," he said. "It puts our name in front of a very different audience."

The Warren M. Angell College of Fine Arts' reputation was enhanced in front of other prestigious audiences this past summer when students were accepted to Interlochen Arts Camp and Aspen Music Festival.

OBU junior Michelle Thompson was a vocalist in the Colorado summer program and Harris was a staff member at Interlochen, accompanying high school student vocalists.

At the Michigan camp, he served in a professional role, with no mentor assigned to train him. At Tanglewood, he hopes to be more of a student.

The young pianist is eager to work with Peter Serkin and Emanuel Ax, professional musicians he has followed and admired since he was young.

"The thing that's exciting to me is that I'll be playing with my peers, and the fact that I'll be accompanying people I've listened to for years," Harris said. "It's exciting too, just because of the name that Tanglewood has in the world."