Top string program for young musicians moves to U-M

The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD), in Ann Arbor, Michigan, will be the new home of Center Stage Strings (CSS), one of the country’s leading summer training programs for young string musicians, ages 12 to 24. Danielle Belen, U-M associate professor of violin who founded the summer camp in Three Rivers, Calif. in 2010, will continue as its artistic director.

Beginning in summer 2016, CSS will join the ranks of SMTD’s MPulse Summer Performing Arts Institutes, which offer high school students the opportunity to train with distinguished U-M faculty, alumni, and other professionals in the areas of music performance, music technology, musical theatre, theatre, and dance. The CSS program, spanning a full four weeks, will be the longest of the MPulse Institutes and will welcome competitive college students as well.

Belen hopes that CSS in Michigan will fill a void created by the closing of the esteemed summer institute Encore School for Strings, sponsored by the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM), which was founded and directed by former CIM president David Cerone. The program was phased out after his retirement in 2008. Belen is an alumna of Encore and found inspiration in that model, which is focused on solo and chamber music.

“Center Stage Strings focuses on the individual,” said Belen. “A summer of study can be life changing for a teenage student. In most cases, students leave feeling like they have accomplished more in several intensive weeks than they have in an entire school year.”

Belen, already a seasoned pedagogue in her early 30s, was a full-time faculty member at the Colburn School in Los Angeles before assuming her position at U-M in 2014. She was the winner of the 2008 Sphinx Competition and has appeared as a soloist with major symphonies across the U.S.  She is also a former student and teaching assistant of Robert Lipsett, an esteemed pedagogue based at The Colburn School. Now on the advisory board for CSS, Lipsett will give a master class this coming summer at CSS.

The move from the smaller retreat location in Three Rivers to the campus of the University of Michigan is a significant one for CSS, as students will now have access to professional-level practice rooms and performance halls to focus on their development as soloists and chamber musicians.

“We are thrilled to include CSS in our summer line-up of Youth & Adult Programs at the U-M School of Music Theatre & Dance,” said Sarah J. Rau, program manager of MPulse. “Since the closing of Encore, there has not been a premier summer program for strings. I have no doubt that under Danielle’s leadership, CSS at U-M will become the new summer destination for young string players.”

Joining Belen on the CSS faculty for its first summer at Michigan are Elbert Tsai, also an alum of Encore and a former student of Robert Lipsett; Caroline Coade, SMTD lecturer of viola and acting assistant principal violist of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra; and Wei Yu, newly appointed principal cellist of the Detroit Symphony.

In addition, CSS will bring in a host of world-class teachers and performing artists for master classes and chamber ensemble coaching. Piano collaboration, a key ingredient in the development of string players, will also figure prominently, with a team of pianists led by Jennie Jung, a renowned collaborative pianist who has performed in North America, Asia, Africa, and Europe, and has been on staff at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria; Aspen Summer Music Festival; and the Banff Centre for the Arts.

SMTD’s dean, Aaron Dworkin, was instrumental in establishing CSS at Michigan. As founder of the Sphinx Organization, Dworkin has long been committed to providing exceptional string training programs for young people, and is eager for SMTD to be home to the country’s top summer string program for pre-college and college-age musicians.

“With its central location, beautiful campus, and first rate faculty, SMTD is positioned to become a key player in developing the next generation of string players,” said Dworkin. “In combining CSS with our fantastic MPulse program, we are creating an expanded center of summer study for extraordinary students from across the county, and even internationally.”