On air: The Interlochen Collection

  • Musicians from the World Youth Symphony Orchestra before their July 2, 2017 concert. Their performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 “Italian” is included in an episode of The Interlochen Collection.

Stored in the archives of Interlochen Center for the Arts are roughly nine decades of analog audio recordings; with each acetate transcription disc, vinyl LP, open-reel tape, and Digital Audio Tape (DAT) containing historical Interlochen concerts, recitals, performances, lectures, and presentations.

“There was a real threat of losing these historic recordings due to deterioration and damage to the physical media,” said Interlochen Public Radio Classical Music Host Dr. Amanda Sewell.

Thanks to thousands of hours of work and generous support from listeners, The Association for Recorded Sound Collections, and the Hamer D. and Phyllis C. Shafer Foundation, a large swath of these recordings were saved for posterity in digital format.

For Sewell, this ongoing project piqued her interest both as a classical music host and as a trained musicologist.

Sewell received her Ph.D in Musicology from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music and often lectures on various scholarly topics and genres within musical history. Her work both on air and behind-the-scenes is aided by her training as it informs her research and programming.

“I’m a music historian. I want to tell stories. I want to tell people’s stories. I want to tell institutions’ stories. I love being able to put things into context for people,” Sewell said.

With access to the archives, an idea was born, and Sewell set out to utilize these recordings on air at Classical IPR.

The Sunday following the close of the 2018 Interlochen Arts Camp season, Sewell premiered her brand-new series—The Interlochen Collection—which spotlights just some of the great music digitized by her peers.

“Our very first episode was all recordings from the first-ever semester of Interlochen Arts Academy,” Sewell said. “To think about what that meant—what a monumental thing that was. These 16-year-olds were playing Mendelssohn in the woods, and here we are 60 years later still listening. To them it may have been just a performance, but it was the start of something new.”

Nearly every Sunday evening since, The Interlochen Collection has been featured over the airwaves of Classical IPR. Each episode is programmed thematically by composer, genre, season, alumni, or subject matter.

One such episode featured hornist, composer, and orchestrator Brad Warnaar (IAA 65-68, IAC/NMC 65), and included historical recordings from his time as an Interlochen student as well as professional recordings made in the years since.

“We aired his performance of Mozart’s Horn Concerto No. 4 from the 1967 Arts Academy concerto competition. We were also able to play his daughter Clara’s (IAA 06-09, IAC 02-06) performance from when she won the competition 41 years later,” Sewell said. “The legacy of that is very cool.”

Even with much of the audio digitized, these performances are often far from being ready to air. “The Archives team gets grants to digitize by medium. Each file contains a performance as-is, without any editing,” Sewell said.

Working alongside IPR intern and producer Monica Yost, Sewell matches the digital archival files with event programs to determine the repertoire and copyright status, and begins the process of editing down the file by piece.

“Some of the programs haven’t been digitized so we have to search the archives for physical copies,” Sewell said. “Interlochen owns any recording, but copyright has two dimensions: recorded sound and the piece being recorded. We can only broadcast public domain pieces without having to pay for rights. If the piece is too new, we can only broadcast it if Interlochen owns the score and all the parts.”

Without fully wading into the quagmire of copyright law, Sewell offered an example of one such performance where she deemed it necessary to seek out the broadcast rights for a recording.

For their “Music from the United States” episode, Sewell and Yost discovered a November 1989 Interlochen Arts Academy Orchestra performance of Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait” conducted by Byron Hanson (IAC/NMC 58-59) and narrated by longtime IPR host Edward Catton.

“The performance was really special, but you can’t actually buy the score—it’s only available for rental. So we paid a substantial fee to Copland’s publisher for a year of broadcast rights,” Sewell said.

In the end, the decision to include or omit pieces from any episode is often one of the most crucial choices made by Sewell and Yost. It isn’t just about vetting and airing the most technically perfect performance, but about sharing the ones that tell the best story about the young musicians featured in each episode.

“I have to remind myself that these are high school students playing. This is not the New York Philharmonic. The musicians on these recordings are just like the ones that I eat lunch around every day. Their heads are full of many things in addition to music,” Sewell said with a laugh. “It might not be perfect. That’s part of it being a historical document. It adds to the charm.”

The first season of The Interlochen Collection can be streamed on demand online or via the Interlochen Public Radio mobile app (iOS or Android). A second season is currently in the works, and has a tentative premiere date of Aug 11, 2019.

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