Stir it Up: Music Academy’s MARLI Offers Positive Vibrations

By Steven Libowitz   |   June 11, 2020

Back in January, 2020 was looking to be a pretty exciting year for the Music Academy of the West. Not only had the summer music institute respected around the world just hired Jamie Broumas, the former Director of Classical and New Music Programs at Washington’s famed Kennedy Center, for the newly created position of Chief Artistic Officer, but MAW had also received an all-time high in the number of young musicians applying to audition for the summer festival. Exactly 2,020 candidates, in fact, had vied for the 139 available fellowships, and the ones selected represent 23 different countries and almost half of the USA’s states, with just 26 returnees joining the 113 new faces.

Chief Artistic Officer Jamie Broumas helped shift MAW’s in-person summer session to MARLI: the Music Academy Remote Learning Institute

Then came COVID.

Instead of picnics amid the flowers and fig trees flourishing on the academy’s Miraflores campus cooled by ocean breezes followed by masterclasses and concerts in myriad halls both historic and new, everybody is sheltering at home, hoping to avoid contracting the coronavirus that has caused more than 100,000 deaths in the U.S. alone, and more than 400,000 deaths globally.

MAW’s staff had to pivot so fast they probably left multiple divots on the lush lawns and gardens adjoining Channel Drive. Suddenly more than 200 public events were canceled, and, what’s more, everything at all slated to be held onsite had to be somehow reconfigured, including training for the young fellows (who range in age from 18 to 34) – a training that many alumni have considered so rigorous and thoroughly wide-ranging that it stayed with them throughout their careers.

Given that there are, as yet, no online formats that allow for live musical collaboration, where MAW landed necessarily means a vastly different festival for 2020, with, obviously, no in-person events, but also no live streaming at all for the public to enjoy. In its place, however, is an opportunity for the fellows to not only still get some semblance of the program via remote private lessons and other musical adventures, but also the chance to get exposed to wildly innovative ideas about how to make music from their own homes.

Welcome to MARLI: the Music Academy Remote Learning Institute.

Beginning Monday, June 15, the 134 full-scholarship fellows (five dropped out) will participate in a four-week curriculum of private lessons and studio classes with their regular Music Academy faculty artists, while MARLI – true to MAW’s nature as an attractive site for the summer for top name professionals – has also engaged an impressive list of more than 45 experts and industry leaders to serve as guest artists and speakers in Innovation/Career-Building Seminars that take place every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday over the four weeks. The roster includes conductors Marin Alsop, soprano Julia Bullock, Spektral Quartet violist Doyle Armbrust (MAW ’01, ’03), flutist Claire Chase, arts activist Marc Bamuthi Joseph, London Symphony Orchestra managing director Kathryn McDowell, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Paul Moravec, Alliance Artist Management founder Rob Robbins, San Francisco Symphony music director Michael Tilson Thomas, and many others.

That’s all followed by a two-week Creative Extension offering competitions and audition opportunities with cash awards, including the Fast Pitch Awards (new project ideas), the new MARLI Digital Challenge (individual video projects), and the Keston MAX auditions with the London Symphony Orchestra.

The Academy’s faculty and administration are coordinating solo, collaborative, and large ensemble performance opportunities with plans for a multi-layered orchestral recording led by conductor Christian Reif, plus solo and layered-recording collaborative piano projects, and a showcase by the Vocal Institute and other instrument groups. MAW’s perennially popular Picnic Concerts are also going virtual and will largely consist of fellows-driven performance submissions as well as contributions from the faculty.

The Vocal Institute fellows will also enjoy coaching and acting workshops with Vocal Institute Creative Director James Darrah, vocal and vocal piano private lessons and special seminars, and much more, including participating in a collaborative performance of excerpts from Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel which was originally slated to be produced in full at the Granada in August.

On the technical front, each fellow has been sent a tech package, with iPad minis, microphones, headphones, lighting equipment and enhanced wi-fi hot spots so everyone could have equal access. “It’s real innovation that we’re bringing to the table,” explained Broumas. “When it became clear early on that if we were going to do it online, we wanted to do it right, and give every fellow the opportunity regardless of circumstance in terms of where they ended up when quarantine started. Some of the fellows may not have access to privacy, for example. We took all of that into consideration.”

Part of MARLI is to help the fellows learn how to use the equipment, Broumas said. “We want them to be able to take advantage of opportunities there are for recording and creating content with this technology, which is so important now for musicians even outside of the pandemic.”

Accordingly, each week of the four-week session will have a different focus: “Innovation, Ideation, and Entrepreneurial Mindset,” “Technology Skills,” “Skills to Advance Innovation,” and “What’s Next? Shaping the Future of Classical Music in a New Era.”

That seems like a pretty full summer. But how will you be able to see any of what’s going on or otherwise interact with the musicians and guests?

Easy. MAW will post a new video at 5 pm each weekday as part of Music Academy Concert Hall Online on its regular website (, while they’ve also set up a new blog called Resonance ( where the fellows will have the opportunity to produce written and spoken materials, while the blog will also have posts highlighting works performed via the Music Academy Concert Hall Online, faculty and fellow spotlights, updates on the progress of MARLI, and a series on the history of the Academy.

The blog began on June 1, while Music Academy Concert Hall Online gets underway on June 15 with a replay of the previous day’s Convocation by Keynote Speaker Beth Morrison, the so-called “opera disruptor” who will talk about innovation. Among the daily video uploads will be the signature events including a virtual Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man in a layered recording from the brass fellows, an evening with the Vocal Institute, a performance of Haydn’s London Symphony conducted by Christian Reif, recitals by members of the London Symphony Orchestra, plus a virtual Picnic Concert, small performances, master classes, and interviews. Updates will be posted on the blog.

Dates for each have been tentatively scheduled, but aren’t set in stone because of the nature of the new technology. Who knows how it will all shake out, but audiences here in Montecito – and around the world, for that matter – will be right on the cutting edge as programming for the pandemic takes an innovative left turn.

Perhaps the best news, though, is MARLI 2020 just serves as a table-setting for next year’s, pardon us, Redemption Song, when all of the fellows have been automatically admitted for the 2021 Summer Music Festival, which, at least as of now, is expected to be back to normal.

Broumas’ Premiere Turns into the Pandemic Pivot

MAW’s newly-appointed Chief Artistic Officer Jamie Broumas had no idea just how innovative she’d have to be right off the bat when she accepted the offer to guide MAW’s training programs, serve as the instigator of consultation and collaboration, build relationships with contemporary composers to create new commissions, develop partnerships and community outreach initiatives, oversee MAW’s year-round programming, and build new revenue streams and audience support. But COVID threw her feet first into the proverbial fire, just two months after landing in town.

We caught up with her a couple of weeks ago to see what drove her to change coasts and direction in her career to come to the Music Academy, and how she’s adapting to all of it, including COVID.

Q. What, pre-COVID, brought you to the Music Academy from the Kennedy Center? What’s the excitement for you, the opportunity?

A. I was intrigued because MAW is really well known with a good reputation to use my experience, applying it to the education of young musicians. I’ve spent my career putting people on stages, so the opportunity to help artists develop at the earliest part of their careers is very meaningful to me. It has deep roots in areas I had never explored but always wanted to. I admire the focus and direction at MAW, so I relished the opportunity to develop some muscles in the education arena at MAW because it’s a singular organization with a strong vision and leadership and board.

How does your history and skill set align with MAW’s mission and vision?

My entire decades-long career is in classical music but I’ve always either been a musician or worked with a presenting organization. Those skills represent an end point of the goal of many of these musicians. I have a lot to offer on getting perspective on what successful careers look like, and what kinds of artists and programs are attractive to presenters. As a musician and entrepreneur, I realize it takes an enormous set of skills and experience to be successful in the 20th century.

What might we have expected this summer if COVID hadn’t happened?

We had an incredibly robust summer planned, most of it in place before I got here. It represented a real step forward for the Academy in terms of having four opera programs, including a piece with dancers, which would have been a first for us. In the first couple of months I was here, I worked on an enhanced chamber music program including the fellows in a lot of the performance opportunities to work side by side with faculty, which is a very good way to gain skills. It was being done here, but it’s an area that I saw as ripe for growth and something I wanted to focus on. But none of these tech platforms can support collaborative playing, so we had to make a strong pivot.

The Fellows are so busy over the summer, adding another element was going to be an experiment to see if it fit well in the summer. I have a lot of fun curating chamber music, which was a big part of my past. It’s all very disappointing. But I look forward to the time when we can implement what I was working on.

But we have moved on. We made a strong pivot; the offerings are strong. The goal of going online was to create something meaningful, because at its root, the mission of the Academy is to support artists – the Fellows and the faculty. Looking at the best ways to do that, we did a lot of research, checking in with our colleagues around the country on best practices. I’m really proud of what we’ve come up with, but of course it doesn’t mean there’s no loss.

Can I ask how you are coping with having to shelter in place in a town where you haven’t had much experience?

It’s like I started a new job, but in a sense, everybody has started a new job. Everybody is having to rethink everything. It’s been an interesting challenge. I only got to spend a little time discovering Santa Barbara before the quarantine hit, so I’m excited to continue my exploration of the city. I’ve only been able to do some walking tours, see a little bit. But there’s so much more I want to explore. It’s incredibly beautiful. It’s a gorgeous place to live.


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