One year shy of its 70th birthday, the Adamant Music School somehow remains one of Vermont’s best-kept summer secrets, as well as one of its best bargains and concert settings. Where else can you find a 200-acre waterside venue with a sculpture garden, cascading stone spillways, verdant hills and rampant flowers in a tiny, 19th-century white-clapboard village filled with remarkable pianists?
The school offers a live-in, noncompetitive piano-study experience with renowned professionals to advanced students. Several nights a week over the course of nearly two months, these accomplished students present concerts to the public for a mere $10 ($6 for students and seniors). This summer session opened on July 5 with a concert featuring the master-class students of Montréal pianist André Laplante. The tall and lanky sixtysomething virtuoso has performed around the world. And, though a self-professed “city mouse,” he has happily taught at this bucolic respite for the past five years.
The audience listening in air-conditioned Waterside Hall was mostly composed of students and a small cluster of local cognoscenti. The latter have come to appreciate surprises — they never know which pieces will be played on the nine-foot Steinway concert grand on any given night. They also know that the experience is usually magical.
“I think Adamant is one of the great undiscovered secrets,” says Peter Harris of Montpelier, echoing a sentiment often heard among those who frequent the concerts.
This is the case “because we really don’t do much advertising,” admits Adamant Music School president Frank Suchomel with a slight sigh, acknowledging it’s both a fault and a point of pride.
On this eve, we were treated to six students playing Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin, Brahms and Liszt, among them some fiendishly difficult works (some nights a dozen or more students perform). Adamant allows listeners something rare: a tapas-like menu of varied piano pieces in an intimate, 80-seat room where you can observe very different styles. In Qiao Yi Miao Mu, a native of China, we witnessed a deceptively small sprite dressed in a light summer dress who masterfully commanded the large Steinway in two relentless Chopin études. In contrast, Rhimmon Simchy-Gross, a college junior from Syracuse, N.Y., brought to the piano seat a linebacker’s build and a curly mop of hair. Simchy-Gross loomed over the keyboard and attacked it with gusto as he conquered a bombastic, frenzied piano piece by Liszt.
For most listeners, however, this stellar evening belonged to Anita Pari of Ottawa, Ontario, a slender wisp just 13 years old. Wrapped in a tight, satiny performance gown, she played challenging pieces by Beethoven and Liszt flawlessly, with a preternatural ease that was simply stunning.
After the concert, when performers typically mingle with the audience and gather for refreshments, I asked Pari whether she’s secretly channeling some famous maestro from the 1800s. The teenager just giggled and shrugged her shoulders.
Suchomel, at 81, has spent more than 60 summers at the nonprofit school, starting as a student. His title doesn’t do justice to his many roles here: gentle impresario, enabler and financial backer, head schmoozer, biggest fan, even groundskeeper. Before the concert, he was outside with a pooper scooper picking up what a flock of geese had left behind.
“I just think it’s a beautiful place,” Suchomel said, noting that otters, young fawns, fox, moose and geese roam his yard — even if they do leave droppings.
The school was started by New Yorkers Edwine Behre, Alice Mary Kimball and Harry Godfrey, who bought the rundown Adamant parsonage in 1942 and turned it into a refuge for Behre’s New York City piano students. Once a rough-and-tumble quarry town, the diminutive unincorporated village just eight miles from Montpelier is today a quiet, verdant gem with two ponds and a small but lively co-op where concertgoers can partake of fine Friday-night outdoor dinners.
The school is a long labor of love for Suchomel, who has remade the grounds and created a piano oasis where the hills really are alive with music.
“I often go around at night and listen to the people practicing,” Suchomel said. An amazing 46 pianos, many of them Steinway or Baldwin grands, are tucked into cabins in the woods or along the shoreline. Suchomel’s partner, Michael Suchomel, directs free plays and musicals with Quarry Works in the Phillips Experimental Theater built beside a former granite quarry that reflects Adamant’s history.
Like a Vermont summer itself, the music-school sessions are brief and intense, beginning on July 2 and ending August 18 with a master class with renowned pianist Menahem Pressler. Some 10 to 30 students reside at Adamant, depending on the session. Without fail, their concerts showcase remarkable talent.
It’s not surprising that students thrive in this setting. Walter Aparicio, a native of Bolivia who lives and teaches in New York City and is working on concert pieces he will perform in La Paz next month, put it succinctly: “Adamant lets you get a vacation from your life.”
Adamant Music School concerts continue several times weekly through August 18. Plays run July 14 through August 21. Info, 223-3347.