New Canaan music instructor returns from Brazilian festival
"The students were dying to be taught. They loved music. They cherished music"
These are the words of Yaroslav Kargin, a violin/viola performer and instructor in New Canaan, after returning from The Eleazar de Carvalho Festival, a three-week event named for the world-famous conductor.
The event, which takes place in Fortaleza, Brazil, was created by de Carvalho to give underprivileged students a chance to perfect their craft with world-class musicians.
Years ago in the 1940s, the late Eleazar de Carvalho studied at a popular learning festival in Tanglewood, Mass., where he was an assistant under the Russian conductor Sergei Koussevitzky and alongside the likes of Leonard Bernstein. It was the combination of learning and celebration found at that festival that inspired Carvalho to bring the format down to his beloved Brazil decades later.
Koussevitzky and the Tanglewood festival were the essential catalysts for Carvalho's renowned career as a conductor. Sonia Muniz de Carvalho, Eleazar's wife and concert pianist, recalls her late husband's start under Koussevitzky as one of passion, luck and even hilarity.
"He was determined to work under Koussevitzky, so much so that he was ready to try anything to get five minutes with him." She said. "He had gotten five minutes of his time under the premise that the government of Brazil had given him a recommendation."
When de Carvalho finally had the face time he wanted with Koussevitzky, the Russian conductor quickly realized that there was no recommendation.
"Eleazar had said that it was an oral recommendation requiring the conductor to hear his talent for at least five minutes," Sonia said with a laugh.
Once Koussevitzky witnessed de Carvalho's abilities, he knew he had something special standing in front of him.
"Koussevitzky had said that Eleazar did many things wrong that day, but he saw a huge talent," she said.
"That was how he began his career. There was no stopping him."
It wasn't until 1972 that the Brazilian conductor decided to bring the magic that got him his start to his native land. It began in Campos do Jordao, a picturesque location in the state of Sao Paulo. The festival had the same format of learning and celebration as the one in Tanglewood. After starting in Campos do Jordao, it moved around to various places in Sao Paulo and Paraiba, another state in Northeast Brazil.
The festival as it is known today was not formed until after de Carvalho's death in 1996. In the aftermath, Sonia worked tirelessly to bring the event to de Carvalho's hometown in Fortaleza.
"That was his home. I wanted to honor is memory." She said.
The festival's primary purpose is to allow the underprivileged a chance to really take off with their talents in a way that would be unavailable to them without this experience.
"Many of these kids are able to launch careers from this festival," Kargin said.
Kargin, a talented viola performer in his own right with private studios based in New Canaan and New Haven, was invited to the Eleazar de Carvalho Festival for the first time this past July as a faculty member. He was one of the only two viola instructors at the event. Kargin himself studied at the Yale University School of Music and appeared as a violin player in films like "Sex and the City 2" and "Everybody's Fine."
"It was a very unique and special experience for me," Kargin said.
He was taken aback by the level of dedication and appreciation that many of these underprivileged students had for music.
"Right down to how carefully they managed their actual instruments, I was amazed," he said. "They polished each instrument, no matter the quality, after they used it."
Sonia added to Kargin's sentiments.
"The festival is all they have and I am glad I have the means to make it happen."
She relies help from the University of Fortaleza and the state government of Ceara to sponsor the event.
There were around 250 students at the festival this past summer, most of whom were Brazilian. Those lucky students who auditioned for a chance to be part of the event were given full or partial fellowships for the entire three weeks of the festival.
The event also featured more than 40 teachers there from countries like France, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Brazil, Canada and America making up a group of some of the world's most talented classical musicians, including of Robert Black, Paul Rutman and Kargin himself.
This year the festival took place from July 4 to July 25. For those three weeks, students and faculty alike go through a rigorous schedule of rehearsals, private lessons and concerts.
Everyday between breakfast and lunch, the students participated in an orchestra rehearsal. After lunch, on weekdays, the students received private lessons from the instructors until dinner. Then everyday after dinner, the faculty performed on a concert for the festival. Students performed on the weekends during the afternoon.
The celebration was capped off by a final concert outside on the grounds of the University of Fortaleza, where much of festival takes place, with more than 3,000 spectators. This is the exact format that Eleazar de Carvalho loved so much and it is a tradition that Sonia has been continuing for more a decade.
"For many of those kids, this was a once in a lifetime chance." Kargin said. "I would encourage many high school students here in Connecticut to apply and try their luck. They would certainly not regret the experience."
Sonia went on to say that while most of the spots in the festival are guaranteed to the local underprivileged students, that there are also 30 spots for foreigners.
"It would be a great chance for people from here to experience a new culture," she said. "Many of the Americans who have gone really enjoyed it."
The Eleazar de Carvalho festival serves many important functions for the people of Fortaleza but Sonia's main goal is to give young, disadvantaged and talented musicians a chance at something more. At the end of each festival, some students get a chance to travel abroad with teachers and become young professionals in the world of classical music.
"Eleazar really had to push himself into an opportunity," she said. "This festival now becomes that same opportunity for so many young people. The festival is just like him. He believed in everyone and wanted to help all the time."
In a way, he still is.
For more information about the festival, contact Yaroslav Kargin at Yaroslav@aya.yale.edu.