By Amy Wenk
Once a year, Sandy Springs resident Rhonda Respess opens her home on the edge of a small pond to aspiring musicians.
Respess, a violinist in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, shares her love and knowledge of music with gifted orchestra students ages 12 to 18 through a summer program she founded eight years ago, Franklin Pond Chamber Music.
“It is a program for very talented young musicians,” said Respess, who serves as artistic director for Franklin Pond. “A lot of the kids play in the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra or in the Metropolitan Youth Symphony Orchestra. They are good players, every single one of them.”
Young students, including Mary Horst of Buckhead and Lauren Jenkins of Sandy Springs, can be found all over her house, practicing classical melodies in string quartets. Horst, 18, plays Mendelssohn and Mozart on her cello in the music studio, while violinist Jenkins, 16, rehearses Haydn and Antonin Dvorak next door in the downstairs bedroom.
“Chamber music is so different from what we work on usually, which is a lot of solo work with your private teacher or working in youth symphony,” said Horst, a recent graduate of the Westminster Schools. “When you are doing chamber music, you really interact with your musician peers. It’s more about collaboration. It’s an interesting approach to music because it’s not as individualized or quite as broad.”
Horst, who will study music at the University of Georgia this fall, has been involved with Franklin Pond for three years. Jenkins is new this year.
“This is a whole new area of study,” said Jenkins, a rising junior at North Springs Charter School of Arts and Sciences. “It is more close-knit. Instead of having a hundred people you are with, you are only with three other people. You get to know each other better. It is more concentrated work.”
Students must undergo a rigorous audition to attend the program, Respess said. Tuition is $1,250.
During the five-week program, held each Monday from June 30 to July 28, the 17 participants are coached on two movements in classical literature.
“Basically, what they learn is to play something beyond just playing the notes,” Respess said. “They are learning to play the emotion, what’s behind it. That can be only done when you know the music so well, you don’t have to concentrate on the technique. It is learning really how to play beyond the page.”
The students are coached by members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra: Carolyn Hancock, violin; Daniel Laufer, cello; Jun-Ching Lin, violin; Catherine Lynn, viola; Paul Murphy, viola; and William Pu, violin.
“I love that in Atlanta there is a serious chamber music program for young people,” said Lin, the orchestra’s assistant concertmaster and a violin player for 40 years. “They are at an age where they are thinking about being serious in music. This is a good way to be immersed in chamber music and find out all that’s good, fun and difficult about it.”
In addition, Franklin Pond students attend master classes led by such renowned teachers and performers as the Vega String Quartet, the quartet in residency at Emory University, and James Dunham, professor of viola at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music and former member of the Cleveland Quartet.
“Many times, the program really fosters a love for this kind of music that stays with them the rest of their lives,” Respess said.
The program culminates Aug. 1 to 4 with a retreat to Jekyll Island, where there are coaching sessions with faculty and two performances. A final concert, open to the public, will be Aug. 5 at the Kellet Chapel of Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Buckhead.