The ABS Academy: A Unique Opportunity

Paul Vanderwal

Paul Vanderwal outside the San Francisco Conservatory of Music before a performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor, August 2015

You might remember Paul Vanderwal, a violoncellist from New Jersey who participated in last summer’s ABS Academy. At this time last year, Paul was pursuing one very important goal: attending the ABS Academy. Some years earlier, he had put aside his modern instrument for a time before his passion for playing music was rekindled when he discovered the joy of playing works from the Baroque Era. His drive and talent made his Academy application highly competitive and Paul was accepted into the program. Being accepted was only part of realizing his goal; he still had to get to San Francisco! Through a wonderful video testimonial, Paul raised the funds that enabled his participation and he spent two music-filled weeks in San Francisco in the ABS Academy. Here is his video appeal for support:

Several generous sponsors came to his aid and Paul participated in the 2015 Festival & Academy, “Versailles & The Parisian Baroque,” where he enjoyed two weeks of intense study and performed in several Festival performances. He played violoncello in the U.S. premiere of Marin Marais’ opera Sémélé, Bach’s Mass in B Minor, and several arias by J.S. Bach during the “Baroque Marathon” sessions. Along with the 73 other Academy participants, Paul studied and worked his way through fourteen days of lessons, master classes, rehearsals, and evening performances. I caught up with him four months after his Academy experience and asked him how things have been going.

How did you first learn about the ABS Academy?

“At Montclair State University, where I am currently studying, we have a small Baroque ensemble led by violinist Theresa Solomon and harpsichordist Gwendolyn Toth. As my dedication to the group grew stronger, Theresa mentioned the possibility of studying at the ABS Academy. A former student of Theresa’s, Karin Cuéllar, who was one of the first people I met at MSU and had introduced me to the Baroque ensemble, had attended the previous year and encouraged me to pursue it.”

Were you already familiar with the work of the ABS Academy’s violoncello faculty members William Skeen and Kenneth Slowik?

“I was familiar with them, but I didn’t know it yet. I had been listening to recordings and watching performances of theirs for quite some time. It was only after doing some research into the Academy that I made the connection. My first introduction to Bill was from searching for videos of performances with 5-string cellos. I continued thereafter to watch just about every Voices of Music video on YouTube. With Ken, it was The Castle Trio recordings of the Beethoven Piano Trios. They are my favorite.”

Your video about attending the Academy is terrific. Did it help raise funds for your participation?

“Thanks. The plan was to make a video that was fun, entertaining, and represented a little bit of myself. The amount of love, support, and encouragement I received from both inside and out of my community was far beyond what I expected. Although I was quite determined to attend, without raising the funds, I’m not quite sure if I would have made it to the Academy, and I would like to extend my appreciation to everyone who helped me in reaching that goal.”

Describe your Academy experience. Did attending the program help you achieve any of your personal or musical goals?

“Attending the Academy was a profoundly positive experience. Being surrounded by amazing mentors, who are so knowledgeable and supportive, and having the opportunity to see how they work and to work with them is invaluable and has had a long-lasting effect. Additionally, becoming friends with the other participants, who are learning and working towards the same goals as yourself, is something I will cherish for many years. Performing Marais’ Sémélé and Bach’s Mass in B minor were certainly highlights of my experience, with the last performance of the Bach a truly emotional one. Both the faculty and students have opened my eyes to the fact that there is so much more music to discover and explore, and that is something I’m looking forward to with eager eyes.”

How have things been going since the ABS Academy?

“Things have been going quite well since attending the Academy. I’m about halfway through my performance degree and it has been my busiest semester yet. I’ve taken on a few more students, played a few recitals, and have tried to take every opportunity to play that is presented to me. We are trying to expand our Baroque ensemble at MSU, and this year we’ve had our largest participation.”

Have you stayed in contact with friends that you made in San Francisco during the program?

“A few of us have definitely kept in touch. It is great to see how many opportunities they’ve been presented with, how busy they are, and how they’re all excelling at what they do.”

What are your plans for 2016?

“Overall, my hope is that our ensemble at school continues to grow. I plan to continue with my studies towards my degree, to grow my student base, to continue to play as much as possible, and I hope to raise enough funds to attend the Academy again in 2016.”

The ABS Academy is a unique opportunity for emerging Baroque specialists to study and perform with a stellar faculty of ABS musicians who are all leaders within the early music community. The 2016 Academy will be held at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music from August 1-14, and applications for the program are now being accepted. The deadline to apply is February 15. If you would like to dedicate your life to performing this music at the highest level, apply today! If you know someone who might want to apply, please forward this message or contact Academy Administrator Jeff McMillan at (415) 621-7900, ext. 204.

If you would like to support a talented young musician like Paul who is pursuing a career performing the works of Bach at the highest level, please consider becoming a Sponsor of the ABS Academy. For more information, please contact Development Director Garrett Shatzer at (415) 621-7900, ext. 207.