Interlochen Takes Stock
With summer past, the arts center looks to the off-season and 2018
By Ross Boissoneau | Sept. 2, 2017
Ian Anderson has left the building, and the crowds have followed suit. The Jethro Tull frontman’s flute might still be echoing from the rafters of Kresge Auditorium as the curtain falls on Interlochen’s summer concert season. But Rory Baker is already looking ahead, as he’s in the midst of planning for next year. “It’s all about developing relationships,” said the director of Interlochen Presents. “I’m talking to agents. I’m already sending out offers.”
Baker has been with Interlochen since 2005, but this was his first year as the head of Interlochen Presents, the concert arm of the center. He said this past year was a success by nearly every measure; several shows were either sold out or nearly so. “Diana Ross sold out. Ian Anderson nearly sold out. We’re in good shape with ticket sales. We’ve had great ticket sales over the past 10 years.”
But there’s more to success than simply selling tickets. The concerts bring in attendees who might not be familiar with the center’s mission, which is focused on the hundreds of student artists who attend the summer camp and the academy. Not only do those attending shows learn more about the camp, their ticket proceeds go toward student scholarships.
Many of the visiting artists work directly with students through master classes, seminars or group lessons. Baker said such student participation is another way to measure Interlochen’s success. “While OK Go was here, they worked with visual art, theater and music students,” he said.
Three of the band’s original members attended ICA as campers; that’s where OK Go lead vocalist Damian Kulash and bassist Tim Nordwind met and became best friends. One of the things they remembered from their time at ICA was how campers spontaneously gathered to perform, so they held their own impromptu concert on the mall with students.
Baker said every student who wanted to attend the group’s show was allowed to do so for free. “Damian and Tim said we had to make sure we put some students onstage to perform. It was a different energy at Kresge,” said Baker.
It’s not only pop performers who work with the students. Opera professionals Nathan and Julie Gunn were artists in residence the last week of the camp. Both are faculty members at the University of Illinois, where Nathan is professor of voice and the general director of the Lyric Theater @ Illinois. Julie serves as the director of Lyric Theatre studies, associate professor of accompanying, and assistant director of development and engagement for the university’s school of music. They performed a recital together and also worked with high school vocal students in master classes, coaching and workshops. “That’s one thing that makes it (Interlochen) unique,” said Baker.
Given its broad audience reach and its concurrent mission to educate students from across the artistic spectrum, Baker said it’s important to book a cross-section of artists. “Dance, rock and roll, pop, jazz, classical, singer/songwriters — we look at the trends and make sure we don’t over-program [any particular genre or style]. We continue to look to develop audiences of all ages.”
Baker said the annual Winterlochen is a perfect example of how Interlochen Center for the Arts strives to not be insular but rather develops relationships with the community outside campus. The daylong grab bag of performances, workshops (often led by students), and singalongs is an opportunity for friends, neighbors, and other locals to interact with students, staff and one another. “The whole point is to engage the community,” he said. (Winterlochen 2018 takes place Feb. 17.)
ICA reaches out in other ways as well, including the continuing series Interlochen Artists at Kirkbride Hall, which this fall features four performances at the Village at Grand Traverse Commons. Other upcoming Performing Arts Series shows feature returning favorites, such as the Nutcracker and dance troupe MOMIX, and artists who haven’t previously performed at Interlochen, like jazz pianist Fred Hersch and the Calidore String Quartet.
Baker said the key, whether large-scale summer concerts or faculty or student recitals, is to engage the audience and make sure Interlochen Center for the Arts continues to prosper. “Some shows are focused on our guests — ZZ Top, for example. Personally, my biggest takeaway is I’m impressed by how the arts [inspire] young people, how excited they get about it.”