Miriam Fried about the Ravinia Steans Music Institute and Saying Goodbye
Miriam Fried has been the artistic director of RSMI for 30 years and violinist Midori will take on the role starting next year
Tell us about Ravinia, North America's oldest music festival. When did your paths first cross?
I first played in Ravinia in 1974. It was the Tchaikowski concerto.
I don’t believe I had been to the place before that.
What is unique about the Ravinia Steans Music Institute among other Summer music programs?
I don’t know the other programs first hand, and rather than compare I would like to tell you what I have tried to create at the Steans. Enthusiasm and passion for music is at the heart of the program. Music has been at the center of my life for as long as I can remember myself, and I have never lost my passion for it and my desire to constantly grow and learn.
What I would say about the Steans Institute is that we emphasize the importance of having time and peace of mind to explore the music in depth. This gives these wonderfully talented young artists the opportunity to grow and to find out exactly who they are musically. We try to eliminate as much of the tension and anxiety that our profession is inundated with as possible, and make this an oasis of tranquility.
I am happy to say that I know that lifelong friendships have been started at the Steans and I know that these relationships are most meaningful. The fact that faculty and students share meals is a very important part of the atmosphere. The access to these great musicians is just invaluable.
You have been the director of the RSMI for piano and strings for 30 years. How did the institute evolve over time and what remained the same?
The principle of delving deeply into the music and having time to let it “ripen” has been at the center of my thinking always. That has never changed.
With the years we introduced new programs. We have had works commissioned for us, and composers came for a residency. Their interaction with students was invaluable. What evolved with the years is the faculty. I think our great strength is our faculty, and we kept bringing in some of the great masters along with some younger faculty members. The combination is a really good one. We brought in Feldenkreis teachers, Alexander technique teachers as well as physical therapists in order to emphasize the importance of physical well being.
My belief is that what works well deserves to be preserved, but at the same time one always needs to grow and evolve. We tried to do that.
Can you tell us more about Ravinia on Tour?
The idea of the tour is double-pronged: to give the young artist performance opportunities on the one hand, and to bring the Steans Institute to the attention of the general public.
What are some of your favorite memories from your years at Ravinia?
The memories are always the people. I feel privileged to have gotten to know well some of the greatest luminaries of the music world. And I feel truly blessed to have had the honor to guide some of the most wonderful younger musicians in the world. I remember fondly the pranks, and the silliness that inevitably takes place in summer camp settings, but of course mostly I remember the absolutely exquisite performances that we have had over the years.
How does it feel to say goodbye?
Saying goodbye was my decision. I felt that it was time for me to move on and for someone else to take over. I feel completely at peace with the decision. There are many things I still want to do and I feel it is time for me to do them. I also feel very good about Midori taking over. I know she will do a superb job.
What are your hopes for the future of the institute?
I hope the institute continues to have an important role in the development of young artists and remains a place that people want to participate in.
I am sure it will do both.
RSMI’s Program for Piano & Strings concentrates on interpretation and small-group collaboration through the practice and performance of classical sonata and chamber repertoire. Up to 35 violinists, violists, cellists, pianists, and members of pre-existing chamber groups gather for five weeks of immersive and intensive rehearsals and coachings with a rotating roster of some of the world’s finest teaching artists. Applications for Summer 2024 will open in the fall.
Miriam Fried has been recognized for years as one of the world’s preeminent violinists. A consummate musician — equally accomplished as recitalist, concerto soloist or chamber musician — she has been heralded for her “fiery intensity and emotional depth” (Musical America) and her technical mastery. Fried has played with virtually every major orchestra in the United States and Europe, and has been a frequent guest with the principal orchestras of Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh, as well as with the Israel Philharmonic, the London Symphony, the Royal Philharmonic, and the Vienna Symphony.
A noted pedagogue, Miriam Fried is a professor at New England Conservatory and is invited to give master classes throughout the world. Since 1994, she has been program director of the Ravinia Steans Music Institute, one of the country’s leading summer programs for young musicians.
Chamber music plays an important role in Fried’s musical life. She was first violinist of the Mendelssohn String Quartet until it disbanded after 30 years, and has collaborated with distinguished artists such as Isaac Stern; Pinchas Zukerman; Garrick Ohlsson; Nathaniel Rosen; her son, pianist Jonathan Biss; and her husband, violinist/violist Paul Biss.
Miriam Fried’s successful solo career was launched in 1968 after she was awarded first-prize in Genoa’s Paganini International Competition. Three years later, she claimed top honors in the Queen Elisabeth International Competition, where she gained further world attention by becoming the first woman ever to win the prestigious award.
She came to the United States as a protégée of Isaac Stern, and continued her studies with Ivan Galamian at the Juilliard School and with Joseph Gingold at Indiana University.
Her early childhood included lessons with Alice Fenyves in Tel Aviv, as well as the opportunity to meet and play for the many great violinists who visited Israel, including Isaac Stern, Nathan Milstein, Yehudi Menuhin, Henryk Szeryng, Zino Francescatti, and Erica Morini.