Dawn Kane for News and Record/GREENSBORO — Shortly before noon on Friday, Sophia Alvini-Moore hugged her mother goodbye.
They had driven on Thursday from their Delaware home to Guilford College, summer home to the Eastern Music Festival. Now, her mother was driving back.
Alvini-Moore, 17, will spend five weeks studying cello with professional musicians and performing public concerts in small chamber music groups and a larger orchestra.
“I’ve never been to a festival at this level or for this duration,” Alvini-Moore said before walking to the cafeteria for lunch. “I’m going to have a lot of exposure to orchestral repertoire I’ve never seen before. Every single piece we are playing is new to me.”
She was among the high school and college students and professional faculty from around the country who checked in Friday for the classical music festival, which is marking its 60th anniversary season.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival has been scaled back this year, with fewer students and faculty and smaller audiences.
The number of students has been reduced from the usual 300 from around the globe. Likewise, the number of faculty artists has been downsized from what typically is a complement of 75.
Nonetheless, there still will be more than 35 live performances for the public by one of the first Triad organizations to return to live indoor programming.
All students, faculty and staff were required to be vaccinated before arrival.
Audiences and performers will be required to wear masks.
Seats will be spaced apart from each other in the college’s Dana Auditorium during concerts.
“I am giddy,” said Kelly Swindell, EMF’s media and communications director. “I can’t believe that we’re actually here and doing this. It’s safe. It’s welcoming. We feel really good about our plans. Can’t wait to hear music.”
All together, 192 students — most ranging in age from 14 to 23 — and 43 faculty members were expected to arrive in the next two days.
They came from around the country by plane, train and automobile.
Students wore masks and carried cases that held violins, cellos, oboes, clarinets and trombones.
They began with COVID-19 tests conducted outdoors. After check-in, they went to their separate dorm rooms to await results.
Provided they test negative for the coronavirus, they will begin their studies on Monday.
The concerts will start at 8 p.m. Tuesday with a faculty chamber concert in Dana Auditorium, where most performances will take place.
Each summer through 2019, the locally-based nonprofit EMF has brought to Guilford College young musicians to study with the festival’s acclaimed faculty and guest artists.
Last summer, the pandemic prompted EMF to cancel its in-person season. To compensate, EMF created online replacement programming — concerts and conversations, plus virtual learning for nearly 100 young artists.
Alvini-Moore was among last summer’s virtual students. EMF faculty cellist Julian Schwarz was her teacher.
The experience inspired Alvini-Moore to apply to attend EMF this summer, and Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., in the fall. Schwarz teaches there.
“I was so excited by what I had last year — the chance to study in person, all the extra ensembles — I didn’t want to let go of that,” Alvini-Moore said. “I really wanted to come.”
Jaxson Rives, a junior at Indiana University in Bloomington, came to EMF to study percussion.
“It’s always nice to learn from different instructors,” Rives said. “And I’ll definitely get more experience playing with other people.”
This year’s student body includes nine from North Carolina — three from the Triad, including 30-year-old Laura Blankenship of Greensboro.
She worked in EMF’s music library for five years. Then the violinist became a strings fellow in the Orchestral Fellows program, performing in the faculty orchestra and a chamber music group.
She played in the fellows quartets that gave outreach performances in local libraries (EMF has not scheduled outreach concerts this summer, but will try to do some when partners reopen to host free events, Swindell said.).
Blankenship said she is happy to return to EMF. “Apart from the atmosphere and the people, I like the challenge,” she said.
Faculty member Karla Ekholm faced another type of challenge last year.
Ekholm plays bassoon in several orchestras in the San Francisco area.
In March 2020, her battle with COVID-19 caused lung damage. Because of her illness, Ekholm didn’t mind missing EMF last summer.
This summer, Ekholm flew in to spend her 37th summer at EMF.
She admits to some trepidation about how performing will work. But she said she’s excited to be back teaching.
“For me, it’s all about the students,” Ekholm said.