Remembering “Les Préludes”: Alumni look back on their experiences of the symphonic poem
From pre-performance rituals to rooftop dancing, these alumni have fond memories of the traditional Arts Camp finale.
One of Interlochen Arts Camp’s most beloved traditions is “Les Préludes.” The most famous of Franz Liszt’s twelve symphonic poems, “Les Préludes” draws inspiration from the poetry of Alphonse de Lamartine and Joseph Autran. It is the first piece to ever be composed in the symphonic poem genre.
At Interlochen, “Les Préludes” has been played on the final Sunday of Camp since 1928, when students enthusiastically requested to play the same piece again the following year. Only twice in the institution’s history has this pattern varied: in 1933, the concert was given on a Tuesday to allow the students to travel to another performance, and in 1939 students performed “Les Préludes” at New York’s World Fair.
In celebration of this long-standing tradition, now in its 95th year, Interlochen invited alumni and friends to share their memories of “Les Préludes."
In the video above, Camp alumna and Assistant Director of Instrument Services & Music Operations J Berry shares her reflections on the iconic sign at the Interlochen Bowl, which reads: “This is the place where you hear the [baton] crack that ends everything, but starts so much.”
Below, former orchestra members, dancers, and audience members look back on the culmination of their summers, remembering the friendships and artistic growth they found at Interlochen.
Rebecca Kapsis (IAC/NMC 58, 60)
I went with my cabin both times I attended Camp. I was in Ballet, so for me it was magical. There were a few star ballerinas whom I idolized. One was named Ginger, and the other I believe was Marilyn. When the dancers climbed up on the roof towards the finale, I was mesmerized. To this very day, when I am driving in my car, and KUSC plays “Les Préludes” or the Romantic Symphony, I cry my eyes out. It is a memory that holds so many emotions from one of the greatest experiences of my life.
Elaine Coney (IAC/NMC 65-67, IAA 65-70)
In the past 57 years, I’ve listened to the Camp's performances from time to time. Even now I get chills while listening. A 13-year-old girl from rural Magnolia, Mississippi during segregation in the ‘60s was able to continue her music studies without worrying about rejection. We were only concerned about our performances. Now, I'm overcome with emotion. Three summers, eight weeks each, and all that was possible: piano, violin, learning to swim, learning to play tennis, and attending the various performances. All of that is “Les Préludes.”
Dwight Brown (IAA 74-78; IAC/NMC 79, 81-84)
In the early ‘80s I worked at Camp as a photographer. I took pictures of lots and lots of concerts, cabin pictures—you name it. One of my jobs was to mount the photographer’s stand in the Interlochen Bowl for the “Les Préludes” concert. I was to take the final picture at the final chord when the dancers were posed. You only got one chance at it! I got on the stand before the concert started because I needed to get the large camera and tripod up there. I sat perched on a little bench for the whole concert. The photographer’s stand is gone now, as is the sea of green park benches. My memories of those times still warm me on cold days when I can’t be at my real home at Interlochen.
Amelia Gold (IAC 87)
I remember practicing in the Bowl with the World Youth Symphony Orchestra. I was first violin. I had played in a big symphony orchestra at Manhattan School of Music as a teenager, but I’d never had an experience like this, playing with so many people. I remember looking back and seeing musicians as far as I could see. In my mind, it looked like a mile of musicians. What a passionate piece it was! My standout memory is the percussion section that year. I still remember my friends who played the tympani! Playing that piece and having the dancers on the roof was a transformational experience for me as a budding young artist. From there I went to The Juilliard School and studied violin. I am now an arts educator and conductor and have created and participated in so many music collaborations in the spirit of “Les Préludes.” However, nothing can ever top that epic artistic experience. “Les Préludes” is the epitome of inclusivity and belonging; it sets the standard for arts education everywhere. This summer I have three of my four children at Interlochen, two as students and one as a counselor. My husband was also in WYSO and was principal trumpet. “Les Préludes” and Interlochen have had an incredible ripple effect for me and my entire family.
Michele Sotomayor McCann (IAC-04, IAA 04-05)
“Les Préludes” was such a beautiful and emotional culmination of my first and last summer as a camper. I played the flute in the orchestra. There is nothing quite like being surrounded with that level of mutual camaraderie, talent, and passion. It was incredibly moving to be performing on a stage that served as a training ground for the next generation of professional musicians and artists.
Shell Feda (IAC 09-10)
I remember the somatic experience of being an audience member for “Les Préludes.” There were more audience members than seats, so we crammed ourselves in. I sat shoulder-to-shoulder on the uncomfortable seam between two seats, hot and sweaty and surrounded by newfound family. My friend Roland, a painter, was sketching next to me, his pen skating across the page. I remember his drawing: the fine lines, the conductor with right arm raised. I remember being in awe of his ability to capture the scene as it was unfolding. I remember the dancers all around us, in the aisles, on the roof, their light dresses caught up in the sunset.
For me, “Les Préludes” was a gift. It is only looking back that I see how much care, love, admiration, and respect went into giving all of us a send-off and a new beginning.
Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to receive a medical degree in the U.S., said of her time at Geneva Medical College: “I cannot but congratulate myself on having found at last the right place for my beginning.” I think about this quote often, and how it honors the journey towards finding a place for rebirth. Interlochen was certainly one of those places for me, and I can think of no other tradition that captures the thought so well as Les Préludes.
Faith Wangermann (IAC 14-17)
I danced in 2016 and 2017, the first summer in the aisles and second on the roof. I remember when dancing on the roof, I looked out at the trees behind the seats and saw our shadows dancing too against the foliage. To this day, the music at the end of the piece when the dancers come out brings tears to my eyes. I don’t know if I’ve experienced a performance as magical since then. Hiding on the roof right above the ladder while we waited for our entrance cue, sticking forks in the ground around the Bowl so it wouldn’t rain, company warm-up class in the old studios—so close we could touch each other’s shoulders at the barre—they’re all such warm memories that I never want to lose.
View the recorded webcast of the 2022 "Les Préludes" performance here.