Monmouth Conservatory Celebrates Spring and Joins Basie’s Programs

April 20, 2017
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Monmouth Conservatory of Music’s artistic and executive director Vladislav Kovalsky with student Priya Mehra of Little Silver.

By Jenna O’Donnell |

RED BANK – When students at the Monmouth Conservatory of Music perform the music of famed composer Sergei Rachmaninoff this spring, they’ll also be recognizing a piece of Monmouth County’s musical history. Almost a century ago, Rachmaninoff spent several summers along the Navesink, staying in a house on Locust Point Road in Rumson.

Today the Monmouth Conservatory continues to celebrate the musical traditions of the past with an eye toward teaching current and future generations all aspects of classical music. After more than 50 years of teaching classical music in the Navesink area, the nonprofit community musical school recently merged with Count Basie Theatre and will move into the theater’s newly expanded campus upon its completion.

“Adding the Monmouth Conservatory to our repertoire of musical and vocal offerings at Count Basie Theatre is a dream come true,” said Adam Philipson, Basie CEO and president, in a statement announcing the merger.

Monmouth Conservatory artistic and executive director Vladislav Kovalsky said the move would benefit both organizations, which shared a goal of educating and enriching the lives of the community through the study and appreciation of classical music.

“This will assure the longevity of these organizations,” said Kovalsky. “It’s better to be together than on our own. A big ship is always better than a small boat.”

The conservatory is nearing the end of its Rachmaninoff–themed season, with concerts planned for April 23 and May 21 at its current home on White Street. A student concert featuring performances from some of the conservatory’s 250 students will be held in June.

Performance is an important part of learning classical music, said Kovalsky, but learning classical music is also a means to future success for students.

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“In order to learn a piece of music you must have certain conditions,” Kovalsky said. “You cannot learn until you are focused enough, doing things in a certain order and have a perspective of where you are and where you are going. Music puts you in a situation where there is no other way – you don’t learn anything unless you meet those conditions of practicing.”

Kovalsky and his wife Irina, both accomplished musicians, have been at the conservatory since 1998. In those nearly 20 years, the Kovalskys have seen many of their students go on to great success, attending Ivy League universities and pursuing careers as doctors, scientists and musicians. Irina Kovalsky, the conservatory’s associate director and a violinist, often hears from former students who write to tell her that their best times are still in the symphonies and orchestra rehearsals they are part of.

“Music should become a lifelong friend,” Kovalsky said. “I have never met someone who told me ‘I dropped piano and I’m happy about it’. If you ever meet someone who is sorry to play music, bring them to me.”

He hopes that by joining the Count Basie family, the conservatory will be able raise more money and reach more students through scholarships and outreach. Its instructors, all specialized and professional musicians, teach both children and adults of all levels, but those lessons can be expensive and are not in every family’s budget.

To help aspiring musicians, a scholarship fund named for conservatory co-founder Felix Molzer helps Monmouth Conservatory reach more students based on individual merit and financial need. The scholarships, mostly supported through donations, pay for group classes and outreach performances and also allow some 30 percent of conservatory students to receive need and merit-based financial support.

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“For those who can’t afford it, we try to have certain programs,” Kovalsky said. “We’re trying to reach out to those who might not understand why it’s important to learn music.”

Regardless of background, understanding and appreciating classical music is just as important as learning about great literature or philosophy, said Kovalsky. Playing Beethoven or Chopin or Rachmaninoff can teach students about the times and conditions in which the composers wrote as they learn to play the instruments that the compositions were intended for.

“It develops a sense of history, a sense of awareness of where mankind is,” he said. “It also develops a good taste. That enhances life and makes it much more interesting and enjoyable.”

That good taste and diligent work ethic helps students of classical music to excel and succeed in everything that they do and that’s an important part of continuing the conservatory’s tradition of excellence in musical education. Kovalsky hopes that tradition will continue well into the future.

“We are now 54 years old –hopefully we will be 100 one day,” he said. “So we want to assure that the quality is there and, of course, a school needs students. We will also continue to educate the public about music in general, and classical music in particular.”

To honor the conservatory’s new partnership with the Count Basie Theatre, a community concert will be held at the Basie at 6:30 p.m. May 3, featuring conservatory students onstage with several of the theater’s partner programs. Tickets priced at $5 are currently on sale at the Count Basie box office and all proceeds and donations will go toward establishing a classical music scholarship.

This article was first published in the April 20-27, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.

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