Brainerd Daily Dispatch
By Jennifer Stockinger
When the Lakes Area Music Festival began in 2009, founding director Scott Lykins had no clue how successful it would become in the Brainerd Lakes area.
Going into its fifth season, the festival which started with five students from the Eastman School of Music in New York performing, now has 80 musicians. They are either professional musicians or music students from conservatories from around the country, such as Eastman or the Julliard School.
Lykins, a Nisswa native, said he is excited at how well the music festival has gone. “We started these concerts for fun,” Lykins said recently while rehearsing for the upcoming music festival which opens at 3 p.m. Sunday at Tornstrom Auditorium. “We really didn’t know what to expect, but after seeing how enthusiastic our audience was that first year and seeing how the audience has grown over the years... We started out with no clear vision, and seeing how it has grown has been really exciting.”
John Taylor Ward, who went to school at Eastman with Lykins, is the assistant artistic director of the festival. Ward said the goal of the festival is to make Brainerd a regional and/or national classical music destination in the summer.
Lykins said one of the missions of the festival is to keep the concerts accessible to all people who want to attend and that is why they do not charge an admission fee. Lykins said there is a lot of work behind the scenes for the concert series in securing business sponsorships and grants and donations. All the musicians and guest artists are paid to perform in the music festival.
The music festival provides hospitality to host the musicians during their stay and help with transportation. There are about 100 volunteers to help out each year.
“The community has been really great to us,” Ward said on the generosity of donations and on the nonprofit organization making its budget.
Ward said part of the reason why the festival has been so successful is the audience. He said if it wasn’t for the audience, the professional musicians who keep coming back wouldn’t come back year after year.
“This audience does something for the performers,” said Ward. “We produced our first opera in Brainerd last year ... and for many it was their first live opera and I remember our director saying afterwards that she has never seen an audience so completely engaged ... When you have that kind of commitment from an audience that pushes the performers beyond what they knew they could do, that is a really special thing.”