One of the Most Important Places on the Planet

“I wouldn’t trade those summers for anything in the world – they shaped me as a person and a player,” says Basil Vendryes (Viola ’76–’77) of his time at Kinhaven. When he compares Kinhaven to other youth music programs, Basil says a unique feature was the variety of activities: “You had orchestra, chamber music, choir, kitchen duty, and pottery, yet all of those choices funneled into our growth as musicians and human beings.” Another distinguishing feature was the noncompetitive environment, “which was helpful for those who had not made the commitment to a life as a musician and to others like me who were deciding. The positive atmosphere, the magical location, and the imaginative, creative, and inspiring faculty and students helped me make up my mind.”

One of Basil’s happiest memories was singing in the chamber choir under the “demanding but kind” direction of Jerry Bidlack. He attributes the intensity of that work – learning to focus, to blend his voice with those of others, and to develop a sense of internal pitch and rhythm – as contributing to his success as a professional musician.

Some of Basil’s most vivid memories include singing, playing chamber music, and performing in orchestra (including Dave Brubeck’s “They All Sang Yankee Doodle” and Dorothy Dushkin’s “Canaan Bound”). These musical memories were complemented with Pilfer the Plunger, basketball, and walks to the Vermont Country Store or the Priory. And cold feet on the way to breakfast duty! “I learned so much about how to interact with people – be it setting a table, blending a human voice or a sound from a viola, passing a ball, or guarding a plunger. Kinhaven created in me a sense of community that I cherish each day.”

Basil remembers the Regatta boat he helped build one year. “We tried – and failed – to get a bunk bed across the pond. We harvested a lot of cows for that one,” he said, adding that “when some of the wood slats snapped, I have a clear memory of Zach Winestine (violin 1976) going down with the ship!”

Basil said his memory of David Dushkin is of someone who was equally concerned with students’ growth as people as their growth as musicians. “He’d go around in the afternoons and kick us out of practice rooms. It seems to me he was trying to say, ‘Go and be a kid: you can’t get this time back.’ That was a really big deal for him.” As Basil was deciding during those summers whether to go into music as a career, Mr. D’s insistence on balancing work and life made a strong impression.

Which is not to say that he has achieved the right balance yet! As a performer Basil just completed a two-week stint as guest principal violist of the West Australia Symphony Orchestra in Perth. He also recently performed and taught classes in Santa Barbara, Rice University, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Arizona (where he ran into Kinhaven violin faculty Tim Kantor). Upcoming projects include the Sunflower Festival in Kansas and appearances in New York, Italy, Bosnia, and Hong Kong.

Working with young talent is one of Basil’s passions. In addition to his work as principal violist (since 1993) of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, he serves on the faculties of the University of Denver Lamont School of Music, the Castleman Quartet Program in Fredonia, New York, and the Green Mountain Chamber Music Festival in Burlington, Vermont. He is also the founder and director of the Colorado Young Sinfonia, which attracts some of the best young players in the Denver region and is now in its seventeenth year.

Basil is one of Kinhaven’s most consistent donors, a commitment he keeps because, he says, “my career rests on those two summers. I count Kinhaven among the very few organizations I give my limited dollars to, to help keep one of the most important places on the planet going.” It’s been a long-time dream of his to spend a summer at Kinhaven as a string faculty. “The aura of that place just doesn’t exist anywhere else and I’d love to be a part of that again.”

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