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Courtesy of ICMF /

Festival attendees participated in a masterclass with Orion String Quartet violinist Daniel Phillips.

In between classes, three Columbia students found time to create a music festival with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

The Intercollegiate Chamber Music Festival, co-founded by Cindy Liu, CC ’18, Serina Chang, CC ’19, and Dean Deng, CC ’19, was inaugurated this past March. Launched in partnership with The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the two-day festival featured performances by students from Columbia, Princeton, and Harvard; a masterclass with Orion String Quartet violinist Daniel Phillips; and a lecture by pianist Maria Asteriadou and violinist Kurt Nikkanen.

ICMF is the first multi-university festival that the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center has held and partnered with.

The idea for the festival first began with Liu, a pianist, when she attended a performance hosted by Columbia Classical Performers, an on-campus student chamber music group.

Liu knew that Columbia Classical Performers had a longstanding friendship and collaboration with the Chamber Music Society, connecting students with discounted tickets to Lincoln Center performances and conversations with artists after the performances. Liu realized that the Columbia-Lincoln Center relationship could be expanded into an extensive chamber program to work together on extensively. Additionally, this would become Lincoln Center’s first college-based chamber music program.

Liu wrote out a large and expanded proposal detailing her idea for a collaboration with the Chamber Music Society. With the support of the Columbia Classical Performers, she brought her 20-page proposal to Lincoln Center in October 2015. Hesitant about the scope and funding of the project, Lincoln Center initially declined.

However, early spring 2016, Chang and Deng—also members of CCP—approached Liu with an idea for an intercollegiate music group that aligned very similarly with her initial idea. The Intercollegiate Music Festival began there.

The concept was simple: It would be a place for musicians to play and celebrate chamber music without the pressures of competition or a future musical career.

“In the classical world, to be a serious musician, you often get the sense that you have to put your entire life into it, otherwise you’re not doing enough for the music. I think that this kind of person, like us, who are collegiate students but still dedicating themselves to music are doing it because they love the music,” Chang said. “Our goal was really to tell these kinds of people that you don’t need to feel like you belong anywhere, you are exactly where you should be and what you’re doing is admirable and should be celebrated.”

In fact, co-founders Liu, Chang, and Deng are not music majors and do not plan to pursue music professionally. Liu is a English literature and sociology major, Chang is a sociology and computer science major, and Deng is a computer science and mathematics major. The group met in Columbia Classical Performers.

In early spring this year, Liu, Chang, and Deng spent months drafting their idea for an intercollegiate chamber music festival. The trio brought its pitch to Derek Balcom, director of education for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. This time, the idea succeeded.

“I really wanted to support the effort [of ICMF] because it aligned so much with our goal of getting people involved as lifelong appreciators of chamber music,” Balcom said.

From there on, the Chamber Music Society became a partner with ICMF, agreeing to host the two-day festival in its Rose Studio.

Using their extended contacts, Liu, Chang, and Deng then reached out to ambassadors at Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. While Columbia became the host for ICMF, student ambassadors from the other schools sought out applicants to play at the festival and provided support for ICMF’s creators.

Ultimately, Yale did not continue its efforts to recruit students and pulled out of the festival due to unclear expectations and miscommunication on both ends, but Deng and Chang said they hope to improve upon these shortcomings on for next year’s festival.

“Every single little detail down to the food, the setup of spaces, down to the timing of when people would arrive, these things you take for granted when you go to a festival, there’s so much work behind the scenes that goes on,” Liu said. “We could not have expected what it took.”

Looking forward to next year’s festival, the co-founders said that they wish to improve on strengthening relationships with festival members and plan on inviting more schools to participate.

“ICMF is really something that means a lot to me, Cindy, and Dean because growing up, all three of us were musicians who ... were very used to being in that space of straddling two worlds at the same time, being in the classical music world and doing academics,” Chang said. “We really wanted to celebrate that sort of student and that sort of musician.” | @ColumbiaSpec

ICMF lincoln center intercollegiate chamber music festival chamber music society columbia university columbia classical performers