The College of Arts and Architecture

Penn Staters Attend Conducting Workshop in Bulgaria

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Fernanda Lastra ConductingPenn State School of Music students Fernanda Lastra, a second-year master’s student in conducting, and Tim Farrand, a senior music performance major, attended the International Conducting Workshop and Festival (ICWF) in SofĂ­a, Bulgaria, July 25 – August 5. Lastra and Farrand were two of twenty-eight participants selected to receive conducting training and critique from world-renowned conductors and faculty.

“This workshop is excellent,” said Lastra, who is originally from Argentina and came to the United States to study conducting. “I learned so much from my colleagues’ remarks and the notes from the conductors. I already want to go back next year to improve on different things.”

Farrand agreed, having returned to the workshop this summer for a second year. “Everything was new to me last year, but this year I was able to make the connections between what I learned at the workshop and what I experienced during the last year of conducting.”

Tim Farrand conducting

Participants are mentored by Larry Rachleff, Walter Kris Hubert Professor of Orchestral Conducting at Rice University, and Don Schleicher, professor of music and chair of the orchestra division at The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Throughout the workshop, students conducted the New Symphony Orchestra of Sofia and a piano sextet, receiving feedback from Rachleff and Schleicher on their technique.

“Conducting is very physical,” noted Farrand, who was the youngest participant for the second year in a row, as most students wait until graduate school to begin their conducting careers. “The coaches would watch us and give us advice on how to control our gestures, conserve energy, and fix bad habits.”

The sessions are also videotaped for participants to keep and use as learning tools after the workshop ends. Along with the video footage, Lastra and Farrand both took extensive notes to review throughout the year as they conduct. Lastra is Gerardo Edelstein’s graduate assistant for the Philharmonic Orchestra, and Farrand is the assistant conductor for the Pennsylvania Chamber Orchestra and a conductor for Musica Nova, Penn State’s platform for premiering newly composed music. Edelstein, director of orchestral studies at Penn State and maestro of the Philharmonic Orchestra, has been influential in both students’ careers and encouraged them to attend ICWF.

“It is an invaluable experience for our students, and I am very proud they were both accepted as active participants,” said Edelstein.

Some of the advice Lastra and Farrand gleaned from the workshop was about trusting the orchestra and shepherding them to perform their best. Works from this year’s repertoire included pieces by Beethoven, Brahms, and Debussy. The intensity of the workshop was challenging, as students spent hours alternating between studying, reviewing footage, conducting, and watching and learning from others in their cohort.

“It was very emotional during the last part of the workshop to see the progress everyone made,” explained Lastra, who has already spent time reviewing her notes. “As a conductor, the learning never ends. There is always something to improve.”

For more information about the International Conducting Workshop and Festival, visit their website:

Note: This article was written by Stephanie Swindle, College of Arts & Architecture Public Relations Specialist.