From junior camper to WYSO concertmaster: Aaron Levett’s story

Eight years ago, a nervous junior camper named Aaron Levett arrived for his first summer at Interlochen Arts Camp. This year, a much more confident Aaron Levett—now in his final year at Interlochen—leads the World Youth Symphony Orchestra as its principal violinist and concertmaster.

Levett first heard about Interlochen Arts Camp from his violin teacher, Sharon Rothstein, who is an Interlochen Arts Camp alumna herself. “She suggested that I join the junior advanced string program,” said Levett. “She wanted me to have the opportunity to get chamber music experience.”

The first few years at camp were difficult for Levett. “During my first year of camp, I was extremely homesick,” he said. “I actually had to talk to [dean of students] Jennifer Wesling about it. I called my parents every day, sometimes multiple times per day.”

Despite the hardships, his junior division years hold some of Levett’s fondest memories. “During my last junior year, my quartet was selected to play at ‘Collage,’ ” he recalled. Levett also remembered a traditional junior boys activity: Gutter Sundae. During Gutter Sundae, a gutter filled with ice cream and toppings is placed on a pier so that campers can enjoy a sundae while cooling off in Duck Lake. “Looking back, it seems like a strange decision on my part,” said Levett with a laugh. “It seems a little unsanitary!”

Levett hasn’t spent all of the last eight summers at Interlochen; he took a couple of years off to explore other programs. But the magic of Interlochen eventually brought him back. “You learn a lot more at Interlochen than you do at other camps,” he said. “It’s more condensed learning. At other camps, there’s a lot more focus on independent practice—which is good too—but at Interlochen, you get consistent feedback.”

“Consistent feedback” includes ensembles, private lessons and master classes. Last summer, Levett had a chance to do something few violinists do during one such master class: Play a Stradivarius. “It’s a once or twice in a lifetime opportunity,” he said.

This summer, Levett has the added responsibilities of being concertmaster of WYSO, including conducting the Interlochen Theme at the conclusion of each WYSO concert. Levett, who has no formal conducting training, learned by watching first-week guest conductor JoAnn Falletta. “I had to know where all the entrances and cues were,” he said. “I conducted with the score until week 3, but now I feel comfortable on my own.”

Despite his musical prowess, Levett looks forward to pursuing a career outside of music at Stanford University, where he hopes to major in computer science, biology or linguistics. Even in these non-musical fields, the lessons taught at Interlochen will serve him well.

“I’m a lot more independent now,” he said, comparing his 17-year-old self with his junior counterpart. “Now, I call my parents every few days—and they’re the ones asking me to call more often,” he said with a smile.

—Melissa Luby