Hot Springs Music Festival

The Hot Springs Music Festival is a non-profit organization whose dual mission is, first, to provide exceptionally talented young musicians with intensive mentoring to prepare them for the early stages of their professional careers, and, second, to have them share the music they make with people in central Arkansas. To fulfill its mission, the festival organization produces a two-week annual event by the same name every June in the historic downtown district of Hot Springs (Garland County).

The festival was founded in 1995 by Richard Rosenberg, an orchestra conductor and music educator, and Laura Rosenberg, an arts administrator. Prior to founding the festival, Richard Rosenberg had been acting director of orchestras at the University of Michigan, associate conductor of the London Classical Players, and music director of the Pennsylvania Ballet, as well as a guest conductor of orchestras across the United States and in Europe. Laura Rosenberg had served as director of production for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, as concert director at Northwestern University, and as director of the Old First Concerts series in San Francisco.

They had observed weaknesses as well as evolving opportunities in the classical music field during the course of their careers and designed an event-based organization to help musicians adapt to this changing environment. The Rosenbergs chose the city of Hot Springs after a nationwide search for a community that possessed a significant but underutilized historic district, natural beauty, an easily accessed location, an ability to accommodate visitors of all socioeconomic levels, and a strong history of volunteerism.

In preparation for each festival season, young musicians from all over the world apply to become “apprentices.” Their applications are competitively evaluated by “mentors,” fully established, mid-career musicians from major symphony orchestras and conservatory faculties. Once selected, the apprentices meet their mentors in Hot Springs to rehearse and perform side by side in a full-immersion schedule of symphony orchestra, chamber orchestra, chamber music, and opera repertoire. Every apprentice is provided full scholarship and housing at the festival, plus access to career-building seminars and master classes. On average, 100 to 125 apprentices participate in the program each year; their scholarships are funded by a variety of individual, family, foundation, business, and corporate sponsors.

One unique feature of the Hot Springs Music Festival is that the entire music-making process, rehearsals as well as concerts, is open to the public. Another is that the venues are non-traditional, encompassing hotel ballrooms, churches, and a historic gymnasium. Every aspect of the concert-going experience has been reevaluated: the musicians perform in casual black street clothes, and audiences are encouraged to participate in the relaxed atmosphere.

Since the Hot Springs Music Festival’s inaugural season in 1996, it has been part of the visual and performing arts community that has spurred a renaissance of Hot Springs’ previously neglected historic downtown district. In collaboration with organizations such as the Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute, the Hot Springs Gallery Walk Association, ArtBlast, and the University of Arkansas Elderhostel, it has helped to make “cultural tourism” a major economic force in the city.

In addition to its impact within Arkansas, the Hot Springs Music Festival has gained an international reputation for resurrecting, performing, and recording the music of underappreciated American composers, particularly the “Creole Romantics” of nineteenth-century New Orleans, Louisiana: Louis Moreau Gottschalk, the Lambert family, and Edmond and Eugène Dédé. The festival’s recordings have received repeated National Public Radio broadcasts and are distributed worldwide on Naxos Records.

More than 20,000 people attend the festival’s on-site events each year. The festival’s apprentice alumni, including many native Arkansans, are employed throughout North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia in orchestras, concert halls, and music conservatories.

For additional information:
Leigh, James. “2023 Hot Springs Music Festival Canceled.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 12, 2023. (accessed September 7, 2023).

Villani, John. The 100 Best Arts Towns in America. 4th ed. Woodstock, VT: The Countryman Press, 2005.

Laura Rosenberg
Hot Springs Music Festival


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