The Moritzburg Festival Academy kicked off with a friendly welcome from the director, cellist Jan Vogler. Crowding into the Eisenberger Hof Hotel restaurant (where we are staying), we listened, glancing around at our new colleagues, looking for a familiar face. For me, being at a festival in Germany is a new experience – I’ve been to several in the US but not any here. It’s exciting coming here knowing hardly anyone, getting to meet new people and to get new perspectives and ideas about playing. While established classical musicians commonly tour all over the world, it’s a bit harder as a student to come over here, and I find that sadly there is little overlap between music students in the States and in Europe.

For the first full day we start early: by nine am we are tuning for chamber music rehearsals. I’m playing the Shostakovich Piano Quintet with a group of academy students. We sit down and establish the common language – we are from all over the place: Czech Republic, Germany, US, Armenia. English seems to be the best option.

We read through it and then stop to work, going from the end backwards. We run right into the next scheduled rehearsal of a tango by the Moritzburg Festival’s composer in residence: Gustavo Beytelmann. Sadly, our conductor, James Gaffigan, is delayed by the Lufthansa strike and so we read through the piece with our concertmaster Noah conducting.

Lucklily the conductor finally arrives during lunch, and we immediately start our rehearsal on the chamber orchestra version of the Eighth String Quartet. He begins with a disclaimer: ‘I hope none of you are purists about playing this piece in string quartet version’. No one speaks up: I think we are all fine with playing this version. For string players, at least, playing in a chamber orchestra is much more akin to playing chamber music anyway, and getting to have the flexibility of playing in a small orchestra is really great.

After a day packed with rehearsals (literally 9am to 9pm with only a few hours in between for meals) we are all ready to do something fun. Packing into a few cars, we drive in to Dresden for some drinks. It’s fun hanging out with the people here – there are people from all over the world: Russia, Romania, The Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, as well as a sprinkling from Canada and the US. Laughing over language barriers and jokes that are a little too risqué or strange in translation, we have a good time.