This month, we spoke with Melissa Reardon, a graduate of our Music Department who has been recently appointed the next Artistic Director of the Portland Chamber Music Festival, a position currently held by Walnut Hill’s Director of Music Jennifer Elowitch. Melissa caught us up on her post–Walnut Hill career and shared some words of wisdom for our youngest alumni.
1. What brought you to Walnut Hill originally, and what was your experience like as a music student here? Do you have a favorite memory from those years?
I was studying music at the NEC Preparatory School on weekends when Walnut Hill was introduced to me by the conductor of the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, Ben Zander. He was instrumental in getting me to attend Walnut Hill. I was home-schooled before I started at the Hill, so going there for high school was a life-changing experience, to say the least! As a music student, I remember learning and performing the first movement of the Ravel Quartet from memory—that was a thrilling and terrifying undertaking. I recall that the group really bonded over the experience, and we were super proud of ourselves at the concert for getting through the piece without stopping!
2. Tell us about your current career and the steps you took after Walnut Hill to get to where you are now. How did you end up in this position with the Portland Chamber Music Festival?
For the last 12 years, I have been the violist in the Enso String Quartet. As a member of the quartet, I have performed and traveled all over the world. It has been an incredibly rewarding thing to do, and I feel very lucky that I have been able to do it. While I was studying at Walnut Hill, I had a serious group who rehearsed for hours a day and had multiple coaching sessions every week. It was a formative experience that cemented my dream of wanting to play quartets for a living. After graduating high school, I went to the Curtis Institute of Music and then returned to NEC for graduate study. During that time, I was always on the lookout for quartet-playing opportunities. I remember I had a gig playing quartets in a restaurant every weekend in Philadelphia. I don’t think anyone was really listening to us, but it was so educational because we went through tons of repertoire that way.
Those early years out of school were tough. I freelanced in NYC for several years and was just scraping by. It was so hard, I nearly left music altogether. It took me a good 10 years of searching and trying to start quartets after Walnut Hill before I joined the Enso Quartet.
Meanwhile, I had always wanted to start or run a music festival. When the search for a new Artistic Director of the Portland Chamber Music Festival was announced, I was excited to apply. I had known Jenny Elowitch since my early days at NEC Prep, but we did not reconnect until I came to do an alumni performance at Walnut Hill in April 2016. I then went to the festival for the first time in August 2017—and I loved it! I could not be more thrilled to be taking over from someone whom I admire and with whom I share so many common threads.
3. Do you have any lessons or advice for our recently graduated Walnuts who are entering the world?
I once read about a writer who aimed to have 100 rejections for every 1 acceptance: I think that is a healthy way of thinking about work and for dealing with failure. No matter what kind of success you have, there will be periods of failure. Lots of failure. But if you love what you do, and it inspires you, hold on to that kernel of hope and longing and dreaming—it can keep you striving for the thing you want. Also, don’t spend too much time on your phone . . . it’s bad for your brain!