When Irving Klein arrived in Northern California and set up his teaching studio in 1971, he brought with him a summer music program that he and his colleagues from the North Carolina School of the Arts had begun several years earlier. The Blue Ridge Music Camp, located first in Hillsville, VA, and subsequently in Meisenheimer, NC, brought students and faculty together in a residential setting for 6 weeks of intensive study and coaching, including private lessons, chamber music, and orchestral ensembles. Upon moving west, the program became known as the California Music Center. CMC took place for eleven years on the campus of the College of Notre Dame (now Notre Dame de Namur University) in Belmont, CA, where Klein was a faculty member, and then for one year near the UC Berkeley campus.
CMC continued and expanded on the principles that had guided the creation of Blue Ridge. Vocal and piano departments were added. Students and faculty were in residence together on the campus, so that faculty were always available not only for formal lessons and classes but for reading sessions, chess and backgammon games, and other informal interaction. The curriculum encompassed private instruction, master classes, orchestra, intensive chamber music coaching, opera productions, faculty solo and chamber music recitals, and numerous student performance opportunities, all taking place within an atmosphere that balanced the highest standards with humane and supportive guidance.
Upon Irving Klein’s untimely death in 1984, it became clear that there was no one prepared to step in and carry on with the summer festival, but his family, friends, and colleagues, together with the many others who had enthusiastically supported CMC, all felt strongly that some means should be found to carry out his legacy of mentoring young musicians. A memorial concert was held to benefit the new Irving M. Klein Memorial Scholarship Fund, and after a great deal of searching, the Board of CMC entered into a partnership with San Francisco State University to present an annual competition, awarding substantial prize money to support talented young string players ages 15-23 who were completing their studies and getting ready to launch their careers. The Competition has since grown into one of the most prestigious events of its kind, attracting ever-increasing numbers of entries annually from throughout the world and helping to enhance the developing careers of players who have gone on to become renowned soloists, chamber musicians, teachers, and prominent members of the world’s finest orchestras. In recent years, previous prizewinners have returned to the Competition to perform in anniversary events, and to serve on the jury awarding prizes to the next generation of up-and-coming young artists.
Today, the California Music Center is expanding the scope of its activities beyond the Competition to include additional recitals, home concerts, master classes, symposia, and other musical presentations.