Adam Summer School Alumni Spotlight – Ben Booker

Updated: Mar 1

The Adam Summer School has provided string players and pianists from across New Zealand and beyond with the opportunity to learn from the very best. Up to 25 students are chosen each year to fully immerse themselves in intensive coaching and masterclasses, culminating in two finale concerts at the stunning Nelson Centre of Musical Arts.


In anticipation of the 28th annual Adam Summer School in 12-20 February 2022, we decided to catch up with a few of our alumni to see what they're up to now and how the summer school has impacted their career. Click here to read our Q&A with fellow alumni: Davina Shum, Liam Wooding, and Arna Morton.


 

Ben Booker, pianist

Years Attended: 2012, 2013


Adam Summer School alumnus Ben Booker is no stranger to the concert stage, having won the grand prize at the Manawatu piano competitions and the Janetta McStay recital prize at Wellington's Piano Plus Competition. He now spends his days working in medicine, but has managed to keep his passion for piano going. We caught up with Ben to find out what he's been up to since participating in the Adam Summer School in 2012 and 2013.

Classical musicians performing in a piano trio setting (violin, cello, piano), dressed in formal concert attire.
Ben performing the Brahms Piano Trio in B major, Op. 8 with violinist Arna Morton and cellist Anna-Marie Alloway at the 2013 Adam Summer School.

Describe your the Adam Summer School experience in three words.

Intenser than Leningrad.


Who or what motivated you to apply for Adam Summer School?

Actually it was the repeated badgering of one Helene Pohl, who, when I told her I didn't really think chamber music was my forte, said 'we'll make it your forte'! I'm very thankful to her. It's at least a mezzo-forte now.

How has Adam Summer School shaped you to be the musician you are today?

It had this amazing ability to be a great distillery of musical thought – all these completely different ideas and approaches towards music making were thrown into a pressure cooker with an almost unbelievable intensity, before whoosh! An original interpretation was wrought out, and it all seemed like the most obvious and natural thing in the world. It was an important process for me as it helped me to relish, rather than avoid, interpretative differences and the beautiful productive tensions that come with them – maybe politicians might benefit from the same process!


Tell us about your most memorable moment from the Adam Summer School.

One year we were playing Schubert's wonderful and devastating E-flat piano trio, and the silence after the slow moment was so deafening that we ended up holding our positions for just ages before beginning the third movement. It was one of the great musical 'connection moments' I've been part of, yet it didn't even involve a single sound.

Happy group photo with 2012 Summer School participants, dressed in formal performance attire, most holding their string instruments.
2012 Adam Summer School participants. Ben performed the Schubert Piano Trio in E flat, Op. 100 with violinist Kate Oswin and cellist Yotam Levy.

What have you been up to since the Adam Summer School?

Ben is wearing glasses and dressed in full PPE gear including face mask and face shield, and hospital scrubs.
Ben is currently working at Auckland's Middlemore Hospital.

I've kept piano simmering along on the back-burner and have embarked on a career as a doctor. I'm working in internal medicine in Whangārei hospital, although as we speak, I've been sent as emergency cover to the COVID ward at Middlemore Hospital while it deals with an influx of patients from the present outbreak. I'm still trying to find the perfect mix of the two careers.

Recently, I presented a talk at a palliative medicine conference about how doctors can learn from composers' musical interpretations of death and was reminded yet again what a pleasantly miserable bunch those great artists were!

Who inspires you?

People who work to promote equality and diversity simultaneously. At the moment, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Helen Clark, and Jeremy Corbyn are my dream lunch guests.


What would you like to say to students who are on the fence about applying for the Adam Summer School?

I think it’s one of the closest things to a real lightbulb moment you can find in music training – an unrivalled concentration of great people, interesting thoughts, and excellent music in a collaborative and uncompetitive environment... what more could you want from a summer?

 


Applications are now open for the 2022 Adam Summer School!


Presented by the New Zealand String Quartet and generously sponsored by the Adam Foundation, Adam Summer School provides the opportunity for up to 25 talented young string players and pianists to commit themselves to eight days of intense chamber music-making under the guidance of the New Zealand String Quartet and guest pianist-in-residence, Diedre Irons.


Applications close on 29 October. Click here for all the info on how to apply.

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