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Our Opinion: Don't miss this opportunity

For seven summers Brainerd lakes area residents have been given the opportunity to hear world-class musicians without traveling to a metro auditorium or even paying one thin dime.

How incredibly fortunate we are.

When Scott Lykins came home to Brainerd with four colleagues from the Eastman School of Music in New York, they were looking for a musical outlet. In 2009, they offered six free concerts. They found an eager audience an idea took hold. This year, the Lakes Area Music Festival combines local talent and musicians from the New York Philharmonic, Minnesota Orchestra, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Colorado Symphony and the Orquesta Filarmonica De Santiago, Chile, - as one musician traveled almost 6,000 miles to perform here.

The music - Mozart, Copland, Puccini, Ravel, Brahms, Handel, Dvorak, Bach, Beethoven, Liszt and more - is brought to life through the talents of more than 120 professional musicians who create this summer event in Brainerd.

The goal? To make the concerts and the music accessible to everyone.

And that means more than simply providing a concert at Tornstrom Auditorium in Brainerd free of charge. A program - complete with a fun fact about each musician - offers insight into the music as do pre-concert interviews, open rehearsals and master class opportunities with young aspiring musicians and performers. From July 26 through Aug. 16, there have been nearly daily opportunities to enrich this summer with music. Beyond the concert itself, people are invited to meet and learn from the musicians during gatherings after performances. This isn't classical music at arms' length or behind opera glasses. Making the experience "more personal and engaging" is part of the mission. As Lykins, the festival's founding director, said before a performance this week, it's a musical moment shared by performer and listener. Audiences seem to agree as standing ovations are regular events.

Using previous festival surveys, 28 percent of the audience is getting their only access to live classical music here and for 60 percent this is their first experience with live opera performance. Each year, the festival grows. This summer's Symphonic Magic performance with Igor Lipinski, pianist and magician, brought out the largest audience since the festival began.

Why do world-class musicians travel hundreds or thousands of miles to perform in the Brainerd lakes area in July and August?

"A unique blend of repertoire, as well as the chance to play with new colleagues and develop new friendships provides each musician with their own personal reason to make the Brainerd lakes area their favorite summer destination," the festival reports.

Creating this event each year takes an entire community. Residents open their homes to host musicians. Volunteers assist with nearly every aspect from providing meals and shuttling artists to and from the airport to serving as ushers during performances.

With all this effort and talent, there shouldn't be an open seat in the house for any performance. There are two concerts left in the series this summer - 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. If you haven't availed yourself of this community treasure, take time to do so. It's an opportunity that shouldn't be missed.

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