For the violinist Lisa Goddard, performing at the Spoleto Festival USA is a milestone. Now in her third year with the Spoleto Festival Orchestra, she is performing a piece that has followed her through her entire career: Bela Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra.
"It was the first thing that I played in my youth orchestra in Denver," said Goddard, who is originally from Boulder, Colo., but now lives in Boston. "That was the first time I had been around people who were much better than me."
Many of the musicians in the orchestra were planning to study music in college. Goddard, 25, was a junior in high school and about to make that decision for herself. She said it was a "very inspiring experience."
When Goddard was a freshman at the Oberlin Conservatory, she was part of a "mini tour" that the college organized.
"The tour was to Carnegie Hall," she said, laughing. "So again, I was this little freshman, overwhelmed in this huge hall, and playing Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra again."
On Wednesday night at the Sottile Theatre, Goddard will serve as concertmaster of the Spoleto Festival Orchestra, conducted by the Charleston native Joseph Young in his Spoleto Festival debut. They will perform the Bartok along with John Adams' "Doctor Atomic Symphony" and Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings."
This year's 90 festival orchestra musicians hail from 25 states and 12 countries.
Sidney Hopson, a percussionist from Los Angeles, has performed on the Fox television show "Glee" and backed up Rihanna. After the festival, he is headed to Washington to advocate for cultural diplomacy before the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities and the Congressional Arts Caucus.
"The festival is very much on the forefront of cultural development, but also pays great respect to past composers," Hopson said.
Hopson, 24, also is at the festival for the third time. He is performing in the orchestra and in the operas "El Nino" and "Kat'a Kabanova." During the May 29 Intermezzo concert, he will premiere his original composition for solo percussion, "Color Reels II." The piece was composed in memory of Anthony Hopkins, a former Spoleto Festival trombonist and friend of Hopson's, who was killed in a car accident last summer.
"The orchestra becomes a family very quickly," Hopkins said.
It's not just the musicians who find the festival experience rewarding.
"I feel a lot of pride and affection toward the musicians because of what they give musically, and their dedication to their art," said John Kennedy, resident conductor and director of orchestral activities.
This winter, Kennedy traveled to 10 cities to hold auditions. He hoped to hire musicians based not only on their skill, but on their "musical personality."
"These people work so hard at refining their art," Kennedy said. "They play with deep commitment. They're willing to try new things. They're enthusiastic about new repertoire."
Kennedy, 55, who has led Spoleto's contemporary music series, Music in Time, since 1990, said that every year, the orchestra members develop a camaraderie that helps them play well together.
"Some people are new, some people might have been here before, but there's a new chemistry every year," he said. "We develop this contagious spirit of loving to make music together. It's very exciting, and it all comes through in the way we play."
Aik Khai Pung, who is working with festival orchestra musicians as the assistant conductor for El Nino and as a conductor in the Intermezzi series, said he is impressed with the adventurousness of the musicians who come to Charleston.
"They are fresh out of school and they're very enthusiastic about music," said Pung. "You can program anything that you think is challenging musically or technically, and they can do it."
Young, 31, who conducts tonight's concert, grew up attending Spoleto events.
"It's great to be able to work with young musicians who are eager like me," he said. "These musicians are the future of American orchestras."
Sarah Hope is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.