Jul 15, 2008

SYLFF Chamber Music Seminar 2006 at The Juilliard School

Barli Nugent

The Juilliard School

(The following is an excerpt from the SYLFF Newsletter No.15, May 2006)

Bärli Nugent

January 8th, 2006 was a dreary winter day, but the excitement in the arrivals hall of John F. Kennedy International Airport was palpable. A small group from Juilliard stood behind the barrier, straining to see the travelers emerging from the U.S. Customs section. Five young people had flown through the night from Vienna and landed an hour earlier; five more were soon due in on a flight from Paris. Any string or wind instruments in the crowd? We didn’t know what the students looked like, and we were not sure they would spot the friendly but small, hand-lettered “Juilliard School” signs we were holding. We were eager to welcome them to New York for the start of a project that had been dreamed about and worked on for two years.

This project, later called in this, its inaugural year the ‘SYLFF Chamber Music Seminar at The Juilliard School of the Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund Fellows Mobility Program’, marked the first collaboration in a landmark three-year series of exchanges involving the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris, the Universitat fur Musik und darstellende Kunst Wien, and The Juilliard School. These exchanges have been designed to foster an educational and artistic experience that embraced the learning process at the heart of each institution. A 10-day chamber music seminar, hosted by each institution in turn during the three-year period, incorporated five students from each visiting institution into a chamber music event at the host school.

The seminar at Juilliard placed the 10 visiting students—from Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Hungary, and Poland—into 4 chamber ensembles with 9 Juilliard students—from Canada, China, Germany, and the United States. These 4 ensembles joined 14 others that together made up the performers of ChamberFest 2006. ChamberFest is an opportunity for the serious chamber musicians at Juilliard to return to the school during the final week of the winter break for an intensive week of rehearsals and daily coaching on a substantial piece of chamber music. The second week of ChamberFest coincides with the reopening of the school, and the 18 ensembles perform in six concerts given during that week.

People continued to come from the U.S. Customs section in waves. When at last a tall young man emerged with a cello strapped to his back, accompanied by four other people carrying cases for violins, a bassoon, and a trumpet, we saw the looks of relief that spread across their weary faces as they spotted us, and we knew that the SYLFF fellows from the Universitat fur Musik und darstellende Kunst Wien had finally arrived. They were greeted in German by Juilliard graduate and cellist Sabine Frick, escorted to the waiting bus, and whisked off to Juilliard. Our five guests from the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris arrived shortly thereafter, easily identified by their cases for clarinet, trombone, violin, viola, and cello. This group was greeted in French by Juilliard graduate and harpist Sivan Magen, and then also whisked off to Juilliard. The 10 musicians settled into Juilliard’s residence hall in rooms on the 22nd and 29th floors, which offer spectacular views of New York City and the nearby Hudson River, and then went for dinner in the school’s cafeteria with the Juilliard students. I was profoundly moved by the enthusiasm and sincerity of our guests, and I was eager to see what their collaboration with our students would bring.

Days later, I found myself wandering about on Juilliard’s 5th floor, delighted to hear strains of Charles Ives, Antonin Dvor˘ak, Igor Stravinsky, and recent Juilliard alumnus Jefferson Friedman emerging from the studios where the SYLFF ensembles rehearsed. The works by these four composers had been requested by the Juilliard students due to the latter’s desire to share music that represented their own interests and Juilliard’s chamber music traditions. As the days passed, students and faculty alike popped into my office during their breaks, with huge smiles on their faces as they described the joy of discovery, the exhaustion from the long hours of work they were undertaking, and the immense satisfaction of making new friends with each other. Juilliard cello-faculty member Bonnie Hampton perhaps expressed it best when she described the group she coached, saying,

“They were the best group I have had the pleasure of working with at Julliard in terms of attitude, and they were extremely fine players. The other remarkable thing is that they did not know each other at all prior to coming to the Juilliard program, but they worked together extremely well, seriously, and very professionally, and they also seemed to like and enjoy each other. Putting three unknowns together is always a “chance” and this one came up ‘golden.’ None of the musicians had played the Ives Trio before, and they were extremely open and receptive to working with his musical language. It was a real pleasure to work with this group.”

As the days of preparation came to a close, the students joined in our traditional end-of-week ChamberFest Chinese banquet. The marble floors resonated with the laughter and ebullient talk of the 90 ChamberFest participants, who consumed endless trays of lo mein noodles (stir-fried, Cantonese-style egg noodles), sautéed bok choy (Chinese chard), kung po chicken (diced chicken sautéed with sweet peppers and peanuts in spicy pepper sauce), and tofu with mushrooms, among the more than 40 dishes offered. And as is traditional with the ChamberFest banquet, all of the leftovers were wrapped up and given to the students to take back to the residence hall to share in late-night snacking together. This traditional sharing of abundant food from another culture seemed to be a delicious and fitting way to mark the SYLFF exchange as the students prepared for their performance several days hence.

Violinist Elenore Darmon noted,

It [the seminar] was very beneficial because we were put into a situation that one often encounters in a musician’s life: preparing in 10 days a work (contemporary in my case) without knowing one’s partners, and working intensively in order to construct a unity of sound and intonation, and all the while exchanging approaches to the work and choosing an interpretation that pleases each person. And it was also very good for my English!

Juilliard percussionist Luke Rinderknecht remarked,

“Working with the students from Vienna and Paris was certainly an exciting learning experience. Our rehearsals were complicated by language challenges, but with perseverance we learned “L’Histoire du Soldat” and a little of each other’s languages. Our concepts of sound were somewhat different, but through discussions about the educational and musical difference in our various countries I began to understand why that was so. It was a thoroughly fulfilling experience.”

But it was clarinetist Maguy Girard who perhaps summed it up the best, when she said that she

“left home with my clarinets, new tour books, and a new pair of shoes. Result: my tour books are now dog-eared . . . and my shoes have no soles! And the most important thing: I exchanged magnificent musical moments with students from three different nationalities (American, Austrian, and Hungarian). It was during this kind of experience that one can truly realize that music is universal, and especially that it is a language: one can communicate and share emotions without speaking the same verbal language.”

For me, being given the opportunity to observe these collaborations, it was a joy to meet the young people from Europe, entrusted to Juilliard for a too-brief period of time, to see the friendships that began within our walls, and to hear the indescribably beautiful music that resulted. I have also been privileged to make new musical friends myself: early-morning phone conversations across the Atlantic with Paris Conservatoire Deputy Director for External Affairs and Communication Gretchen Amussen introduced me to a soul mate in dreaming and planning for this project, and countless exchanges of e-mail messages with Vienna University’s distinguished professor Wolfgang Klos, whose generosity and energy marked this collaboration. I also gained new friends at The Nippon Foundation and other affiliated organizations: Mr. Yohei Sasakawa, Mr. Tatsuya Tanami, Ms. Kazuko Shiomi, Ms. Ellen Mashiko, Mr. Keita Sugai, and Ms. Takako Nakayama, who bestowed upon Juilliard the honor of their presence at the concert of the SYLFF Chamber Music Seminar at The Juilliard School. Their vision, hailed by Juilliard President Joseph W. Polisi, to nurture future leaders who will transcend geopolitical, ethnic, cultural, religious, and other boundaries for the betterment of humankind has found a home in the performing arts communities of the Vienna Universitat, Paris Conservatoire, and The Juilliard School.

The days passed far too quickly. As the students in turn strode onstage before the packed hall and shared their music, the audience cheered their approval, and I began to dream of the next exchange: Paris in January 2007. It cannot come too soon.


Bärli Nugent

Dr. Bärli Nugent is assistant dean, director of chamber music, and a faculty member of The Juilliard School, where she also administers Juilliard’s Mentoring, Scholastic Distinction, and Colloquium programs. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Juilliard, as well as a doctorate from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. A founding member of the Aspen Wind Quintet, winners of the 1984 Naumburg Chamber Music Award, she has performed in more than 1,000 concerts with the quintet throughout the United States, Europe, the former Soviet Union, and North Africa. She is also an artist-faculty member and director of chamber music for the Aspen Music Festival and School. She was instrumental in planning and running the SYLFF Chamber Music Seminar, in collaboration with her counterparts from the two other SYLFF-endowed music schools.

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