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Historical Performance in Utrecht

Juilliard Historical Performance had a particularly international summer, with students and faculty performing in Augsburg, Germany, in collaboration with the Leopold-Mozart-Zentrum and in Thiré, France, for Dans les Jardins de William Christie, an outdoor festival in the magnificent gardens surrounding Christie’s country home, where Juilliard has been an integral partner since the festival’s founding three years ago.

Juilliard at Utrecht Early Music Festival

Robert Mealy, the director of the Historical Performance program, led Juilliard415 in rehearsal at the esteemed Utrecht Early Music Festival.

(Photo by Mary Poole)

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And just as the school year was getting underway, I led a delegation of 23 Historical Performance students, alumni, and faculty to the Utrecht Early Music Festival, in the Netherlands, where Juilliard was the first-ever conservatory in residence. The Utrecht Festival, a mecca for period-instrument performance, is the largest and, arguably, most important, gathering of its kind, with 1,000 musicians giving about 200 concerts in 10 days. Our participation included three performances, master classes, lectures, and a radio broadcast. Along with students and alumni, the program was represented by faculty members Robert Mealy, director of Historical Performance; Cynthia Roberts, violin; Phoebe Carrai, cello; Dominic Teresi, bassoon; and Gonzalo Ruiz, oboe. What follows is an adaptation of my email reports to President Polisi and Dean Guzelimian.

9/3/14

Last night Juilliard Baroque, which Robert led with his usual deftness and elegance, played a lovely program of music written during the Hapsburg Empire, which is the overriding theme of the festival. For me, a touching two-violin duet by Johann Kaspar Kerll (who knew?) that featured Robert and Cynthia in their element was the highlight. The concert took place in the TivoliVredenburg, a hyper-modern performance facility with multiple halls. It’s sort of as if Lincoln Center was all in the same building—and there were tall people speaking an inscrutable language occupying most of the seats.

The day before, I gave a talk at the musicology symposium about the H.P. program. I think it went well, although I was just five napless hours off the plane and the audience was a fairly intimidating gathering of esteemed scholars. Like all worlds, musicology symposia move to their own rhythm and among the truly abstruse topics, I did hear a few lovely talks. In any case, it was a great opportunity to share our point of view with some of the leaders in the field.

Tomorrow morning, a student/alumni chamber group will give its first performance in the beautiful Hertz Zaal. They had a preview tonight on a live radio broadcast, and the first rehearsal for our grand finale concert will be tomorrow afternoon.

Our students and faculty have been magnificent and the Juilliard name is ubiquitous here at the moment. It’s a huge source of pride that we’ve been made to feel so welcome on a global stage. 

9/5/14 

I am delighted to report that we hit one out of the park: a Juilliard415 chamber ensemble gave an accomplished performance a couple days ago. But don’t take my (biased) word for it: the audience gave them a standing ovation. Robert’s artistic guidance was invaluable, and there was a palpable sense of accomplishment when it was all over. 

Since then, the group has been focused on preparing for our big orchestra concert, which will be held tomorrow at 5 p.m. in the Geertekerk, whose name sounds approximately like when you attempt to clear your throat and cough at the same time. The orchestra sounds superb under Robert’s leadership, and it’s been a delight to sit in on impeccably collegial rehearsals that bring together faculty, alumni, and current students. Think of it as Juilliard415: The Reunion Tour. 

Our students are having a fabulous time, both by attending the seemingly endless number of concerts and by generally soaking up the delightful atmosphere of this quintessentially Dutch city, which is to say walking along charming canals, dodging the steady (and frequently harrowing) stream of bicycle traffic, and consuming an inordinate amount of dairy products. 

I really have come to believe that these types of trips provide an educational experience of the most profound and lasting kind—and certainly one we cannot create in the classroom. Artist as (global) citizen writ very large.

9/7/14 

This will be my last report, as all of the students and faculty have departed and I’m the last man standing, so to speak. I’m eager to fly home tomorrow.

It’s difficult to quantify the fullness of the experience of the past week. Our final concert was given to a capacity audience—more than 400—who were on their feet by the end. But that wasn’t the most thrilling part. Beyond the artistic achievement, there was a generosity of spirit and a palpable sense of commitment to the music and to each other that radiated from the stage. It was particularly meaningful that there was representation in the orchestra from each of the five years the H.P. program has been in existence. I don’t know if that was it, or if it was Robert’s peerless leadership, or if it was simply one of those rare moments when the stars align, but it just worked. I couldn’t help but think, “This is just so damn cool.” 

Occupying the odd little niche of early music one can’t help but become somewhat evangelical. For me no music is proprietary: it belongs to all of us. Yet the world of early music seems to enjoy nothing more than polemics. In this case, the notion that Americans lack the requisite sophistication, cultural history, talent, life experience persists. For my part, it’s not at all about patriotism, but there is an immense satisfaction in having been able to show that we are here and we can more than hold our own. 

At the outset, the main purpose in pushing so hard to see this project through was actually prosaic: publicity, recruitment, educational enrichment. It wasn’t, and still isn’t, really, about proving ourselves, although how nice that we did. Like so many intense but fleeting experiences, I guess there’s no truly quantifiable reason for it all to have happened. But I do know that it did happen, that it is very much a milestone, and that we are all the better for it.

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