The Office of Alumni Relations and the Alan D. Marks Center for Entrepreneurship and Career Services regularly host guest artists in a lunch roundtable program that offers students insight into the various dimensions of professional life outside of Juilliard. On November 18, the guest was Allan “AJ” Nilles (BM '11, viola), who recently joined the Berlin Philharmonic. At the time of the lunch, the orchestra was in the midst of a sold-out, weeklong residency at Carnegie Hall in which it performed the entire cycle of Beethoven symphonies.
The discussion was about Nilles's career path, and it was moderated by viola faculty member Heidi Castleman and Adam Meyer (MM '04, viola), associate dean and director of the music division. They both met Nilles when he was a student at the Perlman Music Program in 2003. After Juilliard, where Nilles was Castleman's teaching assistant, he won his first professional orchestral audition with the San Diego Symphony in 2012. He took a leave two years later to attend the Berlin Philharmonic Karajan Academy, and he joined the Berlin Philharmonic this past May.
Nilles also spent some time reminiscing about Juilliard and his interactions with some of the Juilliard Orchestra guest conductors. “We had a reading of the Bruckner Seventh Symphony with Franz Welser-Möst from the Cleveland Orchestra,” he told the 11 students who managed to find time to attend the discussion. Welser-Möst was “so interesting, creative, and inspiring,” Nilles said, even though they only worked on the first two movements. Nilles also recalled a Juilliard Orchestra reading of the Brahms Second Symphony with Bernard Haitink, whom he described as being “my favorite conductor to work with—still—so far.” He described Haitink as so thoroughly immersed in the music that the “beauty emerged from [something] so simple.” In talking about his professional orchestral experiences, Nilles contrasted American orchestras' rhythmic precision with the abundant individual expressiveness in the Berlin Philharmonic. “I think the goal is really the same,” he concluded, “to get the music to blossom. There are just many different ways of getting there.”
Nilles also talked about freelancing and searching for musical opportunities in nonmusical artistic institutions and also said he wouldn't miss any of his post-Juilliard experience. “It's O.K. to go at your own steady pace and not try to climb the ladder too quickly,” he told the students. “Use your instincts—and don't be afraid to take your own path.”