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New Playwrights Program Head; Celebrating Monk

David Lindsay-Abaire to Co-Direct Playwrights Program

One era will end and another begin at Juilliard’s Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program this fall when longtime co-director Christopher Durang retires to focus on his own projects and is succeeded by Pulitzer Prize-winning program alumnus David Lindsay-Abaire.

David Lindsay-Abaire

Juilliard Playwrighting alum David Lindsay-Abaire will co-lead the program starting September 2016.

(Photo by Joan Marcus)
Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis leads a Juilliard Jazz tribute to Thelonious Monk.

(Photo by Joe Martinez for Jazz at Lincoln Center)
Diane Bish

Diane Bish will give a master class on April 28 in Paul Hall. 

(Photo by Roni Ely)

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Lindsay-Abaire will co-direct the program with Marsha Norman, who’s led it with Durang since 1994. In the March 17 press release announcing the change Norman extolled her years working with Durang but added, “I understand why he needs his life back, so I am overjoyed to have David come in to take Chris’s chair.” She also noted that Lindsay-Abaire had been their first choice and that it was Durang who “wooed him into accepting. This is an artist legacy moment, and as such, exhibits Chris’s continuing commitment to the Juilliard program and its extraordinary young playwrights.”

Lindsay-Abaire said his years at Juilliard (1996-98) were “a special and seminal time in my life as a playwright, primarily because of Chris and Marsha and their unwavering support and guidance” and that “to be stepping in for Chris all these years later is a great honor and incredibly humbling.” His award-winning body of work as a screenwriter, lyricist, and librettist includes Good People, Rabbit Hole (which was performed at Juilliard last season), Shrek the Musical, Ripcord, Fuddy Meers, Kimberly Akimbo, Wonder of the World, and A Devil Inside, among others. His film credits include Rabbit Hole, Rise of the Guardians, and the upcoming Family Fang, starring Nicole Kidman, Christopher Walken, and Jason Bateman.

Jazz Does Monk

The iconic composer and pianist Thelonious Sphere Monk will be saluted on April 5 when Wynton Marsalis (’80, trumpet), the director of Juilliard Jazz, leads the Jazz Orchestra in a concert that will feature three pianists: faculty member Helen Sung as well as two outstanding freshmen pianists, Isaiah Thompson and Micah Thomas.

A truly singular voice in jazz, Monk is steeped in the history of early jazz piano styles (think Harlem Stride Piano), the American songbook, the rhythmic and harmonic developments of the bebop era, and the blues. Born in Rocky Mount, N.C., in 1917, he grew up at 243 West 63rd Street, just down the street from what is now Juilliard. He was mentored by the great pianist Mary Lou Williams, who, like Nadia Boulanger, was a center of musical knowledge for many jazz musicians in the 1940s.

Monk’s melodies in pieces like “Humph,” “Criss Cross,” “Evidence,” “Four in One,” and “Bye Ya” swing using clever rhythm displacements that propel the music. His music exudes logic in careful development of motives and overall structure. He also has a great sense of humor in pieces like “We See” and “Epistrophy” and a gift for poignancy heard in the haunting waltz “Ugly Beauty.” The concert also continues the department’s yearlong emphasis on the jazz arranger, and it features arrangements by, among others, members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra including Victor Goines, the former director of Juilliard Jazz, and MAP alum Carlos Henriquez.—Aaron Flagg is the chair and associate director of Juilliard Jazz.

Bish to Give Organ Master Class

The Juilliard organ department will host a musical luminary later this month when the First Lady of the Organ, Diane Bish, will give a master class in Paul Hall. Credited with revitalizing the organ and its popularity through her long-running television show, The Joy of Music, Bish has “inspired organists and laypersons around the world through her groundbreaking work,” according to Paul Jacobs, chair of the department.

A native of Wichita, Kan., Bish studied with some of the greatest 20th-century organ pedagogues including Gustav Leonhardt, Marie-Claire Alain, and Nadia Boulanger, but she credits her University of Oklahoma professor Mildred Andrews as her most influential teacher.

Bish doesn’t give master classes often, perhaps not surprisingly given her busy schedule. She writes the scripts and does all the research for her shows, has a formidable touring schedule, and designs all of her own eye-popping costumes, each bedecked with sequins and rhinestones, right down to the shoes. “Regular clothes don’t allow for the easiest movement at the organ,” Bish explained. “More importantly, I needed to get viewers’ attention,” she added, noting that the “striking colors and designs attract viewers.” The sparkling musicianship and attire are clearly working—the show is now in its 34th year and has substantially increased the organ’s visibility. That’s not to say it’s always easy. There are always challenges, among them freezing temperatures in churches and obtaining access to organs. And it can be tricky getting from one venue to the next, challenges she’s pluckily overcome upon occasion at times via camelback, sled, and horse-drawn carriage. Bish is sure to bring a wealth of knowledge—and a lot of great anecdotes—when she comes to Juilliard.—Organist Patrick Kreeger, a C.V. Starr doctoral fellow, is originally from Jacksonville, Fla.

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