In October, four current and recent Kovner fellows accompanied several members of the administration to China. Benjamin Sosland sent a dispatch.
I'm writing from a rehearsal room at the Shanghai Conservatory, where violin alum Jennifer Liu and current students Yi Qun Xu (cello) and Hannah Geisinger (viola) are reading through a Brahms sextet with three peers studying here in Shanghai. Violinist Mariella Haubs is also with us and the four present and former Kovner fellows have become fast friends and completely delightful travel companions. They have also been true leaders. Since chamber music is still a rather foreign experience here, they have been teachers and advocates, and generous ones at that. This week has been full of life-changing experiences for them, both musically and personally.
Prior to Shanghai, we had stops at the Beijing Conservatory, where the students performed at President Polisi's book-release event, and at the People's Liberation Arts Academy, which was both fascinating and somewhat surreal: a meticulously kept campus filled with college-age (or younger) soldier/artists marching around the grounds in full military attire. This school requires its students to enlist in the armed services, kind of like a (mercifully weaponless) West Point for the arts. Otherwise, it's not so dissimilar from any other conservatory, with students majoring in the visual and performing arts. Our time there culminated in what can only be described as a performance that truly ran the gamut, including everything from our quartet playing Adams, Bolcom, and Dvorák to a Chinese pipa virtuoso and an extremely impressive performance of “Casta diva.”
We also collaborated with the Tianjin Conservatory and toured the building site of The Tianjin Juilliard School—these were the first Juilliard students to set foot on that ground. “History in the making” is how Yi Qun described it. And then we moved on to the Shanghai Conservatory, where I now find myself with a few goosebumps and maybe a slight lump in my throat watching and listening to how the Brahms has become, in the last hour, a totally credible piece of music because of the leadership and generosity of the Kovner fellows. And I'm thinking how privileged we are to be able to create opportunities for them and other Juilliard students, to watch them explore new boundaries (both literal and figurative), to see them grow into their potential as artists and human beings, and to really and truly make a difference.—Benjamin Sosland (MM '03, DMA '08, voice) is the assistant dean for the Kovner Fellowships, administrative director of Juilliard Historical Performance, and a member of the college faculty.