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Chamber Orchestra Reaps Benifits of Professional Mentoring

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Juilliard’s Professional Mentoring program offers students the opportunity to receive advice and professional guidance while launching projects of their own design and implementation. It can function as something of a springboard for individuals who choose what Derek Mithaug, director of career development and of the Professional Mentoring program, terms the “Create a Niche” or CAN approach to their careers. Participating students (who are third- or fourth-year undergraduates, or graduate students) are connected to faculty mentors who in turn connect them with others in the New York arts community who can help provide the professional support the students require to realize their particular goals as they pursue a career path determined by their own dreams and initiative. This year, 14 different projects are receiving mentoring through the program.

The Professional Mentoring program has given members of the Arcos Chamber Orchestra real-world business skills.

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After submitting a project proposal and undergoing an interview and evaluation process, students are placed with professionals who possess extensive experience in the area of a student’s proposed project. Bärli Nugent, who directs the Faculty Mentoring program at Juilliard, describes the interaction between students and mentors as “a meeting of colleagues to share and discuss their unique artistic experiences and perspectives as equals.” Professional Mentoring, as she explains, takes the process “one step further in helping students connect to faculty through the development of specific project goals and initiatives.”

One of these student-proposed projects involves the newly established, New York-based Arcos Chamber Orchestra. Founded in 2006 by graduate students at Juilliard (this writer and violinist Elissa Cassini, along with conductor John-Edward Kelly and violinist Jennifer Curtis), the Arcos Chamber Orchestra is a musician-run organization. An ambitious and idealistic ensemble, Arcos has been extremely active in its first two years, embarking on a 10-concert tour of Germany and Switzerland this month that highlights rarely performed works by composers Anders Eliasson and Krzysztof Meyer.

In an effort to increase awareness of lesser-known contemporary music, the orchestra programs Composer Portraits that focus on the work of a single composer. Utmost attention is given to the composer’s artistic intentions, with the composer attending rehearsals whenever possible. The first Composer Portrait last month at International House in New York featured Swedish composer Anders Eliasson, who traveled to New York to be part of the process. That concert will be followed by a recording of three of Eliasson’s string orchestra works, made in collaboration with Neos Musik in Germany.

One of the Mentoring program’s strengths lies in its directors: Mithaug, Nugent, and dance faculty member Stephen Pier, who serves as artistic director of mentoring—three of the most dedicated people in the Juilliard community. They recognized the strong convictions, both musical and ideological, behind this particular endeavor and pushed for Arcos’s acceptance into the Professional Mentoring program. In order to realize its short- and long-term goals, Arcos needed help drafting and implementing a basic business plan. Enter Arlene Shrut, a member of Juilliard’s Vocal Arts faculty and founder and artistic director of New Triad for Collaborative Arts. “I’d say the Professional Mentoring sessions are rooted on three pillars: fully understanding the status of the project, including strengths and obstacles; planning the next steps towards achievement of the student-generated goals; and celebrating progress,” she notes.

Shrut is helping Arcos establish some of the larger structural aspects of its organization—developing a budget, implementing fund-raising techniques, and establishing a board of directors. Comments Cassini: “Outside the Mentoring program, you encounter people who are either in competition with you, or people who can’t give you answers. This program connects you with people who have answers you can trust!” Although most of the concerts Arcos performs are independent of the School, the chamber orchestra enjoys something of a collaborative relationship and plans to present a Portrait concert of Juilliard faculty member Samuel Adler next fall.

Professional Mentoring has helped Arcos begin to meet the demands of a competitive market, and has provided guidance in starting and operating a musical organization. Thanks to the program and The Juilliard School, new musical horizons are being defined and young musicians are learning real-world business skills to help ensure their professional success after graduation. “Overall, the focus is bringing together the people and resources for a project to succeed,” observes Shrut. Says Cassini, “Arcos is really receiving the professional guidance it needs, and we are excited about the future of our orchestra.”

Cellist Victoria Bass, a previous participant in the program, says that the lack of financial support may be the program’s only shortcoming. But Mentoring, says Nugent, “is designed to provide students with professional advice and a fresh perspective, not to fund student projects. The goal is to connect students with human resources, and powerful ideas.” In fact, one of the challenges participants in the Mentoring program face is learning how to find funding for their projects.

The Arcos Chamber Orchestra was lucky to receive ample third-party support for its concerts and recording project. Its continued progress comes from a combination of the invaluable insight offered by the Career Development Office at Juilliard, the knowledge and experience of mentor Arlene Shrut, and the continued creativity and leadership of the orchestra’s founders. The Professional Mentoring program represents Juilliard’s continued commitment to the lives of young artist-entrepreneurs and to its role in shaping the future of the performing arts.

For further information concerning the Arcos Chamber Orchestra and its projects, please visit the orchestra’s Web site: www.arcos-orchestra.com. You are cordially invited to attend its upcoming concert at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral (263 Mulberry Street) on Sunday, February 9, at 3 p.m., featuring the U.S. premiere of Krzysztof Meyer’s Fifth Symphony.

 

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