The Juilliard Orchestra: not your average school orchestra

By Patrick Posey, Director of Orchestral Activities and Planning

The Juilliard Orchestra, like its counterparts at other institutions, is a performing ensemble guided by an educational mission. What sets it apart, however, are the extremely high quality of both performance and education opportunities available to its members.

[Tony Tommasini, in a generally warm review of Pierre Boulez's recent concerts with the Chicago Symphony at Carnegie Hall, describes their rendition of Stravinsky's Pulcinella as "listless" and "stodgy and blurry...." At the reopening concert for Alice Tully Hall, David Robertson led the Juilliard Orchestra in a performance of the Pulcinella suite that was in every way sharper, clearer, and more alive than Chicago's.]

Alex Ross, The Rest is Noise (blog), 3/12/09 http://www.therestisnoise.com/2009/03/tully-note.html

Few academic ensembles in the world are regularly compared to professional ensembles, however the Juilliard Orchestra, led by director of conducting and orchestral studies James DePreist, regularly receives such acclaims. Being that we’re housed at Lincoln Center, we perform frequently at Avery Fisher Hall, home of the New York Philharmonic, as well as the new Alice Tully Hall and our own Peter Jay Sharp Theater. Our roster of guest conductors reflects the close relationship we have with our neighbors, and includes James Levine, artistic director of the Metropolitan Opera and music director of the Boston Symphony, Alan Gilbert, music director-designate of the New York Philharmonic, Pierre Boulez, former music director of the New York Philharmonic, and George Manahan, music director of the New York City Opera.

["...it is deceiving to call the Juilliard players a student orchestra."] Bernard Holland, New York Times, 2/4/08 http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/04/arts/music/04levi.html

In addition to Lincoln Center performances, the orchestra performs regularly at Carnegie Hall, an accolade reserved for only the finest of the world’s professional orchestras and artists. The Berlin Philharmonic, Concertgebouw Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, and Cleveland Orchestra are regular guests at Carnegie, and very often invite Juilliard Orchestra musicians to open rehearsals at Carnegie, as well as stopping by the school to give masterclasses and lead readings.

[During a week-long residency at The Juilliard School, six of the orchestra's principal musicians will lead master classes with student musicians who occupy first chairs of Juilliard's orchestra. In addition, Music Director Franz Welser-Möst, who has led three professional video recordings of Bruckner symphonies with The Cleveland Orchestra for the Clasart and Medici Arts labels that have been telecast both nationally and in Europe, will lead a Juilliard student orchestra rehearsal of movements of Bruckner's Seventh Symphony on Thursday, February 5.]     

Cleveland Orchestra press release, 12/19/08 http://www.clevelandorch.com/html/PressRoom/pressreleases.asp?ID=252

Juilliard Orchestra performances are not limited to venues in New York City. In recent years the orchestra has performed around the world, including a tour of China immediately preceding the 2008 Olympics (performing three programs at Beijing’s National Center for the Performing Arts [the ‘egg'] and the Shanghai Grand Theater), as well as an American tour (2006, performances at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall, Dallas’ Meyerson Symphony Center, Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall, among others) and a European tour (2005, performances at London’s Royal Albert Hall, the Lucerne Festival, the Konzerthaus Berlin, and in Helsinki, Finland). During the summers of 2003 and 2004, the Juilliard Orchestra was ensemble in residence at the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy.

The Juilliard Orchestra is invited regularly to perform for national broadcast on Live, from Lincoln Center, recently with artists as diverse as John Williams, Itzhak Perlman, Wynton Marsalis, and Rene Fleming, and in 2004 was featured in performance with superstar Elton John at Radio City Music Hall.

Our educational mission is not lost in the flurry of performance activities. The Juilliard Orchestra is driven by this mission, which is served in a variety of ways. Guest conductors are chosen partly based on their dedication to education, and spend upwards of two weeks in residence at the school during concert preparation. In addition to our stellar faculty drawn from Lincoln Center orchestras, repertoire classes are offered for violin (Sheryl Staples and Yoko Takebe, New York Philharmonic), viola (Robert Vernon, Cleveland Orchestra), cello (Eric Bartlett, New York Philharmonic), bass (Timothy Cobb, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra) and winds/brass/percussion (Mark Gould, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra – retired). The same musicians regularly lead sectionals for the orchestra, in addition to other guests (including Glenn Dicterow and Joe Alessi of the New York Philharmonic, Trish Rogers of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra).

Repertoire is determined by a cycle, with the goal being that each student receives a diverse amount of stylistic training during their 2- or 4- years here. With this in mind, each season features a broad range of repertoire, ranging from baroque to romantic and classical to modern. In coming years, a reading format will be introduced which will ensure that all students are given opportunity to spend time playing all of the Beethoven symphonies, as well as a number of other standard works.

Our program is a work in progress, and we’re constantly looking for ways to improve! With this in mind, our musicians are constantly given opportunity to express their feelings on everything we do. This is done through an email account we’ve set up, which all students can access and through which they can give us feedback completely anonymously. All comments are considered by the orchestral administration and shared with President Joseph Polisi and Dean Ara Guzelimian. This feedback helps guide policy changes and repertoire selection, as well as helping to select guest conductors for future concerts.

Activities of the 2008-09 season have included orchestral readings with Michael Tilson Thomas (Mahler, Symphony no. 6) and Franz Welser-Möst (Bruckner, Symphony no. 7), as well as a performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony in Carnegie Hall (James Conlon, conductor), Beethoven’s Eroica at Avery Fisher Hall under Alan Gilbert, a concert performance of John Adams’ opera Death of Klinghoffer with the composer conducting, and (in collaboration with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center) appeared as the first orchestra to perform in the newly renovated Alice Tully Hall under David Robertson.

During the 2009-10 season (which will be announced in coming weeks) we will perform at Carnegie Hall, where Michael Tilson Thomas will lead the orchestra in Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, tenor Robert Dean Smith, and the world premiere of a work for piano and orchestra by Chen Qigang featuring Lang Lang. Additionally, we’re quite fortunate to perform Brahms’ second symphony in Alice Tully Hall under the incomparable Bernard Haitink, and a concert in Avery Fisher Hall with Leonard Slatkin. Also returning are Alan Gilbert, Xian Zhang, Nicholas McGegan, Anne Manson, and of course James DePreist. Teaching residencies are in the works (similar to that of the Cleveland Orchestra described above) of prominent visiting orchestras from Germany and Great Britain.

For information on concerts, this season’s programs, and a look at our rehearsal schedules, check out the orchestra’s website at http://orchestra.juilliard.edu/. If you have further questions, please contact me at pposey@juilliard.edu – there’s so much going on, it’s hard to summarize in a few quick paragraphs, and I’m happy to tell you more!