Lee Cyphers and Joseph Peterson tackle the problem of Juilliard’s lack of gender-inclusive bathrooms, and offer a call to action.
At this year’s Convocation, new Juilliard President Damian Woetzel spoke a lot about making the school more collaborative and inclusive. “We must be intentional and proactive in fostering a robust representation of experiences and perspectives within our community,” Woetzel said. “I believe deeply in Juilliard as a community where each of us ‘belongs,’ and that education cannot be its best without being fully inclusive.”
Well said, Mr. President.
Now let’s talk about toilets.
Everybody needs one, and it’s impossible to make it through the day without using one. At Juilliard, that usually means entering either a “male-only”or “female-only” space. While many people may not even think twice about where to go, choosing between and physically being in these spaces produces unnecessary anxiety and fear for some trans, non-binary, and/or gender nonconforming people.
There is another option: they can go to a secluded corner near the Kaufman Dance Studio on the second floor, behind double doors and far from where most classes and rehearsals take place, and use one of the two single stall restrooms available there. While these are technically inclusive restrooms, in practice they only serve to further alienate those who may already feel alone.
Bathrooms have often been a battleground for larger social struggles. For example, in the classical music world, a space traditionally dominated by men, it wasn’t too long ago when women either weren’t allowed or were just not hired to play in orchestras. Even after those first trailblazing women started winning orchestral jobs, many concert halls didn’t have adequate space for women’s restrooms and changing rooms. Inequality was literally built in to the workplace.
Trans (especially non-passing) and/or non-binary people today find themselves in a similar position – part of a marginalized group whose needs are only recently being considered in these spaces. The fact that Juilliard does not yet have gender-inclusive bathrooms sends a few implicit messages to any individual in the building whose gender identity or expression adds diversity to our community: “Your needs are not important,” “You are not welcome,” and, possibly worst of all, “There is not space for you to exist here.” Experiencing this type of indifferent denial of identity day in and day out is arguably a form of violence, and at the very least, is not conducive to a healthy learning environment.
As artists, we need to be able to take up space, grow, and explore different ways of being in the world. We need to feel safe enough to try new things, to be vulnerable. We need the freedom to be ourselves unapologetically in order to find our voice. We also need to listen to all sorts of people who are different from us. We need to soak up as much of humanity as we can in order to broaden our reach and relevance, and our understanding of the world. Our arts need diversity, and this includes trans voices.
To this effect, President Woetzel’s Convocation address rings true. We, as students, just need to hold him to it.
How do we do this?
We the Student Body must actively fight for better inclusivity at Juilliard, beginning with bathrooms. Two hidden single-stalls in the entire building is not enough. We need at least one gender-neutral option on every floor. Until then, we will be labeling every restroom in the school as all-inclusive, so all students can feel safe. If you want to help us on this mission, we will be holding a meeting to finalize the designs for the bathroom signs. We’ll meet on Wednesday, October 10 at 1pm, location TBD (stay tuned!) If you’d like to be involved but cannot make the meeting, send your sign ideas or write to email@example.com.
On October 4th, there is a call for survivors of assault and their supporters to walk out of work, school, and housework at 4:00 pm. Juilliard is invited to participate.
Editors’ Note: This is not a Juilliard-sponsored event.
On October 4th, there is a call for survivors of assault and their supporters to walk out of work, school, and housework at 4:00 pm. Since it is labor that runs the world, when there are those who are denied dignity and safety, we have the power to stop the world from running.
Join us to show solidarity with survivors everywhere, raise our voices in protest, discuss how we can build a movement to block Kavanaugh, and fight the horrifying, misogynistic culture that exists in our society. This is the culture that future judges, politicians, CEOs, and presidents are steeped in, and as has been made apparent by the near constant revelations of the crimes of famed conductors, directors, actors, and pedagogues, this too is the culture of the arts. It is time to take the nature of power and sexual assault seriously and take action.
~ THURSDAY, October 4th 2018
– 4PM WALK-OUT
We will meet meet in Lincoln Center on the lawn to coordinate travel and make signs for…
– 5PM RALLY and SPEAK-OUT outside Trump Tower
Lúa Mayenco, a third year in the Juilliard Dance Division, recounts the factors that shaped her summer.
Editors’ Note: In August, we asked our readers to submit stories to the Citizen-Penguin about their summer opportunities and travels. Here, Lúa Mayenco Cardenal, a dancer beginning her third year at Juilliard, writes on the four factors that defined her summer.
In the past few weeks I had to learn how to transform my summer into a three-minute story. New York is bringing me back to its accelerating routine and I see myself carefully choosing the most energizing and unforgettable moments of the past few months to support me in the intensity of the new school year.
Home. That’s for sure the first thought that comes to my mind when I look back to my summer. Madrid, Spain, its heat, its magic evenings, its unique flavors. Family, of course. Without it, home wouldn’t be home. We sit around the table and acknowledge the little changes that time has left on us. Maybe work has been exhausting for her and he is stressed because his students are about to take their final exams, but we are all excited to see each other’s eyes and enjoy a meal in the same time zone.
Friends. That’s always an interesting one. I return to my city, or I think that I do so, and some friends recognize me and some of them don’t. We have all matured, but perhaps in opposite directions. Nevertheless, those who dare to get to know me again are worth all my energy, love and full attention. I rediscover my city, guided by those who stayed and kept exploring. New shows, secret corners, art exhibitions, and small restaurants. All of them an excuse to keep reinventing myself.
Curiosity. That’s the reason behind summer trips and crazy dance intensives. I fly to Budapest and fall in love with the simple pleasure of following a beat. I think I had forgotten how to dance for dance sake, how to let the pleasure of movement to take over me without explanation. Five days in that sunny dance studio, surrounded by the craziest teachers, their peaceful voices and their passionate movement, bring me back to life. Paris is my second destination. I really don’t know what I’m getting into. Physical theater, at least now I know what that means. Half dancers, half actors, both trying to put our hands in that grey space between our disciplines. Conclusion: there is ALWAYS a lot to learn. How humbling it is to realize that every individual has the power to introduce you into an entire new universe. I truly thank my classmates for sharing their perspective in life, art and darkness.
Rest. I forgot that was an actual thing. I get to the beach, turn off my body and the exhaustion of an entire year takes over me. I’m unable to move for 4 days. My mind uses the salt of the sea, the warmth of the sand and the secrets of the wind to find inspiration. A million ideas pop into my mind. Do I already know what I will choreograph next year? Wait, I remember that I was here to rest. Let it go… at least for a few days.
And then what? Time to say goodbye again? I don’t even know what home is anymore. New York, are you my new home? Suitcases are quickly filled up with clothes and my indispensable secret reserve of Spanish ham. I don’t know if I’m ready for my third year, but I guess we won’t know until it happens. I trust, I hope, I take my summer warmth and I go.
Matthew Liu, a composition major at The Juilliard School, shares the many adventures of his summer.
Editors’ Note: In August, we asked our readers to submit stories to the Citizen-Penguin about their summer opportunities and travels. Here Matthew Liu, a composition major now returning to Juilliard for his master’s degree, highlights his time away from Juilliard in a compilation video that features his own music.
In July, I had the incredible honor to write the processional music for my dear friend’s wedding in Mississippi. This same music is used to share with you the rest of my crazy, intimately memorable summer. They say “show, don’t tell,” so let me show you, with both my music and my memories, my summer of 2018, filled with people I love and places I long to be.
Creative Borders is a three-time Juilliard Global Enrichment Grant awarded service project with a mission to promote arts education and help underserved communities around the globe. This summer, Creative Borders completed their third consecutive year of facilitating a cross-disciplinary outreach program in Gaborone, Botswana. Artistic Director and Juilliard Dance 2018 graduate Amanda Bouza reflects on her experience of working on this summer’s program.
Above: Creative Borders Artistic Director and Juilliard Dance graduate Amanda Bouza with students in Gaborone, Botswana.
Creative Borders is a three-time Juilliard Global Enrichment Grant awarded service project with a mission to promote arts education and help underserved communities stimulate their thoughts, emotions, and voices through art. This summer, our team at Creative Borders completed their third consecutive year of facilitating a cross-disciplinary outreach program in Gaborone, Botswana.
As artistic director of Creative Borders, I oversee and facilitate the program, and work as the leader of our NYC team meetings, travel coordinator, and even stage manager of our annual program performance. As I reflect on the incredible experience I lived this summer in Botswana, I will do my best to put into words the artistic, spiritual, and educational journey Creative Borders underwent.
This June, our program was hosted once again by the Maru-a-Pula School, the top secondary school in the country, and Maitisong Theater, the first professional theater in the city. These partnerships have given the Creative Borders’ team insight into local culture, customs, and traditions, and has aided Creative Borders to offer dance and drama workshops to teens, adolescents, and adults of the Gaborone community – all completely free of charge.
Three months prior to our departure, in the midst of creating enriching, colorful lesson plans that highlighted improvisation games and movement exercises, our team of teaching artists came to agree on an idea that was to be the driving force of this years program: “Your Voice Matters.” It was our goal to amplify our participant’s ideas, self-truths, and dreams, and to provide a platform where our students could express themselves fully. Whether it was expression through dance, drama, music, or writing, we aimed to encourage individuality and self-identity.
Our students in Botswana face a community where being an artist is deemed a childhood hobby, not a passion or a career. It was imperative that we break this social construct, and encourage our participants to believe anything is possible. To be an artist is to be a creative thinker, someone willing to stretch the limits of society’s comfort zone. Nonetheless, many of our high school senior-level students are on purely academic tracks, with hopes to be doctors and engineers. Our job was not to convince them to be artists, but to expose them to devices for expression through artistic means, and to promote art as a valuable, transferable tool that can enhance their individual characteristics in a multitude of ways. It is an emotional, expressive release that can, at the very least, aid with stress/anxiety, relieve self-pressure to succeed, and allow them the opportunity to meet new people.
This year’s program concluded in a two-night performance at the Maitisong Theater with over 170 participants – our largest company yet! With only fifteen hours of class and rehearsal, we created an evening of thought-provoking, unique, and inspiring work all driven from the voices and stories of our students. Our cast ranged from primary school children to adults and included pieces about equality, women’s rights, and finding one’s courage, culminating in a drama performance led by Darryl Daughtry Jr. entitled “Art Manifesto,” where students spoke out about the importance of the arts and their impact on students’ daily lives. With two sold-out performances, our participants concluded each night with enormous smiles and bright eyes. As a teacher, it was so moving to see them proud of their work and effort. Our students knew they made a difference and that their stories were heard – maybe for the first time, but definitely not the last!
While this final performance was a huge highlight for our project, it was not our sole purpose for being in Botswana. We wanted to ensure that we included the Gaborone community as a whole. This ultimate objective was made possible through partnerships with the Ambrose Academy and the Botswana Teen Club.
Every morning, we would visit the Ambrose Academy to teach creative movement classes to children ages 3-11 living with various physical and mental disabilities. At the conclusion of our time with the Ambrose children, they fully memorized our songs, dances, and stories. In just two weeks, the kids excelled at ballet basics, rhythmic games and could perfectly recite our “Good-Bye Song.” An extraordinary feeling came over me when one of our students knew exactly how to execute an “échappé,” a beginner ballet jump. I asked the class who could demonstrate the step, and a young boy’s hand immediately shot up in the air. With an enormous smile on his face and gleaming bright eyes, he demonstrated the step beautifully. At that moment, the teaching artists and I shared a glance, one of happiness and fulfillment. Later on our bus ride back home, we spoke about this particular moment from class and were moved by the incredible progress our students had made in such a short period of time. The students at Ambrose Academy brought enthusiasm, brightness, and creativity to our lessons, and are living proof that students with disability are much more intellectually capable than the world thinks.
On Saturdays, we worked with the Botswana Teen Club, an organization dedicated to providing positive role models and opportunities for teens and adults living with HIV/AIDS. In just two sessions, the teens grew willing and eager to create newspaper puppets with Bianca Norwood, to learn cross body improvisation techniques with Sean Lammer, and to be the directors of their own scenes with Darryl Daughtry Jr. Their transformation was outstanding. At the start of our first session they were all so hesitant to move, expand, or even sit on the floor. By the end of our first two-hour workshop, they were singing, dancing, and expressing their individuality. Resistant to conclude our sessions, the teens were craving more, asking for warm-ups, drama exercises, and dance stretches they could practice on their own!
In fact, I recently received a message from one of the teens who mentioned he still did our exercises every morning and wanted to be the first to know about our return. As teaching artists, we believe so intensely in the power of our particular crafts and the importance of art education around the world – however, it’s moments like these, when a student reaches out weeks later still invested and interested, that make the work that much more meaningful. Art exposure gives teens involved in organizations like Botswana Teen Club the opportunity to grow and exceed the limitations that society has placed on them. My hope is that through continuous exploration, this student and others will not only discover new avenues of expression, but feel empowered to share their story with others.
Creative Borders: Botswana Project 2018 was an eye opening experience. Teachers, parents, and local community members came together to recount this as the strongest year yet, with hopes that we return next year. In just three short weeks we saw our students thrive, grow, and shine with passion, laughter, self-reflection, and strength. Our adult dancers began organizing classes so that they may continue moving beyond the Creative Borders Project. The success of the program would not have been possible without our incredible team of teaching artists, and I cannot express my gratitude and admiration for their willingness and dedication to the project. I also thank our Executive Director, Austin Reynolds, for his continuous work and enlightening vision.
I am so grateful to have made this dream a reality. With the help of The Juilliard School, our families, friends, and donors, Creative Borders has been able to push boundaries and spread artistic encouragement around the globe. Botswana will always hold a special place in our hearts as it was the home of our pilot program three years ago. We are elated with the success of our project and are so looking forward to our next endeavor!
Creative Borders, founded by Amanda Bouza (Dance, ’18) and Juilliard alum Austin Joseph Reynolds (Dance, ’17), is the only Juilliard student-initiated program that has been granted The Juilliard Community Engagement Grant for three consecutive years. The group will travel to Botswana in June to teach free workshops to the community of Gaborone.
Performers from The Juilliard School Foster Community Through Artistic Collaboration in Botswanawith Creative Borders
Creative Borders is a team of dancers, actors, and musicians from The Juilliard School dedicated to offering free workshops designed for people of all ages. In June of 2018, for the the third consecutive year, a new Creative Borders team will be traveling to Gaborone, Botswana with the hope to inspire communities that crave artistic outlets, opportunities, and training through the universal language of the arts. This year we are proud to announce that we are including workshops in jazz music, as well as drama and dance. Our program aims to provide people with the tools to express themselves through art beyond our three-week visit.
Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, is a small and vibrant city right above the South African border that lacks arts education. The people pride themselves in pursuing an education in math and science. At the Maru-a-Pula school, an exception has been created, which is why it has become the perfect fit for Juilliard students to foster a cultural exchange through the arts.
During our time there, our schedule includes teaching creative movement and rhythm to children with special needs, conducting dance, drama, and music classes every afternoon to the students of the Maru-a-Pula school, as well as teaching older members of the community each evening. On some mornings, the team gives workshops to younger primary schools, and on the weekends we give our time to health organizations that help people affected by HIV/AIDS.
The program ends with a performance at the Maitisong Theater, the only theater in all of Gaborone, located on the Maru-a-Pula campus. Tefo Paya, Director of the Maitisong Theater declares the project, “…a much needed catalyst in the process of growing the creative industry here and inspiring people and artists who have lost hope.” The performance is a true culmination of the cultural exchange between young professional artists and the community of Gaborone.
This year’s team includes:
Amanda Bouza (Dance ’18)
Austin Reynolds (Alumni, Dance ’17)
Sean Lammer (Dance ’19)
Darryl Daughtry Jr. (Drama ’19)
Bianca Norwood (Drama ’21)
Taurien Reddick (Jazz ’21)
Abdias Armenteros (Jazz ’21)
Last week, the administration approached Joe Peterson about his March 15th practice room op-ed, calling his work “fake news.” He writes: “Their concern shows that students, in fact, do have power. We just need to recognize it collectively.”
Photo by The Citizen-Penguin
Last week, a member of the Juilliard administration caught my attention in the hall and asked if I would be willing to speak with them about the practice room op-ed I wrote a month or so ago. Innocent enough, I thought; at least this was a sure sign that they read it.
What proceeded a conversation that gave the illusion of student support – “I’m on your side” – was a grilling on “proper” journalism. According to this administration member, I would have been more credible had I gone to them first with my concerns because only then would I have been enlightened with “all the facts.” I was told that some of what I said just wasn’t true, and they went as far as calling the work I produced “fake news.”
These are the absent facts that made the original piece “fake news:”
1. The practice room situation used to be a lot(!) worse back in the day.
2. Juilliard spent hundred(s!) of thousands of dollars on the new system.
and the most glaring omission in their eyes:
3. Juilliard really does care about their students.
Let me first say, excuse me for not prioritizing the feelings of a billion dollar organization over the legitimate concerns of a population of students, especially when students are paying upwards of $60,000 a year in tuition for their education. Student issues have a history of being suppressed and brushed under the rug by college administrations (this is made easier by the collective memory limitations of a four year institution), so I personally feel justified in having not gone through the administration first, especially when including “all the facts” would have changed the focus of the editorial. In the practice room op-ed, I wrote about the practice rooms as they are experienced today, and while I sympathise with what alumni had to put up with in the past, those were a different set of circumstances.
And the fact of “care” is an interesting one. I never declared outright that Juilliard didn’t care about their students – this was only suggested by the fact of the material conditions that I presented, which aren’t wrong. I really appreciate being told by a member of the administration that Juilliard cares about their students because this shows a willingness to move forward. When this care is realised through the best possible working conditions for one of the best conservatories in the world, I will even believe it.
Including information that tells readers how much better things are today, about how much money was (and is) spent on the current system, and about how much Juilliard cares about their students only serves to motivate passivity, which, frankly, seems to me to produce the aura of fake news as well. That’s not my business, though. In making these suggestions, the administration is effectively silencing what is potential for students to recognize and actualize their interests, which is not what I am about.
That these “facts” were said to have given more credibility to what was clearly an op-ed piece from a justifiably frustrated student perspective shows just how out of touch people in power can be. The point was not to try and convince anyone in the administration that the practice room issue was credible enough to be taken seriously, and the point was definitely not to lull students into complacency by telling stories of how much better things are now than they once were. The point was to open up a dialogue within the student body about how We can most effectively secure the conditions that allow Us to benefit the most from our education. I hope this is transparent.
Student action itself is much more valuable than administrative “facts” and “care” because students are why Juilliard exists. What needs to be recognized is the fact that the institution of Juilliard exists for their students, for our education and for our betterment, and the student body needs to hold the institution accountable when this doesn’t show. Students don’t serve the administration and shouldn’t be intimidated by it; the administration serves the students. The administration needs to hear the collective roar of outrage when things are bad, whether it’s to do with practice rooms or anything else. They need to know that if student issues are swept under the rug, we are the cereal that will crunch so that they know that we are still here.
In essence, sure, things used to be worse, but that is not a good enough excuse to refuse to improve. That the administration approached me with such concern shows that students do in fact have power. We just need to recognize it collectively.
The search for the new director of Juilliard’s Dance Division has come to an end. Juilliard names Alicia Graf Mack, former leading dancer of Dance Theatre of Harlem and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, as director of the Juilliard Dance Division.
Photo of Alicia Graf Mack, courtesy of Webster University
Press Release from The Juilliard School:
Juilliard announced yesterday that Alicia Graf Mack, former leading dancer of Dance Theatre of Harlem and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, will become director of the Juilliard Dance Division on July 1, 2018. Juilliard Dance is widely recognized as one of the most prestigious training programs in the world, offering instruction in both ballet and modern techniques designed to create true contemporary dancers and choreographers.
Ms. Mack, a native of Columbia, Maryland, has also been principal dancer with Complexions Contemporary Ballet and a guest artist with Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet. As a dance educator, she is on the faculty at the University of Houston and a visiting assistant professor of dance at Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri. Ms. Mack is the co-founder of D(n)A Arts Collective, an initiative created to enrich the lives of young dancers through master classes and intensives.
Juilliard President Joseph W. Polisi said of the appointment, “Alicia brings exceptional energy, creativity, and enthusiasm to the position of director of Juilliard’s Dance Division. She is an innovative thinker and role model, and I am delighted to know that she will be leading our dance students into the future.”
President Designate Damian Woetzel, a former principal dancer at New York City Ballet and co-chair of the steering committee of the search with Juilliard Provost and Dean Ara Guzelimian, remarked, “The excellence, intelligence, and versatility that have been hallmarks of Alicia’s distinguished career make her the ideal person to shape our dancers of tomorrow. I am honored to welcome this inspiring artist-educator to lead us forward into a new golden era at Juilliard dance.”
On accepting the position, Alicia Graf Mack said, “I am beyond thrilled to join The Juilliard School and community in this capacity. The opportunity to work with young artists who are on the precipice of achieving their dreams brings me a great sense of pride and responsibility. Looking forward, I see Juilliard’s Dance Division as a place that continues to embrace innovative ideas and new modalities of dance making, while holding steadfast to the legacy and incredible history of the institution.”
“We already know that Alicia is an incredible dancer with a brilliant mind,” said Judith Jamison, artistic director emerita of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. “We all know how exquisitely she understands what dance is about in all its forms. But I also love who Alicia is as a person. Sometimes people in companies care only about themselves, but Alicia is the opposite of that. She understood her talent and how she could lift up whatever company she was with. That just emanates from her.”
Arthur Mitchell, co-founder and artistic director emeritus of Dance Theatre of Harlem, remarked, “Not only was Alicia a great dancer, but she’s a phenomenal administrator at the same time—a combination that is rarely found in one person.”
Ms. Mack succeeds longtime division head Lawrence Rhodes, who was artistic director of the Juilliard Dance Division from 2002 until 2017. Taryn Kaschock Russell has been acting artistic director for the current academic year.
About Alicia Graf Mack
Alicia Graf Mack enjoyed a distinguished career as a leading dancer of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. She has also been a principal dancer with Dance Theatre of Harlem and Complexions Contemporary Ballet. Ms. Mack has danced as a guest performer with Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet, Beyoncé, John Legend, Andre 3000, and Alicia Keys. In addition, she has performed as a featured dancer in many galas and festivals, including the Chicago Dancing Festival, Vail Dance Festival, Youth America Grand Prix Gala, and the International Stars of the 21st Century at the David H. Koch Theater. She has made numerous national television appearances, including at the 2017 Kennedy Center Honors celebrating Carmen de Lavallade and as a featured guest on The Tavis Smiley Show.
Ms. Mack graduated magna cum laude with honors in history from Columbia University and holds an MA in nonprofit management from Washington University in St. Louis. In 2007, Smithsonian magazine named her an American Innovator of the Arts and Sciences. She is a recipient of the Columbia University Medal of Excellence, an award given each year to one alumnus who has demonstrated excellence in their field of work. In 2008, she delivered the keynote address to the graduates of Columbia University’s School of General Studies.
Ms. Mack is a published writer, having contributed to Dance Magazine, Pointe, and Dance Spirit magazine. She wrote the cover story, “Beyond Role Models,” for Pointe’s June/July 2014 diversity issue featuring Ashley Murphy, Ebony Williams, and Misty Copeland. She also authored the foreword of American Dance: The Complete Illustrated History by Margaret Fuhrer. As a dance educator, Ms. Mack is on faculty at the University of Houston and is a visiting assistant professor of dance at Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri. She is a co-founder of D(n)A Arts Collective, an initiative created to enrich the lives of young dancers through master classes and intensives.
Matt Liu’s Senior Recital is on April 10th at 8 pm in Paul Hall! Check out his special promo video!
I’d like to invite you to my senior recital! It’s going to be a fun show akin to Ellen, Oprah, all the greats, so come have a great time. 34 performers – 21 musicians – 10 singers – 3 dancers – 9 original musical compositions – 1 stage – 1 Matt Liu.
Hope you can come! Tuesday, April 10 at Paul Hall, 8PM
Sumire Hirotsuru (MM ’18, violin) interviews Maestro David Robertson on the rehearsal process, tips for success, and his upcoming position at Juilliard.
Maestro David Robertson – photo by Sumire Hirotsuru
On a Tuesday evening, Sumire Hirotsuru (MM ’18, violin) visited a green room in the basement of the Metropolitan Opera, where Maestro David Robertson was eating a pre-show coleslaw. As newly appointed Director of Conducting Studies at Juilliard, concluding his 13-year tenure as the Music Director at St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) at the end of the season, Maestro Robertson is conducting the Juilliard Orchestra on April 2nd at Carnegie Hall. Sumire sat down with Maestro Robertson to hear his thoughts on the rehearsal process, tips for success, and his upcoming position at Juilliard.
Sumire Hirotsuru (SH): How has your experience working with the Juilliard Orchestra been? Had you worked with them before this concert cycle?
Maestro David Robertson (DR): The first time I worked with the Juilliard Orchestra was actually 20 years ago, as a guest conductor. While the students had always been extremely gifted, I find that students take orchestra more seriously now than 20 years ago. There’s been a real increase in the basic understanding of what you need to do in an orchestra, and it’s been a lot of fun for me to work with the group.
SH: What’s the difference between working with professional orchestras and student orchestras?
DR: When one is playing in an orchestra, there is a certain shyness to really play out in a student orchestra. I have seen this over 13 years of many auditions in the SLSO, but my colleagues always tell them to play out more. It is very interesting to work on repertoire with a student orchestra, because in some parts where you are expecting to hear something quite prominent, it’s often not there yet with the full personality and projection that you expect from a group of seasoned professionals. It comes as a surprise when you see someone who is not playing out and realize “Oh, this person needs encouragement, they don’t realize how important their part in the orchestra is.” What is very gratifying about working with the students is that once you tell them, you get the results immediately.
SH: Do you think more students were looking for soloist career 20 years ago?
DR: There was a feeling that going to an orchestra rehearsal was a little bit like a visit to the dentist – you know you have to do it, but no one looks forward to it. Now it certainly has gone out of dentistry, and has become something much more interesting and challenging. But there’s a misunderstanding that you somehow have to become anonymous in an orchestra. In fact, it’s the opposite. You can absolutely hear the difference when 14 first violins out of 14 are really playing, or only 14 out of 16 are playing. Each person brings their own individual sound, style, and personality, and that’s what makes the whole beauty of the section and orchestra unique.
SH: I totally agree. When I played in the conductor-less Juilliard Chamber Orchestra last month, everyone was contributing so much to the rehearsal by playing and speaking up. I was totally able to feel the difference, being in the middle of the orchestra.
DR: Definitely – when I am working in an orchestra, I like people to suggest something. Whether I work with an orchestra in Europe or in America or in Australia or in China, I want to hear what they think about the piece, because I’m interested in putting that together with what I know about the piece, through which we make something that we can’t make otherwise. If I come to rehearsals and just tell them exactly what they have to do, it feels more like I work for Starbucks. It will be high-quality but it’s not the same as when people contribute – it’s not how music works in my opinion.
SH: In Dvořák (Symphony No.9) rehearsals, you sometimes suggest non-traditional way of playing and to change the way we play. Because everyone already knows the Symphony, there is sometimes a discrepancy between their own ways and your way. Where does your inspiration for the piece come from?
DR: Any famous pieces like Dvořák or Beethoven tend to start taking a life of their own through recordings and performances. For me, the original document that composers left us with the ideas is the score, and I find it continually fascinating.
Sometimes in Mozart, for example, when there are two different ways of articulations on the same passage in the opening and the recapitulation, people assume that Mozart made a mistake or they assume that it has to be one or the other. I find assumptions like that will hurt the clarity of the piece. Of course, a composer may make a mistake, but in the 500 pages of manuscript of Cosi Fan Tutte, which I’m conducting, there are maybe 10 errors in three hours of music. Before you just jump to the conclusion that what he wants here is this way, maybe you should think about why.
If composers like Dvořák have a certain bowing, and you say “Oh you can’t play that bowing because the tempo is too slow,” then I would say “REALLY? Is your tempo not fast enough for this to work? Have you decided that you want to ignore the tempo markings at the beginning of the symphony because you think it sounds better?” Great works of art will probably sound good at any tempo, but at the same time I’m not sure that that’s the kind of respect you should pay for somebody who can write a piece of amazing music like that.
I believe that even if you stick very closely to what the composer wrote, there are still so many opportunities to express your own feelings about a piece of music. Whether it’s Bach or it’s all the way up to Elliott Carter, it doesn’t have to do with style – it has to do with interaction that we have and our feeling about the notes.
SH: You mentioned that we should always think about the reason why composers wrote in a certain way – in rehearsal, you also explain the reason why you want to perform your way. Do you have your own personal way of rehearsing that you keep to yourself?
DR: German conductor Otto Klemperer once said “Rehearsals are to play around with the piece and establish boundaries.” Boundaries mean that you will find certain passages faster, slower, louder or softer and you work out all sorts of things; you try different things to discover possibilities. Then, when you get into a performance, you can choose a lot of different possibilities because everybody knows where boundaries are. The performance doesn’t have to be the same way each time, so the rehearsal is for experimentation. I usually try to listen to how people are playing and analyze it – not just in terms of whether it is together or correct, but also what I see in the score, what you hear, and what kind of understanding and expression is coming across from players.
The other thing that I try to do in a rehearsal is to figure out the things that I can help people with by working together, and to leave things that people will have to do on their own. For example, in the Charles Ives piece (Three Places in New England), there is a very hard first violin part and you want them to practice it and realize, “Oh, now I know what to practice in what tempo.” We try the part as a group when they come back after practicing, which makes group rehearsals efficient.
SH: What do you think is the most important personalities or skills that they should have to succeed in this world?
DR: Firstly, you have to show up. Secondly, you need to be curious and constantly thinking about why something is the way it is in a musical phrase or why a piece is put together, so that you can get different insights and keep your curiosity alive. Then, the most important thing is not to give up when things look like they’re not going the way you want them. It’s very easy to get discouraged and to stop – and sometimes you don’t see that there are other opportunities right there.
SH: I have read an article that you stepped into SLSO when the conductor fell ill. Why do you think you were able to stay in the position, or did you even imagine you would spend so much time with the orchestra?
DR: There are certain people with whom you talk to for the first time and there’s a kind of immediate understanding and bond. I arrived in London as a 18 years old at the Royal Academy of Music, and the first student I saw was this crazy red hair trombonist parking his motorcycle at the parking. I had my French horn and he had his trombone, and we said hello to each other, and we are friends ever since. Likewise, it was a really deep immediate bond for me with the musicians in the SLSO; that was a kind of connection made at the first rehearsal that I had with them. When they invited me back, even though I had not seen them in 3 years, I remembered which instrument each musician played when I saw them in the hallway of Carnegie Hall. It’s just a great kind of bond right from the start, and you feel very lucky because sometimes you have good chemistry with people and it was spookily good at the SLSO.
SH: What are you most excited for as you approach your position at Juilliard?
DR: Interactions with the students. By the time they get to this level of the program at Juilliard, they are all remarkable, and I think one learns a great deal from dialogues with brilliant individuals. They will probably teach me more than I teach them because anytime someone asks you a question, it forces you to think and it’s the goal of what you want education to be. For me, the sense of constantly changing thinking about things is the important part, and I look forward to having a discussion about the Dvořák, where they may make me rethink what I do now. I first conducted the whole Symphony No.9 over 30 years ago, and I’m sure I do it completely differently now – not because now I’m good, but because I’ve learned so many things from people I worked with. What I’m looking forward to at Juilliard is helping the conductors discover who they are, and in the process, benefitting from all the things that they are going to teach me.
SH: Is there anything that is changing in the conducting world or classical music world compared to 30 years ago?
DR: The classical music world is changing a lot. But it always has, and there hasn’t been any time when it was completely stable. The question is, what does a classical musician want to do now, and the most important aspect of that has not changed – communication to an audience. One major aspect that has changed very much from even a hundred years ago is that fewer people now have direct contact with an instrument, and therefore the sense of what it means to listen has changed for them. It is essential for musicians to think that there may be people who have never heard an acoustic instrument – the instruments they’ve heard of always come through loud speakers. If you remember the fundamental idea that you want to communicate with the audience, then you might need to change how you present things to people. As I said, if people can keep their curiosity and ask questions then there will be the answers – although I am prejudiced, as my father was an engineer. For engineers, there is no problem for which there isn’t a solution, as they just have to think about it. And how I think about problems might be influenced by him.
SH: What do you like the most about conducting?
DR: It’s the inspiration that I get from people playing music, and I enjoy that I am able to shape a part of that. That’s why I am often smiling when I’m conducting.
David Robertson conducts the Juilliard Orchestra Monday, April 2nd, 8pm at Carnegie Hall
David Robertson, conductor
Tomer Gewirtzman, piano
IVES Three Places in New England
BARTÓK Piano Concerto No. 3
DVOŘÁK Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, “From the New World”
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