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Friday, January 15, 2010

Report from NY: Juilliard ChamberFest 2010

In a recession, free concerts are always welcome.

With not much going on Tuesday evening January 12th, I decided to check out ChamberFest 2010. After a hearty meal at Ollies's Noodle Shope & Grille at 1991 Broadway (#32, the Singapore Mai Fun for just $8.50), I found my way around the corner to Juilliard.

Juilliard's new building is behind the renovated Alice Tully Hall. Not having been to Juilliard since the 1970s, I can say that the lobby looks a little different today. First, you enter through a tall glass facade and entrance. Before you are an entire story of stairs/seats that could (and probably do) double as a public performance space. Once up the stairs you come to a ultra-modern lobby...




A crack-team of security guards protect the entrance to the college itself, and I noticed that every student or faculty member that passes through the turnstyle triggers the computerized security system to pop their photo up on the screen. It's all very hi-tech. No full-body scans yet, or dogs to sniff my underware, but I felt pretty safe.

After explaining that I was here for the concert at 8 PM in Paul Hall, the guards let me through to the lobby. Juilliard is the Hard Rock Cafe of classical music. I think I walked past pianist Richard Goode chatting with students near the guards' post.

ChamberFest 2010
is a week-long event featuring a variety chamber music works performed by Juilliard students. In my day, Juilliard did not emphasise chamber music very much. The place was more of a factory for singers, soloists, and orchestral musicians. But to quote from the program notes, "The ChamberFest experience is unique for the devoted chamber musician at Juilliard, and it supports the broad and reflective education necessary for the 21st century artist-citizen."

It's a good mission statement. I agree with it completely, speaking as an 21st artist-citizen myself.

The week-long ChamberFest concert series included a few modern works too. Besides the Ives Trio, concerts featured Messiaen's Quatuor for la fin du temps and the Schoenberg String Trio, Op. 45. Exciting music. The students are all coached by Juilliard's superstar faculty, including new music advocates Curtis Macomber (violin) and Fred Sherry (cello).

The concert I attended had three chamber works: The Chopin Piano Trio in G minor, Op.8; Deux Rhapsodies for oboe, viola, and piano; and Mendelssohn's String Quartet in F minor, Op. 80. It was all basically new music to me, and I was glad to hear it. The Chopin was performed by Robyn Quinnett (violin), Lila Yang (cello), and Melody Quah (piano). The Loeffler was performed by Max Blair (oboe), Adrienne Hochman (viola), and Yuri Bakker (piano). All of the musicians were well-prepared, and executed the musical score professionally and with confidence.

The standout piece (and performance) of the evening was the Mendelssohn performed by the Azur Quartet (Sharon Park and Francesca Anderegg violins; Molly Carr, viola; and Matt Zalkind, cello). Mendelssohn was a composer at the top of his game when he composed this piece, and these young musicians played it with precision and energy. Cellist Matt Zalkind is only 23 years old.

Although the Juilliard building is completely new, I kept suppressing feelings of dé·jà vu. Paul Hall looked awfully familiar - just like it did in the 1970s. But the Paul Hall of 1972 was in a building across the street. Yet the new Paul Hall had the same light fixtures, arched rows of chairs, reddish upholstery, dark wood paneling, pipe organ, and excessively-dry acoustics. It felt a bit like being on the holodeck of the Starship Enterprise of Star Trek fame. How on earth did they move an entire concert hall to a new building? Not only that, why would anyone want to do that?


Anyway, the music was good, the concert was well attended, and I've stopped asking questions that begin with the word "why."

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