By Peggy Taylor
Usually, before a concert at the New York Philharmonic’s David Geffen Hall, the Grand Promenade is filled with the sound of wine glasses clinking and patrons chatting. Last Saturday, however, it reverberated with the sound of cow bells clanging, sleigh bells ringing, castanets clicking, and maracas rattling, as young concertgoers “composed” their own musical works and professional musicians “played” them.
All then attended the Philharmonic’s Young People’s Concert, New Voices: Composing Inclusion, in which 48 student musicians from Juilliard’s competitive Music Advancement Program (MAP)* sat alongside 59 members of the Philharmonic and played three world premiere pieces by composers generally underrepresented on the classical music scene. The concert is part of the two-year Composing Inclusion program: a partnership between Juilliard, the New York Philharmonic, and the American Composers Forum (ACF), powered by the Sphinx Venture Fund.
Principal Philharmonic Clarinetist Anthony McGill, artistic director of MAP, beamed with pride as he declared it “the most exciting day of my life. These young musicians, whose ages range from 10 to 18, have been rehearsing for months to get on the stage with the Philharmonic. Our mission is to find talent from the five boroughs of New York, especially from underserved areas.”
Chilean-Italian conductor Paolo Bortolameolli hosted the concert and, channeling the great conductor and musical educator, Leonard Bernstein, spoke to the young audience about the music they would be hearing in language they could understand. The concert opened with the chamber version of Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring.”
After Copland came the world premieres, all of which were commissioned for this concert.
As I Am, by Jordyn Davis, Detroit-born bassist, songwriter, and vocalist, whose work blends elements of jazz and classical music and, in her words, “is centered on self-discovery and self-acceptance.” Self-acceptance, undoubtedly; she is a traditional, lyrical, tonal composer, who shuns harsh dissonances and embraces hummable melodies.
and does the Moon also fall? by James Diaz, a Colombian-born composer and sound maker whose work is experimental and abstract and is influenced by psychedelia, electronics, synthesizers, graphic design, Latin-American landscapes, and photography. Diaz said that, in composing the work, he took into consideration the audience he would be writing for — families with restless toddlers and bawling babies. When Emma Hong, a 17-year-old MAP violinist, first looked at Diaz’ score, she said she and her fellow musicians were “completely perplexed by what we saw on the page. We didn’t know what to make of it, much less [how to] play it. It sounded like random notes. But little by little, by working with the composer, our minds changed. It became an eye-opening experience, and we came to love it.”
Subwaves, a work about New Yorkers’ experiences in the subway, composed by Trevor Weston, chair of the music department at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, and MAP faculty member teaching music theory and composition.
Weston described his piece as “custom-made” for his students, since they actually helped him compose the work. “I asked them for specific things they wanted in the piece, and they told me. One wanted the piece to be loud, another wanted scales, another wanted screeching sounds, and the tuba player wanted lyrical lines, not just the cliched oom pah pahs.” He said he wanted to make it as interactive as possible, “and the students enjoyed that.”
Weston spoke of the importance of mentors and apprenticeships and reflected on the time when, studying at the St. Thomas Choir School, he sang with professional orchestras at an early age. “It is so important for young musicians to perform next to professionals, so they can see how the professionals act and model their behavior after them. The future of our profession are those kids on that stage.”
And how those “kids on that stage” performed! They wowed the audience with their musicality, technical proficiency, and discipline, and were thanked with rambunctious shouts, two-fingered whistling, exuberant woo-hoos, and ear-splitting squeals. I was among those who gave them a standing ovation.
* Map selects students based on a competitive application, audition, and interview process. The most important factors are the results of the student’s audition and their commitment to serious musical study.
Applicants must be 8-17 years old at the time of the audition, have at least two years of experience playing their instrument, and reside within the tristate area (NY, NJ, CT). They must have reached an intermediate to advanced level on their instrument, exhibit a high level of musical potential and motivation, and demonstrate strong family support. Juilliard has an ongoing commitment to the principles and practices of inclusiveness and strongly encourages applications from students of diverse backgrounds.
Admitted students may participate in MAP for up to four years or through their senior year of high school, whichever occurs first. The Music Advancement Program accepts approximately 25 new students each year for a total of 75-85 enrolled students.
The concert is part of the two-year Composing Inclusion program: a partnership between Juilliard, the New York Philharmonic, and the American Composers Forum (ACF), powered by the Sphinx Venture Fund