Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest was the first performance I ever attended at The Juilliard School where I'd come to study piano. The anticipated moment of seeing the character Cecily walk on stage for the first time could not have been more breathtaking. She entered, the actors onstage turned toward her, as did every audience member, and the air in the theater smelled as fresh as a spring day in the countryside.
Every year, Juilliard presents several hundred such performances. This season alone includes 47 commissions, and no fewer than 700 performances at Lincoln Center and around the globe as the world-famous school celebrates its centennial.
Juilliard constantly redefines itself through its productions. The American philosopher John Dewey wrote, "In order to understand the esthetic in its ultimate and approved forms, one must begin with it in the raw; in the events and scenes that hold the attentive eye and ear." To provide a proper overview of Juilliard is to recollect and anticipate sights, sounds, and movement in its auditoriums.
I think of my alma mater as an experimental performance forum rather than as a conservatory. The word conservatory to me implies a place where people or ideas are well-preserved, unable to leave, because it's too icy and wet outside. At Juilliard, I experienced a vibrant setting filled with exuberant and imaginative minds that interacted in all the permutations of the arts, to generate unforgettable, piquant performances. These creative outputs verged on the surprisingly edgy and raw because the individuals were tender and liberated, unattached to ego, fame, or money. Attending a Juilliard performance was and is a bit like dining in a restaurant with the view of the kitchen; one witnesses the gruel as well as the grandeur.
It would be impossible to detail the 700-plus performances this season, but here is a glimpse to whet your appetite. The Drama Division will premiere a new ensemble play with music, The Listener, specifically written for the fourth-year graduating class of actors by Obie-winning playwright Craig Lucas. Another commission is Ten Times Ten, comprising ten short plays by ten alumni writers of the school's Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program, featuring the third-year actors in a myriad of roles. Among the participating playwrights are David Auburn, Stephen Belber, Julia Cho, and Ellen Melaver.
Both the vocal arts and drama departments will feature productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream by Britten and Shakespeare, respectively. This perennial tale of unrequited love and domestic trouble in fairyland has provided numerous actors and singers throughout the school's history with the joy of performance. One notable example: Robin Williams, who played the roles of Mustardseed, Starveling, and Moon in a 1975 workshop of the play.
Not to be upstaged by the supernaturals, the masterful orchestrator and alumnus Lowell Liebermann has set Nathanael West's novella Miss Lonelyhearts as an opera with librettist J.D. McClatchy, to be premiered in April by Juilliard's Opera Center. The work is one of 17 commissioned premieres in the music division, scattered throughout the year, that will celebrate the school's canonized composition department with works by faculty and alumni. This season's FOCUS! festival, New and Now, honors the influential Milton Babbitt, who turns 90 this year and will premiere a new work for unaccompanied cello titled More Melismata. A diverse group of composers returns to the city for a program of premieres: the versatile and spry 27-year-old Mason Bates combines electronica and organ in Digital Doom, Roberto Sierra displays his exhilarating rhythms in Bongo+, and Franghiz Ali-Zadah incorporates her Azerbaijan heritage and Western music training in a piano quintet entitled Khazar.
Equally committed to innovation is the Dance Division. Working with professional choreographers, composers, and live musicians, this division has retained founding director Martha Hill's belief in immersing oneself in the creative process. Choreography by Adam Hougland, an alumnus of only six years, has been described as the "sheer adrenaline rush of energetic imagination." In February, Hougland joins forces with another alum, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and faculty member Christopher Rouse.
Juilliard Jazz, the most nascent division of the school, embraces new commissions and old classics. The Jazz Orchestra debuts Benny Golson's Juilliard 100 in February and presents the music of Duke Ellington this month along with smaller ensemble performances throughout the year.
Meanwhile, Juilliard's Choral Union, led by fervent founder and director Judith Clurman, opens its doors annually to 100 volunteer singers from the metropolitan area to comprise a community-based symphonic chorus. As a gesture of outreach and exuberance, the Choral Union has asked film composers Marvin Hamlisch, Laura Karpman, Marc Shaiman, and Howard Shore to offer new school-age-appropriate choral works to be performed in its April concert entitled Cinema Serenades and to be published as the Juilliard Choral Book.
Perhaps the most exciting aspects of the centennial season for the students are the tours, domestic and abroad. You do not have to be in New York City to catch a good show. Thus far, the Juilliard Orchestra has performed in Berlin, Helsinki, and at the Lucerne and Aldeburgh festivals, in Switzerland and England, respectively, with the tour culminating at the Royal Albert Hall in London and an appearance at the Proms. In August the Juilliard Jazz musicians made their way from Italy to Japan and Costa Rica.
The main national tours take off in March during the school's spring recess. The Orchestra begins at Avery Fisher Hall, then travels to Chicago Symphony Center and Dallas's Meyerson Symphony Center, concluding in Southern California at Irvine Barclay Theater, Walt Disney Concert Hall, and Copley Symphony Hall. The other divisions also visit Chicago and Los Angeles, with drama at REDCAT at Walt Disney Concert Hall and at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, dance at Chicago's Harris Theater in Millennium Park and L.A.'s Glorya Kaufman Hall, and the Jazz Orchestra at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido.
If traveling is difficult, tune in to PBS's Live From Lincoln Center, which broadcasts Juilliard's centennial gala on April 3, featuring opera legend and Juilliard alum Leontyne Price, with students from all the disciplines, including the Orchestra, led by conductor John Williams.
Tiffany Kuo earned her master's degree in piano at Juilliard.