Bard College Launches Training Orchestra, 'TON'

Musical America

By Susan Elliott

September 10, 2015

In October, Bard College announced the launch of a new, as-yet-unnamed training orchestra that would be underway by the 2015-16 school year. Yesterday the college announced that 37 students had been enrolled in The Orchestra Now (the "O" carries an accent macron over it, thus TON is pronounced "tone"), which is to be based at Bard and perform in the New York area.

TON is a three-year, tuition-free, masters-degree program to be directed by Bard College president Leon Botstein, also a conductor and music historian. According to Botstein, TON's members are "forward-thinking artists who intend to redefine what it means to be an orchestra." They will be learning how to "curate repertoire that engages concertgoers, sparks new ideas, and attracts new audiences," he says.

Bard reports it has had hundreds of applicants for the Master in Music Degree Program in Curatorial, Critical, and Performance Studies, as it is called. They hail from corners far and wide, including Hungary, Korea, China, Japan, Canada, and Venezuela. Musicians will not only hone their artistic skills, they will also learn how to be teaching artists for future outreach efforts.

In addition to free tuition, which includes health insurance, students will receive a $24,000 stipend.

Asked how The Orchestra Now differed from Michael Tilson Thomas's New World Symphony, a high regarded training orchestra co-founded by Michael Tilson Thomas, who is still its artistic director, TON Executive Director Lynne Meloccaro responded:

"TON is not as interested in defining itself against New World Symphony or other training orchestras as it is with joining their efforts to address a serious need in American musical training. As far as I'm concerned, there aren't enough training organizations at this level in the United States. Like NWS, TON provides career musicians with the kind of practical experience they would expect to encounter as full-time members of an orchestra."

She also mentioned TON's "special emphasis on developing skills in social outreach and audience communication," although NWS certainly emphasizes that as well. Technically, the only quantitative difference between the two would be that Bard's program awards a masters degree. NWS is not a degree program; fellows attend for three years or less. Many have gone on to full-time professional orchestra jobs.

TON's 2015-16 schedule includes four concerts at Bard, three with Botstein, one with James Bagwell, who holds the title of associate conductor and academic director; three performances at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, all with Botstein. Free concerts in NYC will be led by Marcelo Lehninger (Bronx); Zachary Schwartzman (East Village); Bagwell (Brooklyn); and JoAnn Falletta (Queens).

Original full story here.