Listening for Tomorrow Today at Bard

The Millbrook Independent

By Kevin T. McEneaney

September  2015

In the United States there was once the satellite gap, a purported missile gap, and then the quite real mathematics gap as foreign professors had to be imported to teach in our colleges. There is now a classical music gap as European education at the high school level leaps beyond our lackadaisical contentment with school marching bands. And it is not only Europe, but China, Japan, and even South America now surges ahead of the music. Leon Botstein at Bard College has arrived at a modest solution.

With assistance from the Mellon Foundation, Botstein has created a new program that connects a two-year high school diploma at Bard’s Simon’s Rock campus in Great Barrington, MA, with Bard College in Annandale-on-the-Hudson, N.Y. Instead of going to the eleventh grade, with the Bard College program at Simon’s Rock students have the opportunity to earn an Associate Degree in two years and a Bachelor of Arts in two more years.

The Orchestra Now (TŌN), a unique training orchestra and master’s degree program founded by Bard this year, is  preparing a new generation of musicians to break down barriers between modernaudiences as well as the great orchestral music, past and present. Thirty-seven graduate students at Bard's music program (separate from the Bard Conservatory program) will have free tuition plus $24,000 stipend. Final acceptance to the program remains dependent upon an audition. The TŌN Fund will assist students on the graduate level, leading to a Masters of Curatorial, Critical and Performance Studies.

The concept of The Orchestra Now will unite performers of varying ages, as in the immensely successful Sistema project of Venezuela, founded by Maestro José Antonio Abreu, whose classical music program has reached about 400,000 students. A national tour of The Orchestra Now, at prestigious venues like Carnegie Hall, will run year-round.

Early results from Botstein’s program were on display this past Saturday, September 25, 2015, at Simon’s Rock Campus when thirty-seven students performed a concert program at the professional level with astonishing results. Several players from Bard’s graduate school program accompanied younger players in the program. One aspect of such collaboration encodes the well-known phenomenon that novice musicians usually perform at higher levels when they play with advanced musicians.

Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 99 began the program with its four movements, stately arriving at an energetic climax. This was the first of Haydn’s symphonies to feature a clarinet and graduate student Elias Rodriguez performed with finesse, yet the orchestra itself was slightly timid. Note the position of the performers on the stage, as this was the format performance layout in the Haydn’s era.

Anna Polansky was the featured pianist for Mozart’s Piano Concerto, No. 24. She performed with lyrical grace and nuanced energy as she magically floated the more mystical aspects of the piece floating into the air around us. Here she was ably assisted by graduate student Michael Rau on first violin.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 was next on the card. Cathryn Gaylord on bassoon was outstanding and it was clear that the orchestra had well-rehearsed the dynamic contrasts that this symphony demands. The orchestra played with an inspired unity as if they were a single instrument. If anyone had any doubts about Botstein’s ambitious project, here was irrefutable evidence of something amazing.

Original full story here.