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A Performance to Remember

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In January, second-year violist William Bender was one of 95 Juilliard students and who cut their winter break short to come back to school early and take part in the annual ChamberFest series: eight concerts in six days by 20 ensembles who receive a week of intensive coaching by faculty members. Bender, who hails from Franklin, Tenn., performed the Brahms String Quintet No. 1, Op. 88, with violinists Jason Yu and Ji Eun (Lisa) Kim, violist Madeline Sharp, and cellist Sofia Nowik on January 19, the last day of ChamberFest.

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9 a.m. It’s a rare occurrence, my being awake this early on a Saturday. I tend to sleep in quite a bit, knowing that the odds of getting a practice room on Pre-College days are consistently quite dismal. On a happier note, I really am excited for the concert tonight. Is there anything better than excellent chamber music with excellent people?

9:30 a.m. After taking my time getting ready for the day, I head down to the illustrious Juilliard (and S.A.B., and, seemingly, every-hungry-person-within-five-blocks) cafeteria. 

9:35 a.m. As expected, the cafeteria is teeming with people, and they seem to range in age from 1 week to 103.  I force my way to the back of the long line at the grill, and wait.

9:50 a.m. After receiving my usual order (bacon, egg, and cheese on a bagel), picking up some orange juice, and paying, I sit at one of the few empty chairs in the dining hall and scroll through e-mails while I eat.

10:25 a.m. I’m blessed with a practice room only moments after starting my journey to find one and now it’s time to warm up before our 11:30 quintet rehearsal. It would be demoralizing for all if our penultimate rehearsal was assaulted by the horrors of my cold viola-playing. 

11:30 a.m. Thanks to the diligence of our second violinist, Lisa, the rehearsal room is quickly equipped with five stands and wooden cubes (“chairs” to those unfamiliar with Juilliard’s fourth floor).

12:15 p.m. Not wanting to eliminate spontaneity and imagination from tonight’s performance, we simply work out some of the trickier spots for timing and intonation. In the second movement, there are multiple tempo changes and we work on starting them together. 

12:45 p.m. After lunch, I meet up with a buddy, Patrick Hodge (a horn player in my class) to play pool in the dorm lounge. 

2 p.m. After our game, I head back to the dorm to watch an episode of The Office—and take a nap. I usually don’t do anything too taxing on the day of a performance. Quite a bit of energy is required when playing a piece as glorious and weighty as Brahms’s First String Quintet. 

5 p.m. Time to get dressed for the performance. One of my rituals is warming up in the clothes I’m going to perform in. 

5:30 p.m. Now for dinner! I tend to eat salads before performances. Music can be a turbulent matter, and personally, I’m not a big fan of the G-force effect one gets when playing a large Brahms piece after an equally large hamburger. So it’s the cafeteria salad bar with a little chicken for me.

6:15 p.m. Once again, I warm up before the group gets together to check and double-check anything and everything. 

7 p.m. As a quintet, we run through the infamous “spots” for the last time. One of them is the very first note of the piece. The group knows all too well that I am notorious for not starting in tempo. 

8 p.m. It’s 30 minutes before the concert, and we’re all backstage in the green room—tuning, stretching, and breathing. 

8:30 p.m. The concert has started! An enthusiastic crowd claps after the first movement. Funny how when I’m in the audience, I hate when people clap between movements; I find it disrespectful and annoying. But when I’m onstage, it’s kind of pleasant. You’re wondering if they like it, and if they clap, they must! It actually makes me relax a bit. 

9:15 p.m. I wish I could provide a more thorough account of the performance, but I always have trouble remembering much of anything after the fact. I do remember how gorgeous everyone’s solos were—especially Sofia’s cello solo at the opening of the second movement. 

9:45 p.m. Afterward, one of our coaches, the amazing Sylvia Rosenberg, told us that she stopped thinking about us and how we were doing and was just thinking about the music while we were playing—that’s high praise! We then head out to celebrate after a successful night of chamber music making. 

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