115 Juilliard Musicians. 8 Free Concerts. 4 Days.
Boisterous students crowded into the chamber music office on an October afternoon—it was ChamberFest sign-up day, and they were applying to study and then perform a major piece of chamber music in January. Participants give up part of their winter break to return to Juilliard early for an intense week of coachings and rehearsals leading up to the eight-concert ChamberFest, a popular outlet for students and a much-loved tradition for concertgoers.
ChamberFest began in 2002 with the goal of broadening the chamber music experience. Among the artists that first year who’ve gone on to notable careers are Eighth Blackbird’s Nathalie Joachim (MAP ’96, Pre-College ’01; BM ’05, flute), Oberlin Conservatory faculty member David Bowlin (MM ’02, violin), Brooklyn Rider’s Michael Nicolas (BM ’04, MM ’06, cello), Claremont Trio members Emily Bruskin (MM ’03, Graduate Diploma ’04, violin) and Julia Bruskin (’03, cello), and Juilliard faculty member Aaron Wunsch (MM ’03, DMA ’08, piano). As the years passed, Juilliard’s lobby during ChamberFest week became filled with members of the public hoping to get in to sold-out concerts. And the student participants became accustomed to the thrill of performing exciting works to packed houses.
This year, 115 performers offer repertoire that includes familiar masterpieces by Arensky, Beethoven, Brahms, Dvořák, Mozart, Prokofiev, Schubert, Schumann, and Stravinsky as well as tuneful works by less familiar composers including the English composer Arnold Bax, Belgium’s Joseph Jongen, and Romania’s Georges Enescu; there’s also a work by France’s Henri Dutilleux for the surprising combination of oboe, bass, harpsichord, and percussion.
Arnold Schoenberg makes three appearances ranging from his sumptuous Verklärte Nacht (1899), written after he met the woman who would become his wife; to his second string quartet (1908), written while his wife was having an affair; and Pierrot Lunaire (1912), about which he said he hoped the audience would “go away whistling the tunes.”
Juilliard composers play a prominent role in this year’s ChamberFest. Composition faculty member John Corigliano’s rarely heard but evocative Chiaroscuro for two pianos—one tuned a quarter-tone lower than the other—opens the series, thanks to the heroic efforts of head piano Technician Stephen Carver and his team. New settings made by Graduate Studies faculty member Philip Lasser (DMA ’94, composition) of songs by Debussy and Fauré are also on the schedule.
Bärli Nugent (BM ’76, MM ’77, flute) is the assistant dean and director of chamber music