The Courage of the Chamber Ensemble | Chamberfest 2019

Thursday, Dec 20, 2018
by Hsin-Yun Huang
Juilliard Journal
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An ensemble performing at ChamberFest 2018

In advance of this year’s ChamberFest—seven concerts that take place January 14-16—viola faculty member Hsin-Yun Huang talks about this annual event and her experience with it last year.

My memory of chamber music as a viola master’s student at Juilliard in the 1990s was that if one was lucky enough, one was matched with a good group that rehearsed once a week. Sadly this was nothing like the total immersion needed to reach a high level of artistry, and it often left us hungry for more—more getting to know each other, more intensity of music-making, and more contact with our coaches. It was a classic case of knowing just enough to realize we knew nothing.

Fast-forward more than a quarter century: I’m grateful for the existence of ChamberFest—begun in 2002—a unique Juilliard experience. For an uninterrupted stretch of 10 days, students work morning and afternoon with like-minded peers with whom they’ve committed to a piece they feel passionate about. In this environment of absolute and total focus, the result is far more satisfying.

Over the years, I’ve been very lucky to experience Marlboro School of Music, first as a young participant and now as a senior musician. The founders of Marlboro—Rudolf Serkin and violinist Adolf Busch, later joined by Pablo Casals—firmly believed that good learning is a two-way street, and that when musicians of different experience levels sit down to make music with each other, much is communicated without words and much real learning happens. So for last year’s ChamberFest, we introduced to the programming an idea borrowed from Marlboro’s philosophy. Our experiment was to insert a faculty member (myself) into a student group for a week of intensive rehearsals and a performance.

So last January, I performed Brahms’ G Major String Sextet with Stella Chen, Hannah Tarley, Jordan Bak, Connor Kim, and Matthew Chen. I found that I absolutely loved my week of making music with and getting to know them all. This piece, a true gem, is a love confession from the composer. Working in a chamber ensemble takes incredible courage to feel intimately comfortable with each other. The amount of listening and responding, from day one to the performance, increased by 1,000 percent, with all of us generously sharing our unique voices and making our music open-minded and free of judgment. It felt as if the group exceeded the sum of its parts in the performance.

When we are permitted to make music with the kind of intensity that takes over all of our beings, it is very much like falling in love. I hope the experience of falling in love with this music can stay in everyone’s mind and inspire more passionate learning in the future. It was really a great privilege to have spent this week with these exceptional Juilliard students.

Hsin-Yun Huang (MM ’94, viola) joined the faculty in 2002