Joint Reading Swings

Friday, Nov 22, 2019
By Joshua Simka
Juilliard Journal
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David Robertson conducting Juilliard Orchestra and Jazz orchestra musicians
David Robertson conducting a joint Juilliard Orchestra-Jazz Orchestra reading

Juilliard Jazz and the Juilliard Orchestra Collaborate

A widely cited study published in January 2018 reported that the brain activity of jazz and classical musicians differ, even when playing the same piece of music, neuroscientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig found. Recently, jazz and classical students at Juilliard undertook an experiment of their own when, on October 29, the Juilliard Jazz Orchestra and Juilliard Orchestra joined forces for a reading of Swing Symphony by Wynton Marsalis ('81, trumpet), director of Juilliard Jazz.

For the students, who are no strangers to interdisciplinary collaboration, the specific combination of these groups was unusual. It was the first time in recent memory that the two orchestras had come together. But for the conductor, David Robertson, director of conducting studies, the arrangement—and Swing Symphony, a manifesto on American ideals and the melding of jazz and classical—were very familiar. In May 2018, Robertson led Marsalis' 15-piece Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in performances of Swing Symphony to sold-out crowds. "Maestro Robertson believes in the piece and he's communicating the opposite of the type of prejudice and ignorance that you used to find in the whole highbrow-lowbrow conversation," Marsalis has said of that project and the false dichotomy between jazz and classical music, one of the many points he sought to make in composing the work.

Back at Juilliard, Marsalis' sentiments were present that October day in Woolfson Orchestral Studio 543. Also on hand were Aaron Flagg, chair and associate director of Jazz and Joe Soucy, assistant dean for orchestral studies, who coordinated the event, as well as jazz alumni, conducting students, and numerous other members of the community.

Throughout the enthusiastic reading, which focused on the second and third of the work's seven movements, the musicians' influences on each other were palpable and inspiring, amounting to an experience met with such cheer by students that there is widespread hope for more collaborations to come.

Joshua Simka (BM '14, voice) is the assistant editor of the Journal

Want to learn more about artistic collaboration? In this video, Tyler Cunningham (BM '19, percussion) shares his experience collaborating with students across divisions.

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