Each January since 2002, a group of Juilliard musicians have sacrificed the last week of their winter break to return to school early and prepare for ChamberFest, which this year includes seven concerts in three days.
ChamberFest occupies a unique place at Juilliard—since its founding some 1,530 students in 310 ensembles heard over the years. The intensive’s unlimited rehearsal time and daily coaching yield an extraordinarily rich artistic and educational result, essential for the training of the 21st-century artist-citizen. It has been a home for the traditional—Beethoven, Brahms, Dvořák, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Schubert, and Shostakovich—and the unusual. Among the latter this year will be improvised presentations; premieres; the Australian didgeridoo (January 13), the experience of hearing six grand pianos onstage at one time (January 15), and, in a ChamberFest first classical, jazz, and historical performance instrumentalists performing together (January 13).
—Bärli Nugent (BM ’76, MM ’77, flute), assistant dean and director of chamber music
A look at ChamberFest 2020 by the numbers:
Number of all-improvised groups: 1
Number of player-coaches: 3 (Creative Associate Claire Chase, faculty member Natasha Brofsky, and faculty member and alum Catherine Cho)
Range of composition dates: 1824–2020
Number of hours it takes to move (from around the building) and tune the six pianos in Steve Reich’s Six Pianos: 6
Number of coaches: 16
Number of performers: 131
In anticipation of this year’s festival, here’s a look back at some excerpts from what some students and faculty coaches had to say about their ChamberFest experiences in an article from the December 2015-January 2016 issue of the Juilliard Journal.
I would definitely encourage taking part in this incredible week. You get a similar intensity to summer festivals preparing significant works in a short time, which gives you a preview into the professional world of chamber music, and you can really dive deep into the work without the usual distraction of school. To be able to invest that kind of concentrated time with your peers to produce and share performance is always memorable. And having the opportunity to work closely with world-class coaches throughout the week is amazing and inspiring. Their guidance and expertise help us grow individually and as an ensemble as we prepare for our performance. Plus I was pleasantly surprised my first year when I discovered they provided free Chinese food dinner for one of the nights. It’s still something I look forward to every time.
—Ken Kubota (BM ’14, MM ’16, cello)
This year will be my second year participating in ChamberFest, and I’m always blown away by the performances that follow these two weeks of intense work and dedication. It’s truly special to share masterpieces with your close friends during the holidays, obsessing over all the intricacies of the composers’ voice. Perhaps my favorite part about ChamberFest is that we get to choose our groups and dream up the repertoire. This year my group—which is made up of old and new friends from school and past festivals—chose Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) by Schoenberg. It’s a bucket-list piece for almost everyone I know, and it exhibits the universality of human emotion while showcasing the rich and colorful writing of Schoenberg. We get caught up during the year with school and its demands, so ChamberFest is the chance of a lifetime to focus on just music making with good friends. What could be better?
—Jennifer Liu (Pre-College ’10, BM ’14, MM ’16, violin)
I took part in the first year of ChamberFest, and it felt like such a luxury to have a studio to ourselves for the week, for practice and rehearsal—with a couch! Veda Kaplinsky [chair of the piano department, the artistic director of Pre-College, and an alumna] was our coach for Mendelssohn’s D-minor Trio, and she described how Mendelssohn “couldn't help himself” at the end of the last movement—and just had to modulate to major and end exuberantly. I still think of her comment when I’m performing this piece. Musical careers inevitably involve multitasking, so it’s an increasingly rare privilege and joy to completely immerse yourself in music for a period of time to the exclusion of everything else.
—Aaron Wunsch (MM ’03, DMA ’08, piano), a member of the music history and chamber music faculties, was one of the inaugural ChamberFest participants and has been a ChamberFest coach
Watching the kids develop is like watching a National Geographic [time lapse video] that’s speeded-up 300 times; within a few minutes you [go] from seed to flower.
—Joseph Kalichstein (BS ’67, MS ’69, piano) is a member of the piano faculty, the Edwin S. and Nancy A. Marks Chair in Chamber Music Studies, and a ChamberFest coach.
ChamberFest takes place January 13-15 in various locations around school.