[email protected]: History and the Future of Classical Music

Thursday, Mar 24, 2022
Juilliard Journal
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People in Juilliard's library leaning over a glass case examining one of Beethoven's scores
A highlight of the conference was seeing some of Juilliard’s Beethoven manuscripts

[email protected] conference at Juilliard

In October, Juilliard hosted a distinguished group of scholars for a conference originally planned for the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, in 2020. Taking place a year late due to the pandemic, it was renamed [email protected]: From the Enlightenment to the Digital Age. Music history faculty member Edgardo Salinas convened the conference.

By Edgardo Salinas

The [email protected] conference addressed pressing issues about the future of classical music through the lens of Beethoven’s enduring presence in Western culture. Pandemic restrictions have exacerbated the challenges facing classical music, making longstanding concerns about its future more relevant than ever. Juilliard community members were able to attend events in person and, due to COVID restrictions, the conference was also livestreamed for remote participants, a silver lining that gave us a truly global reach. See below to find out how you can access the proceedings.

Cornell faculty member Roger Moseley opened the conference with a reappraisal of Beethoven’s legendary talent for improvisation as a way of pondering how we may “revamp his music in the 21st century,” closing with a virtuosic improvisation of his own. Elaine Sisman (Pre-College ’68; Columbia) scrutinized the paratextual aspects of Beethoven’s music to discuss how his own words complicate prevailing interpretations of his late style. Scott Burnham (CUNY Graduate Center) explored what Stravinsky called the “perpetual modernity” of the Grosse Fuge, leading the audience in a thrilling journey that highlighted the extreme contrasts pervading Beethoven’s late works. Addressing the devastating impact of COVID on live music, I focused on the house concerts that virtuoso pianist Igor Levit livestreamed amid the global lockdown in 2020, showing how Beethoven’s piano sonatas nurtured communal experiences of immediacy that cross-pollinated musical intimacy and cybernetic event.

Juilliard’s president, Damian Woetzel, commenced the afternoon session by noting that the conference was itself a celebration of music as an act of persistence against adversity. Emily Dolan (Brown) discussed a well-known portrait of Beethoven holding a lyre- guitar to question the “material turn” in music scholarship, underscoring the vital intersections between the material and the immaterial inherent in all music-making. Alexander Rehding (Harvard) centered on the space probes that have carried recordings of Beethoven’s music to speculate on their communicative potential to reach extraterrestrial life. Zooming in from Belgium, Tom Beghin (Orpheus Institute) presented a lecture- demonstration on how Beethoven’s French Erard piano shaped the composition of the “Waldstein” piano sonata.

After the presentations, attendees enjoyed a tour of Juilliard’s Beethoven Treasures, the manuscript exhibit curated for the conference by Jane Gottlieb, vice president for library and information resources. And the conference concluded with a splendid concert programmed by Aaron Wunsch (MM ’03, DMA ’08, piano), director of keyboard studies and piano curriculum, in which a dozen Juilliard piano students alternated movements of Beethoven concertos performing with a student string quintet.

Morse Hall was filled to capacity for the conference and our students eagerly participated in the Q&A sessions. More than 300 viewers from around the world watched via livestream, and several Juilliard faculty members integrated the conference into their courses, creating inventive assignments around the lectures. Above all, its success evinced the extraordinary resilience of the entire Juilliard community and the inspiring collaborative spirit that enlivens our shared, unwavering passion for art and music.

The program and abstracts of the papers can be found here; click on “Register” to request the link to the conference recordings.

Edgardo Salinas joined the music history faculty in 2015 after receiving his PhD in musicology from Columbia