Juilliard415 Stretches Boundaries

Wednesday, Mar 08, 2023
Juilliard Journal
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Laurence Equilbey headshot
Laurence Equilbey makes her Juilliard conducting debut April 1

By Kevin Filipski

While the Historical Performance (HP) program was created to offer comprehensive study of music of the 17th and 18th centuries on period instruments, it also takes extended tours into the music of the early 19th century. The final two concerts of HP’s spring season demonstrate both approaches and give HP an opportunity to collaborate with the Dance Division.

On April 1, Juilliard415 will perform a concert called The Classical Style: Vienna at the Turn of the 19th Century, with Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro Overture and Piano Concerto No. 21 (with second-year Suren Barry) and Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 on the program. “We wanted to do a classical program that would stretch us into the 19th century, which is something we haven’t done in a while,” HP’s director, Robert Mealy, explains. “Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 seemed like the perfect choice to pair with Mozart, since its sunniness and grace are so deeply influenced by his compositions. Around the time he was sketching this symphony, Schubert wrote in his diary, ‘O Mozart! Immortal Mozart! What countless impressions of a brighter, better life hast thou stamped upon our souls!’”

Leading The Classical Style will be French conductor Laurence Equilbey, who will be making her Juilliard conducting debut. “We are very happy to welcome her to Juilliard415,” Mealy says. “She directs the Insula Orchestra in Paris, a group that is very committed to 19th-century performance practice. And it’s great to celebrate a woman conductor working in this repertoire, which is still all too rare.”

A dancer on stage performing and behind her is an orchestra. The picture communicates the idea of interdisciplinary performance.
Juilliard415 performing with Juilliard dancers in 2018

Juilliard415’s final performance this season also stretches the ensemble’s traditional purview. On May 1, Juilliard415 joins forces with Juilliard dance students and a professional Baroque dance troupe for Moving Through Time: Baroque Dances Old and New. “The concert will open with the musicians of Juilliard415 by themselves, performing Rebel’s Les Élemens, an orchestral suite about chaos and order that begins with all the notes of the scale played simultaneously,” Mealy says. “Gradually, out of that musical chaos, the four elements—air, fire, water, and earth—are separated and the rest of the suite celebrates each particular element. It’s an intensely kinetic work that is really thrilling to play. We’ll follow Rebel’s Élemens with another of his dance suites, this one choreographed by Baroque dance specialist Caroline Copeland. Rebel’s Caractères de la danse is a fantastic club mix that goes through all the popular dance forms of the time, and ends with a virtuosic final sonade from the orchestra.”

The evening’s second half will feature more new choreography, set to two Baroque-era masterpieces. The first piece, choreographed by Copeland, is set to the suite from John Blow’s Venus and Adonis (1683), and it will be performed by four professional Baroque dancers. The second piece, the suite from Jean-Philippe Rameau’s 1749 Naïs, will be choreographed by Aaron Loux (BFA ’09, dance) for five Juilliard dancers. “We’ll have two different worlds of dance coming together,” Mealy says, “with Loux creating new work to Rameau and Caroline Copeland setting Baroque dances to Blow’s Venus and Adonis, a quirky and ingenious score that inspired Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas but is rarely heard.” Mealy also hears a through line in this concert, from the dissonant sounds that open Les Élemens to the radiant conclusion of Rameau’s Naïs: “There’s a musical blaze of glory at the beginning and the end.”

Kevin Filipski is Juilliard’s program editor

This article is adapted from one that originally appeared in Playbill and appears by permission