Arts World Leaders to Be Honored

Thursday, Apr 27, 2023
Juilliard Journal
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Collage of headshots in side-by-side orientation of Wendell Pierce, Xian Zhang, Janet Eilber, Hermeto Pascoal, and Deborah Borda
Wendell Pierce, Xian Zhang, Janet Eilber, Hermeto Pascoal, and Deborah Borda

At Juilliard’s College Division commencement ceremony—the school’s 118th—five leaders in the arts world received honorary doctorates.

It took place Friday, May 19, at 11am.

Deborah Borda

Deborah Borda, who’s spent the last three decades leading the New York and Los Angeles philharmonics, has extended the artistic, commercial, and technological boundaries of what an orchestra can be through creative leadership, commitment to innovation, and progressive vision.

As New York Philharmonic president and CEO (2017– present), Borda helped bring to completion a decades-long plan to transform David Geffen Hall and spearheaded the appointment of Gustavo Dudamel as music and artistic director beginning in 2026. Under her leadership, the NY Phil has introduced a new approach to programming, exploring issues such as women’s rights through the Project 19 commissioning program, which garnered a Pulitzer Prize, and connecting with communities through initiatives such as NY Phil Bandwagon, which presented free outdoor performances across New York City during the pandemic. The first arts executive to join Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership, Borda has received accolades including honorary doctorates from the New England Conservatory, Curtis Institute, and Manhattan School of Music; election to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences; and has chaired the Avery Fisher Artist Program.

Borda, who received her bachelor’s from Bennington College and also studied at the Royal College of Music, worked as a freelance musician before starting her journey as an arts executive. She served as manager of the Handel and Haydn Society, executive director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, president and managing director of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and general manager and artistic administrator of the San Francisco Symphony before her first stint at the NY Phil—for eight seasons as executive director—and joining the Los Angeles Philharmonic as president and chief executive officer (2000–17). She returned to the NY Phil in 2017 and announced a year ago that she would step down at the end of this season.

Janet Eilber

While she was still at Juilliard, Janet Eilber (BFA ’73, dance) was asked by Martha Graham (faculty 1951–77) to join her company. Her first performance was in 1972 and, over the years, she danced many of Graham’s greatest roles, had roles created for her by Graham, and was directed by Graham in most of the major roles of the repertory. Eilber soloed at the White House, was partnered by Rudolf Nureyev, starred in three segments of Dance in America, and worked with such major Graham collaborators such as Isamu Noguchi, Aaron Copland, and Halston.

Eilber became artistic director of the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance Company in 2005, and her creative curation has pioneered new forms of audience access to the Graham legacy. She reconstructed the lost Graham solos Satyric Festival Song and Immediate Tragedy and remixed Graham choreography around the world, most recently for Long Beach Opera’s The Feast starring countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński (Graduate Diploma ’17, voice). She has taught, lectured, and directed Graham ballets internationally for companies such as the Dutch National Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet.

Apart from her work with Graham, Eilber has costarred in films including Whose Life Is It Anyway? with Richard Dreyfus and Romantic Comedy with Dudley Moore. She was featured in several 1980s television series and danced and acted on and Off Broadway directed by greats including Agnes DeMille (faculty 1951–54) and Bob Fosse. For her performance in Tommy Tune’s Stepping Out, she was nominated for a Drama Desk award. Eilber, who received four Lester Horton Awards for her reconstruction and performance of seminal American modern dance, was director of arts education for the Dana Foundation and is a trustee emeritus of the Interlochen Center for the Arts.

Hermeto Pascoal

Hermeto Pascoal is a Brazilian composer, arranger, and multi- instrumentalist recognized for his skills in orchestration and improvisation and for his use of unconventional objects in his music. He is also a music producer and has collaborated on numerous national and international albums.

Pascoal’s fascination with the sounds of nature began at an early age. He made a flute out of a pumpkin stem and spent hours playing music with the water in the lake and making sounds with spare material from his grandfather’s blacksmith tools. At 7, he began experimenting with his father's eight- bass accordion, and he and his older brother, José Neto, were soon playing accordion and tambourine together publicly. Before long, he started playing piano, fusing Brazilian music with jazz, and performing with a who’s who of musicians in Brazil and internationally. Pascoal traveled in the late 1960s to the U.S., where he played with musicians including Miles Davis (’45, trumpet) and Airto Moreira. He has recorded dozens of albums over the years, and his innovative and eclectic music has inspired several generations of musicians. This year, he’s been inspiring Juilliard musicians— he was on campus in the winter and the jazz orchestra and ensembles each performed his music.

Throughout his career, Pascoal has pushed musical boundaries, earning him international recognition as a true musical innovator. His contributions to Brazilian music have garnered numerous awards and honors, including the Latin Grammy lifetime achievement award in 2019. Despite his success, Pascoal remains humble and dedicated to his craft, always seeking new ways to express himself through the universal language of music.

Wendell Pierce

New Orleans native Wendell Pierce (Group 14) has established himself as a prolific award-winning actor with a body of work on stage, television, and film for more than three decades. Among his acclaimed TV roles are Bunk Moreland (The Wire), Antoine Baptiste (Tremé), and James Greer (Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan). He also played Robert Zane on Suits; had recurring roles on Ray Donovan and Chicago PD; and appeared as Clarence Thomas (Confirmation) and in Between the World and Me, based on the Ta-Nehisi Coates book.

Pierce returned to Broadway last year as Death of a Salesman’s Willy Loman after receiving a Laurence Olivier Award best actor nomination for the West End run of the production. Among his other Broadway credits are August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson, Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money, and John Pielmeier’s Boys of Winter. Other theater credits include Cost of Living (Williamtown Theatre Festival); Broke-ology (Lincoln Center); ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore, Cymbeline, Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Tartuffe (New York Shakespeare Festival); Waiting for Godot and The Cherry Orchard (Classical Theatre of Harlem); and the Oedipus cycle (Theatre Herod Atticus, Athens). In film, Pierce’s work includes Ava Duvernay’s Selma, Taylor Hackford’s Ray, Spike Lee’s Malcolm X and Get on the Bus, Forest Whittaker’s Waiting to Exhale, and the Sundance grand jury prize winner Clemency.

Named a 1981 White House Presidential Scholar in the Arts before entering Juilliard, Pierce has won an Obie for sustained excellence in the theater; a Tribeca Film Festival best actor award for Burning Cane; a Tony as a producer of Clybourne Park; and a Special Image outstanding actor award for Life Support. He is a co-owner of Equity Media, which owns WBOK, a 70-year-old Black talk radio station in New Orleans and the oldest Black-owned radio station in Louisiana. And his memoir is called The Wind in the Reeds.

Xian Zhang

Xian Zhang, who has conducted major symphonic and opera orchestras around the world, is in her seventh season as music director of the New Jersey Symphony as well as principal guest conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and conductor emeritus of Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano, where she also served as music director (2009–16). Next season, in addition to multiple symphonic engagements, she’ll make her Metropolitan Opera debut conducting Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Her 2022 recording Letters for the Future with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the trio Time for Three (Deutsche Grammophon) won best contemporary classical composition (Kevin Puts’ Contact) and best classical instrumental solo Grammys.

Zhang made her Juilliard Orchestra debut in 2008, when she conducted during its 10-day China tour. She first led the Juilliard Orchestra in New York in 2010 and did so again in 2020 and 2021.

Zhang, who received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, started conducting at 16 and, three years later, led the China National Opera Orchestra in The Marriage of Figaro. She moved to the U.S. in 1998 and received her doctorate from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, where she also served as music director of the concert orchestra for four years. In 2002, she won first prize in the Maazel-Vilar Conductor’s Competition and was appointed assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, where she subsequently became associate conductor and the first holder of the Arturo Toscanini chair. Among many other titles, she was principal guest conductor of the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales, and as such was the first female conductor to hold a titled role with a BBC orchestra.