Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A call from King Marke of Curtis

The Curtis Institute Orchestra comes to London on Friday

Fans of youth orchestras have a chance on Friday to hear one with quite a difference. It's the orchestra of the Curtis Institute from Philadelphia and, most unusually, they're on tour. Curtis is the Philadelphia music school celebrated for having trained what's often called the "crème de la crème" of young musicians. They're coming to London, playing at Cadogan Hall. The programme includes Strauss's Ein Heldenleben and Peter Serkin is the soloist in Brahms's Piano Concerto No.1 - this phenomenal American musician is another all-too-rare visitor to these shores. Osmo Vänskä conducts. Book here.

I was just wondering what to do about all this (I can't go as I'll be away seeing a person about a recording) when in popped a message from Matthew Rose, King Marke and Baron Ochs extraordinaire, himself a Curtis alumnus. Here's his call to attention:

Matthew Rose
On Friday May 26th, the Symphony Orchestra of the Curtis Institute takes to the stage at Cadogan Hall, London. It's an event I highly recommend you to attend. As in, this is one of the greatest concerts you could hear all year. 

"But what is this Curtis Institute?" I hear you cry. Well, it's probably the greatest music college on the planet. The place that probably trains more of the solo pianists, violinists, orchestral concert masters, principal clarinettists, Met Opera singers, composers, and conductors than any other institution in the world. From my time studying there alone, Lang Lang, Yuja Wang, and Jonathan Biss are at the forefront of pianists; the concert masters of Vienna Philharmonic, Atlanta Symphony, Met Opera Orchestra, Minneapolis Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony and soloists with every reputed orchestra. Juan Diego Florez is the most famous of the swaths of singers who have trained there; Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Barber, Lukas Foss, Jennifer Higdon some of the most adorned composers etc.
It is an amazing place.

Founded by Mary Louise Curtis Bok in 1924, on the advise of Leopold Stokowski, Curtis was formed to train the exceptional, exceptionally. A music school of 170 students, only enough instrumentalists for a full seating of a Symphony Orchestra, 25 singers, undergraduate and graduate, whom train and perform 5 fully staged operas a year and a handful of pianists, composers, organists and conductors. A place where tuition is aimed at people reaching their own (world leading) potential in technical ability through the best teaching and then having the chance to utilise that in limitless performance opportunities, be it individually, orchestrally with the world's best conductors or in chamber music and opera. 
"So why have I never heard of this Curtis then?" Well, Curtis has existed only to train the exceptional exceptionally and hasn't had, until recently, an agenda to do anything else but that. A recent gift of $55m from out-going chairman of the board Nina Von Maltzahn to specifically spread the word of Curtis and allow tours like this present one to happen has changed that. 
Curtis's Lenfest Hall. Photo: Tom Crane
Curtis was initially housed in adjoining mansions on Rittenhouse Square, the sparkling jewel of Philadelphia's urban spaces. In 2011 a new Lenfest Hall more than doubled the footprint of the school, housing a world class orchestral rehearsal space, teaching rooms and all the amenities needed for youngsters embarking on the most demanding of professions. 
Again, it is a remarkable place.
I had the extreme good fortune of attending Curtis from 1998 until 2003. I arrived as a complete novice with barely the ability to sing an octave and left ready enough to join the Young Artists Programme at The Royal Opera, feeling completely ready, through my amazing education, to at least stand in the shadows of the world's great singers on that most amazing stage. My education was as thorough and comprehensive as I could ever imagine; singing lessons every week in New York with the best teacher I could choose (no faculty for voice, just limitless options), language and musical coaching with top professionals on a daily basis, singing roles in 21 operas, weekly visits to the Met, Carnegie Hall, and best of all, a free ticket to hear the fabulous Philadelphia Orchestra every Saturday evening. 

I went from someone who had barley been to a symphony orchestra concert, to someone ready to sing with those orchestras in five years. I feel so privileged to have had all this, and do you know what, it was all for free. Mrs Curtis Bok's initial endowment has grown and been supplemented by time, enthusiasm and massively generous and deserving support and philanthropy. 
If you are free on Friday, try and get to Cadogan Hall. On stage will be 100 of the finest musicians you will ever hear, and the average age will probably be 20. 20 year olds playing with ability and commitment rarely heard. 
Curtis really is amazing. Go find out for yourself.

Matthew Rose