Studying at Juilliard School, New York

Tuesday, 22 January 2013
Bryony Gibson-Cornish studying at Juilliard in New York

Last year we reported on the wonderful success of NZCT Chamber Music Contest alumni winner Bryony Gibson-Cornish and her acceptance into the Juilliard School through the Fulbright Exchange Programme.

This month Bryony updated us on her exciting journey...

Dear Chamber Music New Zealand,

Happy New Year! I hope this email finds you well and rested after a wonderful Christmas break! I thought you might like to read a bit about what I have been doing since I moved to New York in August last year.

The opportunities I had within the Chamber Music Contest and other events through Chamber Music New Zealand really helped prepare me for my studies over here, so before I begin, I just want to thank you so much for helping me develop my love for viola and chamber music over the years.

I have had some amazing experiences here so far and it still feels like a dream! Anyway, I’ll rewind to the beginning…

So my trip started in Jackson, Mississippi – a funny place to start, but it was an unforgettable introduction to the US!  I attended a Fulbright Orientation with about 120 other Fulbright scholars from all over the world. We attended workshops and seminars, learning about the US culture and how the Fulbright Exchange Programme came to be. The highlight for me over these few days was meeting people from many different countries and I have kept in contact with some of them who are studying in New York. They also convinced me to play and sing for them, which inspired some of them to attend my concerts here.

It felt really weird to finally arrive in New York after the many months of preparation and anticipation. I arrived before most of the other residents at the hall and it was nice to be there in the calm before the storm! I spent a few days getting set up and I discovered the useful location of Bed, Bath and Beyond which is just across the street from Juilliard. Orientation started a few days later and I met more new people, this time musicians from all over the world!

I have made some wonderful friends here and although everyone has a focus on homework and practice, it has been great to hang out with them and escape “The Juilliard Bubble,” as they call it. Living in the same building as the school is a conveniently dangerous perk of studying here. It is great to be so close and to be able to minimize transport time, but it is very easy not to explore the city when we have so many study demands.

My lessons with Heidi Castleman and Misha Amory have been truly inspiring. They are encouraging, imaginative and concise – I walk out of every lesson with a clear idea of my goals for the present and future. Our studio is also a wonderful aspect of my learning here – it is called the ACHT Studio, the acronym spells the last name of each teacher within the studio and each violist learns with two teachers. There are about 30 violists in the studio (yes, 30!) and we meet every week.  Each week is slightly different, but usually students perform and sometimes one of our teachers or a visiting guest will give a presentation on a particular area of viola technique or music in general. Usually after each person plays, one of the teachers will talk to them about improving their performance and sometimes a student will lead the post-performance discussion. We also have play-through class, which is like a preparation for studio class, where groups of 3 or 4 people will play their pieces for each other and then each student comments on the other person’s performance.

Other perks of being in the ACHT Studio include being recorded at every class (the best kind of honest feedback you can get!) and also the opportunity to work with our stunning accompanist, Yi-Fang Huang. She is a wonderful musician and because she is a violist as well as a pianist, she knows the repertoire inside out. We also have the opportunity to take part in studio recitals every month and a viola quartet performs at each recital – in the last one, I played an arrangement of the Tchaikovsky Seasons and it was great fun!

We have also been contributing to a blog, which was initiated by the American Viola Society. I wrote a post last semester about making a good impression with your audience and you can read about it here:

The website is an amazing resource for musicians and includes blog posts by the students and teachers from the studio about many different facets of music and the viola.

This term I have also had the opportunity to take part in Viola Sonata Class. I have teamed up with a pianist and we have learnt two “lesser-known” sonatas – the Rochberg, and Bowen’s Second Sonata in F. We have had coaching with Karen Dreyfus and it has been incredible to have a third teacher! We had fun performing in Morse Hall in the final Sonata Class concert and if you would like to check out the youtube videos, click here: (there are multiple movements).

As well as lessons and academic classes, I have also played in two Juilliard Orchestra Concerts so far. For the first, Jeffery Milarsky conducted us with a programme of Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion & Celeste and Pärt’s Fourth Symphony “Los Angeles”. It was great to play some new repertoire, which I didn’t know and I certainly have a newfound appreciation for Arvo Pärt. For my second, Itzhak Perlman conducted us in a concert of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto, Mozart’s Il Seraglio Overture and Symphony Fantastique by Berlioz, which took place in Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center (the home of the New York Philharmonic) on December 4th. It was amazing to have so much rehearsal time with Mr. Perlman and it was the craziest feeling to be sitting just meters away from him! He is a very entertaining person and I really like his conducting and rehearsal style. My orchestra assignments this semester are two readings (one with Alan Gilbert, ther other with Christoph von Dohnanyi), an opera (Don Pasquale, playing in the sub-principal chair) and an orchestra concert of Don Quixote by Strauss and Prokofiev’s 5th Symphony with Maestro Leonard Slatkin.

I also have a work-study job where I am a Pre-College Orchestra Mentor – this entails playing in their rehearsals on Saturday afternoons and sometimes taking sectionals. In mid-November we gave our first concert in Alice Tully Hall and the programme was Debussy’s Fetes from Nocturnes, Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto and Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. I couldn’t believe the general level of the students, they played in a mature manner and the solos amongst the orchestra members were particularly impressive!

Hamish, my boyfriend, was also studying music at Peabody Institute last semester, so we both visited each other in our respective city. I took the opportunity to show him around New York and we visited the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Chinatown, and various other tourist spots. It was nice to have some time off and explore this vibrant city with him! We also attended some wonderful orchestra concerts at the Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall.

As I am sure you are aware, Hurricane Sandy was quite a serious natural event that occurred over here! Having lived through that and the Canterbury Earthquakes, I can say without a doubt that the earthquakes were much harder to deal with. My area of Manhattan was unscathed though - we didn’t even lose power! In a way, it felt like being on the “right” side of Christchurch for the earthquakes. My building did sway a little though and I found that rather disconcerting.

Recently I arrived home from the UK after spending two weeks with my family there. During the last week of Winter Break, I took part in Juilliard’s ChamberFest – my group learnt Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet and we performed it for a full house last Friday in Paul Hall. I have just started my second semester and I can’t wait for the challenges and inspiration ahead!

Well, that’s all for now – I hope 2013 will be a prosperous and successful year for Chamber Music New Zealand!