Curtis on Tour itinerary includes debut concerts at London’s Cadogan Hall and in Finland and Poland
Ancient philosophers, from Aristotle to Socrates, placed high value on learning by experience. The practical process remains fully alive today in Philadelphia at the Curtis Institute of Music, vital to the conservatoire’s education of world-class performers and the driving force behind its distinctive ‘learn by doing’ approach. Audiences in the UK and across Europe have the chance to hear the results later this year when the Curtis Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Osmo Vänskä, presents a nine-concert tour, including dates at the Helsinki Music Centre (Saturday 20 May), London’s Cadogan Hall (Friday 26 May), the National Forum of Music in Wrocław (Wednesday 31 May) and at the Krzysztof Penderecki European Centre for Music in Lusławice, southern Poland (Friday 2 June). The orchestra is also scheduled to perform in Berlin, Bremen, Dresden, Salzburg and Vienna. The initiative, presented under the care of Curtis on Tour - the Nina von Maltzahn Global Touring Initiative of the Curtis Institute of Music - ranks among the most ambitious and extensive touring projects undertaken since the school’s foundation in 1924.
Peter Serkin is set to join the 100-strong Curtis Symphony Orchestra as soloist in Brahms’s Piano Concerto No.1 in London and Wrocław. Roberto Díaz, president and CEO of the Curtis Institute of Music and a former principal viola of the Philadelphia Orchestra, will share the stage with violinist Benjamin Schmid in Krzysztof Penderecki’s Double Concerto for violin and viola, programmed for the orchestra’s concerts in Helsinki and Poland. The tour repertoire also includes Richard Strauss’s great symphonic showpiece Ein Heldenleben.
“I am delighted by the commitment of the Curtis Symphony Orchestra’s tour and look forward to working with these remarkable young musicians,” states Osmo Vänskä. “Investing in a major tour is an investment in these musicians, where they will experience first-hand how to properly prepare as a professional musician in an orchestra tour setting. Curtis on Tour, because of the way it embraces every area of experience both on and off stage, is vital to the development of its musicians and understanding the changing environment of each concert venue to produce the highest quality performances. I think this is a bold and exciting project which I am sure will capture the imagination and inspire our audiences on tour.”
Peter Serkin, who turns seventy this summer, studied at the Curtis Institute of Music with Mieczysław Horszowski, graduating in 1965. “I will always feel enormous gratitude towards the Curtis Institute of Music, one of the world’s very greatest music schools,” he comments. “I cherish the experience of having studied with such wonderful musicians and having benefited from being around such a distinguished faculty and my fellow students there. I had the pleasure of teaching very fine students at Curtis, and now I look forward to the opportunity of making music with current students there, of playing Brahms’s First Piano Concerto with this extraordinary orchestra and the wonderful conductor Osmo Vänskä.”
Roberto Díaz believes that the experience of overseas touring is a boon to his conservatoire’s outstanding young musicians, providing insights that cannot be learned from a book or in the classroom. “I can say as a performing musician that there’s no better learning opportunity than taking part in repeated performances of a programme or a piece,” he comments. “It’s amazing to hear interpretations evolve as part of a broad learning process that includes insights into all the activities in the life of a professional musician, from working as part of a team to taking care of yourself and your instrument on tour.”
Curtis Institute of Music offers full-tuition scholarships to its 175 students. On average around four per cent of applicants are chosen for admission each year, making the school among the most selective in the United States. The high quality of the student intake is matched by the excellence and range of training offered at Curtis. It is also reflected in the job destinations of alumni. The Berliner Philharmoniker, for instance, recently appointed David Cooper as its principal horn, while fellow Curtis graduate José Maria Blumenschein joined the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra as concertmaster in September 2016. Osmo Vänskä’s Minnesota Orchestra numbers fourteen Curtis alumni among its full-time permanent members, including its concertmaster, first associate concertmaster, principal viola and principal horn.
Since its foundation, the Curtis Institute of Music has produced such notable alumni as Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, Jonathan Biss, Yefim Bronfman, Juan Diego Flórez, Alan Gilbert, Richard Goode, Hilary Hahn, Lynn Harrell, Paavo Järvi, Leila Josefowicz, Lang Lang, Gian Carlo Menotti, Anna Moffo, Ned Rorem, Nino Rota and Yuja Wang. “There is no substitute for world-class performance and no room for corners to be cut,” observes Roberto Díaz. “Everything at Curtis is done with that in mind; there are no compromises here.”
The conservatoire’s president launched Curtis on Tour soon after his arrival in post a decade ago. The initiative was created to promote his ‘learn-by-doing’ ethos and to raise awareness of the conservatoire’s work. It has grown since to encompass a wide range of events each year, comprising five or six national and international tours and a multitude of projects for chamber groups and small ensembles. Curtis on Tour continues to expand thanks to the $55 million donation made by Baroness Nina von Maltzahn to mark the close of her term as chair of the conservatoire’s board in May 2016. The gift, among the largest ever made to a music school in the United States, has delivered the financial resources necessary to create an ambitious schedule of high-calibre tours and concert dates, open to every Curtis student.
“Curtis on Tour began as a modest initiative and has evolved from there,” recalls Roberto Díaz. “Nina von Maltzahn’s generous support has given us the security to plan for the future and create new opportunities. We have a responsibility to give our students valuable professional experience and prepare them for life after Curtis. We also have a responsibility to the art form beyond what happens in our building. That is why Curtis on Tour is such an important part of what we do.”
Curtis Institute students, in addition to refining their skills as musicians, are encouraged to become advocates for classical music. Curtis on Tour projects comprise, inter alia, workshops with youth orchestras and concerts given to community groups in Philadelphia and beyond, complete with opportunities for students to speak about the works they are performing. “No one engages with a young person like another young person,” says Roberto Díaz. “The impact of our students advocating for themselves is great and something that no older person could do for them. They also learn how to interact with donors, sponsors and promoters during rehearsal breaks or post-concert events. It’s all part of the multi-dimensional experience of being a musician.”
Although the conservatoire’s ‘learn by doing’ philosophy has been woven into Curtis on Tour under Roberto Díaz’s leadership, he notes how it has always been part of the mainstream of education at Curtis. “Practical learning has been a core value here for as long as anyone can remember. This is a performance school: people come here to study because they want to become professional performers. The school has always encouraged and supported performance opportunities as a core part of students’ education. I think that is a major difference between us and many other music schools, where students have to create their own opportunities. I speak from my experience as a student and having taught at other music schools. This is one of the things that make a Curtis education unique.”