Curtis Institute of Music, 2015-16 All School Project Delves into the Continuing Legacy of Darmstadt

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2015-16 All School Project Delves into the Continuing Legacy of Darmstadt 
Throughout the season, performances, academic coursework, and tours explore works from the Darmstadt school and influences on music by composers of today 

Performances in Philadelphia, New York, and Berlin to include works by Berio, Boulez, Cage, Unsuk Chin, Messiaen, Milhaud, Schoenberg, Strauss, Varèse, and Webern 

PHILADELPHIA—December 7, 2015— As the world was reeling from the effects of the Second World War, a school of avant-garde composers emerged in the mid-20th century, embracing abstraction, revolution, and counter-culture rebellion. The Curtis Institute of Music delves into the Darmstadt school as part of the 2015-16 All School Project, performing the music linked to this critical time of experimentation and discovery.


Through performances, classroom studies, and touring, Curtis explores the history, politics, and artistic concepts that shaped the music of this turbulent era, described so poignantly by W.H. Auden as “The Age of Anxiety.” Since 2007 Curtis has leveraged an All School Project–hailed by the New York Times as the “best teaching idea” of 2008–to serve as a focal point for artistic programs and the academic curriculum.

“The music of the Darmstadt school of composers had fascinated me in my youth,” said Mikael Eliasen, artistic director of the Curtis Opera Theatre and Hirsig Family Dean of Vocal Studies. “These composers open your eyes and offer us an entirely new angle to explore artistically. For a conservatory it is radical–not unlike the movement itself.”

“The Darmstadt aesthetic was known for complexity, abstraction, and tearing down artistic traditions,” said David Ludwig, Gie and Lisa Liem Dean of Artistic Programs and Performance, composition faculty, and artistic director of the Curtis 20/21 Ensemble. “Students will have the opportunity to explore some of the most controversial music of the modernist past to broaden their artistic perspectives and prepare them for the performing, conducting, and composing careers of the future.”

Curtis 20/21 Ensemble
The Curtis 20/21 Ensemble will play a central role in the project with a series that explores the iconic works that led into and out of Darmstadt. A residency by celebrated composer Unsuk Chin began the series, culminating in a November 11 performance. Born in South Korea and based in Berlin, Unsuk Chin cites as major influences Anton Webern and her teacher, György Ligeti, both closely linked to the Darmstadt school. She is one of a long list of renowned artists to serve as composer in residence at Curtis, where past residencies include John Corigliano, Joan Tower, George Crumb, and Krzysztof Penderecki, among others.

Future performances by the Curtis 20/21 Ensemble include a collaboration inspired by cabaret, Dada, and Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire with duende, a collective founded by a Curtis composer, cellist, and dancer/choreographer (December 3); a performance with acclaimed jazz vocalist Joanna Pascale featuring seminal works by Milhaud and others (January 22); works by Messiaen and Ned Rorem (’44) depicting the horrors that follow war (April 1); and a recital of solo works by Messiaen, Scheonberg, Webern, Berio, Boulzez, Cage, and others (April 29).

Curtis Symphony Orchestra
The Curtis Symphony Orchestra performs Berio’s rarely heard Sinfonia, a dizzying collage of sounds and styles presented with singers from the Curtis Opera Theatre (January 31–Philadelphia and February 1–New York City) and Varèse’s Amériques, inspired by the urban clamor of the composer’s adoptive home (April 17), paired with works by Brahms, Debussy, and Mahler that set the stage for the revolutionary voice of the Darmstadt school.

Curtis Opera Theatre
The Curtis Opera Theatre, in collaboration with Opera Philadelphia and the Kimmel Center, presents Richard Strauss’s Capriccio (March 2, 4, 6) in three sold-out performances conducted by Timothy Myers and stage directed by Chas Rader-Shieber. Richard Strauss’s final opera glows with wit and gorgeous melody in an allegorical tale that explores the question: which is greater among the arts, poetry or music?

“We can contemplate Strauss in a very different way when we consider the musical reactions that followed, as imagined by Boulez and his cohort,” said Mikael Eliasen. “It represents the utmost decadence, the ultimate squeezing-out of beauty. Luciano Berio’s wild, kaleidoscopic Sinfonia is the perfect reaction to Strauss.”

Capriccio is presented as part of an innovative cooperative venture launched in 2008, combining a Curtis Opera Theatre production with marketing support from Opera Philadelphia and an ideal venue at the Kimmel Center. Past collaborations have included the Philadelphia premiere of Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar, Wozzeck, Antony and Cleopatra, The Cunning Little Vixen, Elegy for Young Lovers, Owen Wingrave, Dialogues of the Carmelites, and Ariadne auf Naxos.

Curtis on Tour
During the summer months, Curtis on Tour travels to Germany for performances in Dresden, Berlin, Munich, and Bremen, with an additional stop in Spain, performing a program that includes Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. In May 2016, Curtis students perform alongside Curtis President Roberto Díaz (Viola ’84), Jose Franch-Ballester (Clarinet ’04), and soprano Rachel Sterrenberg (Opera ’15), appearing at the Dresden Music Festival and Berlin’s Konzerthaus, among others.

An embodiment of the school’s “learn by doing” philosophy, Curtis on Tour offers students real-world, professional touring experience alongside celebrated alumni and faculty. Since it was established in 2008, students, faculty, and alumni have traveled to more than 50 destinations in Europe, Asia, and North and South America, with new venues added each year. In addition to performances, students frequently offer master classes, in-school demonstrations, and other community engagement activities.

Academic coursework
Besides performances, academic coursework also explores the impact of Darmstadt. “In addition to music, art and literature changed dramatically during this turbulent post-war period,” said Paul Bryan, dean of faculty and students. “Students will have the opportunity to strengthen their understanding and connection to the season’s repertoire, exploring these areas through courses being offered by the liberal arts and musical studies departments.”

Art history courses will examine surrealism, abstract expressionism, and minimalism; and students focusing on post-World War II poetry will read the works of W.H. Auden, Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger, Paul Celan, Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop, Randall Jarrell, and Robert Lowell. Musical studies classes will investigate the music of notable composers of the period, including Stockhausen, Berio, Boulez, Nono, and Cage, as well as contrasting works from the same era by Britten, Carter, Penderecki, and Lutoslawski. Contemporary composers like Pärt and Nørgård whose techniques, if not their styles, were directly influenced by the Darmstadt school, will be covered as well.

About the Curtis All School Project
The projects, uniquely envisioned by Curtis President Roberto Díaz and developed in collaboration with the council of deans, began in 2007-08 with the Opus 95 Project, which focused on Beethoven’s string quartet masterwork. That first project received praise from the New York Times for its innovation and has inspired other institutions to stage their own similar projects. A two-year exploration of the Second Viennese School followed. Its centerpiece was a full production in 2010 of Berg’s seminal opera Wozzeck. Subsequent All School Project themes included Paris Between the Wars, Love and War, and Russia: A Land and its Influence. The projects provide a unique opportunity for all Curtis students to deepen and broaden their artistry by studying and performing a defined repertoire, and exploring the surrounding social history, literature, philosophy, psychology, visual art, and politics in the classroom.

2015-16 All School Project Performances

January 22, Philadelphia
Curtis 20/21 Ensemble–II: Entre-deux-guerres with Joanna Pascale, vocals 

8 p.m., World Cafe Live
Presented by LiveConnections

GERSHWIN  Rhapsody in Blue (arr. Inna, Chien-Ying Yang)
MILHAUD  La création du monde
SMITH  World premiere TBA
LEGRAND  Selections TBA

Between the great wars, composers found new avenues of experimentation and influences for their music, including the jazz they were hearing in the cafés and concert halls in Paris and New York. The Curtis 20/21 Ensemble, presented by LiveConnections, partners with acclaimed jazz vocalist Joanna Pascale in the intimate atmosphere of World Cafe Live. The program features the world premiere performance of a new vocal work by Curtis ArtistYear Fellow Gabriella Smith (’13) and the mellifluous songs of Michel Legrand, as well as seminal works by Gershwin and Milhaud.

January 31, Philadelphia
Ludovic Morlot leads the Curtis Symphony Orchestra with members of the Curtis Opera Theatre
3 p.m., Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts

February 1, New York
Ludovic Morlot leads the Curtis Symphony Orchestra with members of the Curtis Opera Theatre

8 p.m., Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall

BUSONI  Berceuse élégiaque
BERIO  Sinfonia
MAHLER  Symphony No. 1 (“Titan”)

Seattle Symphony music director Ludovic Morlot debuts with the Curtis Symphony Orchestra in a concert of groundbreaking works. Busoni’s solemn Berceuse élégiaque is followed by Berio’s Sinfonia, a dizzying collage of sounds and styles presented with singers from the Curtis Opera Theatre. Mahler’s First Symphony, the “Titan,” provides a heroic conclusion.
March 2, 4, 6, Philadelphia
Curtis Opera Theatre presents Capriccio by Richard Strauss
Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts

Timothy Myers, conductor
Chas Rader-Shieber, stage director

Which is greater among the arts, poetry or music? The opera explores that question in an allegorical tale: The young, widowed Countess Madeleine is torn between two suitors, the poet Olivier and the composer Flamand. What will impress her more–Flamand’s music or Olivier’s words? Richard Strauss’s final opera glows with wit and gorgeous melody.

Fully staged production with the Curtis Symphony Orchestra, sung in German with English supertitles. Presented in association with Opera Philadelphia and Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.

April 1, Philadelphia

Curtis 20/21 Ensemble–III. The War with Mikael Eliasen, piano
8 p.m., Field Concert Hall, Curtis Institute of Music

MESSIAEN  Quartet for the End of Time
ROREM  Aftermath

The Darmstadt Summer Courses were born from the ashes of a Europe devastated by war. Two defining chamber works–Messiaen’s epic Quartet for the End of Time and the song cycle Aftermath by Ned Rorem (’44)–movingly illuminate the horrors of destructive conflict across eras. These dramatic and hauntingly beautiful works are presented side-by-side, perhaps for the first time ever.

April 17, Philadelphia
Michael Stern leads the Curtis Symphony Orchestra
8 p.m., Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts

DEBUSSY  Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
VARÈSE  Amériques
BRAHMS  Symphony No. 1

Michael Stern, music director of the Kansas City Symphony, returns to lead the final Curtis Symphony Orchestra concert of the season. Debussy’s iconic dreamscape Prélude á l’après-midi d’un faune stands in stark contrast to Varèse’s Amériques, inspired by the urban clamor of the composer’s adoptive home. Brahms’s First Symphony–one of the most beloved and oft-performed works in symphonic history–showcases the orchestra’s youthful exuberance in a spirited conclusion.

April 29, Philadelphia
Curtis 20/21 Ensemble–IV: The Road to Darmstadt

8 p.m., Field Concert Hall, Curtis Institute of Music


Explore an astonishing array of solo works by a colorful range of composers, tracing paths toward and away from the Darmstadt School. This finale to the 20/21 season highlights the early modernism of Messiaen, Schoenberg, and Webern; the experimentalism of Berio, Boulez, and Cage; Darmstadt-inspired works by Carter, Kurtag, and Judd Greenstein; and a new commission from Riho Maimets (’14).
May 2016
Curtis on Tour in Europe
Spain and Germany (Dresden, Berlin, Munich, Bremen)

Tour Program 1
MOZART  Trio in E-flat major, K. 498 (“Kegelstatt”)
LUDWIG  Our Long War
MESSIAEN  Quartet for the End of Time

Tour Program 2
STRAVINSKY  A Soldier’s Tale
BRUCH  Selections from Eight Pieces, Op. 83
SHOSTAKOVICH  Seven Romances on Poems of Alexander Blok, Op. 127

Rachel Sterrenberg, soprano (’15)
Stephen Tavani, violin (student)
Roberto Díaz, viola (’84)
Zachary Mowitz, cello
Jose Franch-Ballester, clarinet (’04)
Chelsea Wang, piano


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