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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Last week we asked a colleague in New York City for a favor: Take a tape recorder to the Juilliard School and just walk the halls.

(Soundbite of people in hallway)

MONTAGNE: We're eavesdropping on this venerable music school because this year marks its centennial. Juilliard starts the festivities at its commencement today, and then a year of tours, concerts and exhibits celebrating 100 years of music as well as decades of drama and dance. Here to help us mark the centennial of the music school is our music commentator, and he's a Juilliard alum.

Miles Hoffman, good morning.

MILES HOFFMAN reporting:

Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: You know, there's a lot to talk about for an institution that's 100 years old, but let's just take a few more seconds to have this virtual wander through the halls of Juilliard.

(Soundbite of music)

HOFFMAN: Ahh, violas practicing.

MONTAGNE: Your instrument.

HOFFMAN: My instrument.

MONTAGNE: And we move on to...

(Soundbite of harp music)

MONTAGNE: And then behind our next door...

(Soundbite of piano music)

MONTAGNE: I would actually think this is a bit how it sounds on any given day walking down the halls of Juilliard.

HOFFMAN: If you were to open the doors, yeah, that's what you'd hear. You'd also see pianists asleep at the piano after four or five or six hours of practicing, and you might see the piano technician walking by, yelling at somebody for having a cup of coffee on the piano, which is strictly forbidden.

MONTAGNE: And we'll be hearing more of this as we talk, actually, Miles. But Juilliard, though--you might, if this was a fantasy tour, pass by some of the great names in music.

HOFFMAN: Oh, goodness, yeah, you could go on forever if you want to list famous alumni of Juilliard.

MONTAGNE: Van Cliburn.

HOFFMAN: Van Cliburn, John Browning, Itzhak Perlman on the violin, Pinchas Zukerman, the members of the Tokyo String Quartet. It just goes on and on and on.

MONTAGNE: So in the beginning, there was an Augustus Juilliard.

HOFFMAN: There was an Augustus Juilliard, but that was not in the beginning. This all started in 1905 with a school called the Institute of Musical Art, doing terrific for the first--Oh, I don't know--15, 20 years, and then Augustus Juilliard, a very wealthy textile merchant, dies, leaves $20 million for the advancement of musical education. And then they founded something called the Juilliard Graduate School. In 1926, under duress essentially, the Institute of Musical Art merged with the Juilliard Graduate School because the Juilliard Graduate School had all the money, and it was one of these situations where if you can't beat them, join them.

MONTAGNE: Technically, though, they're fair in celebrating their centennial, Miles.

HOFFMAN: If they want to, right?

MONTAGNE: Don't spoil the party.

(Soundbite of music)

HOFFMAN: I think there's an interesting parallel. In 1905 when Frank Damrosch founded the Institute of Musical Art, one of the things he was trying to do was find a place in the midst of a powerful popular culture for classical music, and this was a culture that was oblivious to or downright hostile to what they thought of as European, imported European culture. And in a way, a hundred years later, there's still that struggle in America's very mixed and very complicated culture.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RAYMOND LEPPARD (Juilliard Orchestra): We've come to a principle which I'm going to ask you to apply throughout this Mozart.

MONTAGNE: Here is a rehearsal of the commencement concert, and we're listening to guest conductor Raymond Leppard with the Juilliard Orchestra.

Mr. LEPPARD: When you see chords in Mozart, don't be frightened of them. I mean, he knew what a chord sounded like, `tay-um,' nice, boldly. It should have a sort of crunch about it, so `ka-runch,' you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEPPARD: Let's try the first chord.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Now you are a graduate student, but, of course, students come right after high school...

HOFFMAN: That's right.

MONTAGNE: ...at age 18, undergraduates.

HOFFMAN: It's an undergraduate school, and there is a graduate school.

MONTAGNE: And do you take just lessons in what it is you are there for, the viola or piano, or might you be taking archaeology, economics, math?

HOFFMAN: Well, the academic courses, such as they are, are very much downplayed because people have to be trained. When somebody tells you--mentions the name of Juilliard, the first question is: Who's he study with? And who the person studies with places the person, just identifies him, it's like what country is he from? And neither the teachers nor anybody else is going to put up with anything that takes away too, too much time from the basic training.

MONTAGNE: Well, how competitive, though, is it? I mean, at that...

HOFFMAN: Extremely competitive. And--but that's normal.

MONTAGNE: I mean, is that painful?

HOFFMAN: It can be.

MONTAGNE: You were there.

HOFFMAN: Yeah. It can be, sure. Very often you have a situation where somebody was a big fish in a small town. They come from a little town in Iowa where they were the best fiddle player anybody'd ever seen. Then they come to Juilliard, and there are 18 other people who can play the "Sibelius Concerto" faster than they can. Also, it's out loud. Suppose you go to a college, an Ivy League school that's terribly competitive. Sure, it's competitive, but you don't read other people's papers. At Juilliard, there are concerto competitions, there are master classes. You hear people play. People hear you play. You can't hide from that. The competition is literally out loud.

(Soundbite of music)

HOFFMAN: Now that doesn't mean that people are, as somebody once said, putting razor blades between the keys of the piano for the next person who practices there.

MONTAGNE: And why would somebody have thought of that?

HOFFMAN: Yeah.

MONTAGNE: Given that Juilliard is about success, in a sense, is there any part of the education at Juilliard that trains students for failure?

HOFFMAN: Well, all of us who were at Juilliard at one time or another know of people who left and went into computer programming, because they just weren't interested, not necessarily because they couldn't cut it but in some cases because they just didn't want to cut it. One of the things that I found that was the most important thing for me at Juilliard was to have at least one very, very good friend.

MONTAGNE: Did that person play the viola or play a different instrument?

HOFFMAN: No, he was a violinist, and actually, he won me 10 bucks from Leonard Bernstein years later, because I was studying the "Walton: Viola Concerto" at the same time that he was studying one of Prokofiev concertos, and we looked at it closely, and in fact, the "Walton" is modeled directly on the Prokofiev. Years later when I was playing in the National Symphony, Leonard Bernstein was guest-conducting. We were playing the "Walton: Viola Concerto" and Bernstein stopped and said, `I'll give $10 to anybody who can tell me which piece this "Walton" is directly modeled on,' so I raised my hand and I said, `Well, it's modeled on Prokofiev's "D Minor Concerto."' Bernstein looked down at me, he paused and he said, `Well, I'm glad I didn't say 50.' So, you know...

MONTAGNE: You split it.

HOFFMAN: No, I got my 10 bucks from Bernstein. That was because of my Juilliard education.

MONTAGNE: Miles, thanks very much for joining us.

HOFFMAN: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Miles Hoffman is violist and artistic director of the American Chamber Players. Raymond Leppard's rehearsal with the Juilliard Orchestra is at npr.org.

From NPR News, this is MORNING EDITION.

(Credits)

MONTAGNE: I'm Renee Montagne.

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