At The Academy, A Young Ensemble Begins Sir Simon Rattle has been working with Ensemble ACJW, the Academy's training program for young musicians, sponsored by Carnegie Hall and the Juilliard School. The ensemble just premiered David Bruce's Steampunk at Weill Recital Hall.
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At The Academy, A Young Ensemble Begins

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At The Academy, A Young Ensemble Begins

At The Academy, A Young Ensemble Begins

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We first met viola player Nathan Schram on WEEKEND EDITION Sunday, the beginning of this year, when he was teaching violin to elementary school children in Brooklyn. Mr. Schram is a member of the Academy, a training program for young musicians, sponsored by Carnegie Hall and the Juilliard School. This time, we find him preparing for another facet of what the Academy has to offer.

Jeff Lunden reports.

JEFF LUNDEN: Clive Gillinson, Carnegie Halls executive director, says the Academy is trying to develop a well-rounded 21st century musician. So, when people apply, his staff looks for two things: A genuine commitment to sharing a passion for classical music and...

Mr. CLIVE GILLINSON (Executive and Artistic Director, Carnegie Hall): First and foremost, theyve got to be the best players. If these were not players of the highest standard, we wouldnt put them into an ensemble conducted by Simon Rattle.

LUNDEN: Thats Sir Simon Rattle, conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic.

Mr. GILLINSON: When I talked to Simon Rattle about him doing this, you could talk quite openly about the fact, you know, these guys play at Carnegie Hall, they get phenomenal reviews in the New York Times and lots of other places. I mean they are fantastic players at the highest level, you will love it.

(Soundbite of people talking)

LUNDEN: So, last December, Rattle came to New York City and spent a week rehearsing with the Ensemble ACJW the Academys performing group for a concert to be presented at Zankel Hall, one of Carnegies three auditoriums.

Rattle had put together a program of breadth and intensity, from the baroque to the contemporary, including Richard Strauss hyper-romantic Metamorphosen.

(Soundbite of song, Metamorphosen)

LUNDEN: Violist Nate Schram, whos only about a year and a half out of Indiana University, says he was both challenged and excited by the different styles.

Mr. NATE SCHRAM (Violist): I think, in a way, its really highlighting some of the things the Academy does, is we try to do everything. If you want to be in the profession, you kind of have to be able to do everything at least pretty well, if not excellently.

LUNDEN: Sir Simon Rattle didnt just stand in front of the ensemble. He moved among them, coaxing and cajoling the young players.

(Soundbite of song, Metamorphosen)

Sir SIMON RATTLE (Conductor, Artistic Director, Berlin Philharmonic): Ahh, trumpet players.

(Soundbite of Rattle instructing musicians)

(Soundbite of song, Metamorphosen)

LUNDEN: And, while the musicians played with precision and clarity at the beginning of rehearsal, by the end of the three hours, Rattle had helped them click into a higher gear, with greater emotion.

(Soundbite of song, Metamorphosen)

Sir RATTLE: They're wonderful players. Theyre at the very highest level, but theyre still extremely open. And theres still a lot to learn and a lot to take.

LUNDEN: A few days later, the group got a standing ovation after the concert. Nate Schram was giddy.

Mr. SCHRAM: This is for me is easily the best ensemble work or concert Ive ever done. I mean it was just really spectacular. Everyone is at such a high level, everyone is truly committed. Certainly, as a student, coming from studying just last year, you get a lot of people that kind of lag or dont, you know, theyre not really committed to the music, they just want to do it, they want to go practice their solo stuff. And here, everyone knows that this is the real thing.

(Soundbite of Beethoven Septet)

LUNDEN: Its a couple of months later, and Nate Schram is back at it, this time rehearsing at Carnegies Weill Recital Hall. Its another concert designed to show off the ensembles versatility; Beethovens on the program, but the centerpiece is the New York premiere of Steampunk, the new work commissioned by Carnegie for the group.

(Soundbite of song, Steampunk)

LUNDEN: David Bruce is the composer. He says right about the time he got the commission, a friend told him about a quirky sci-fi genre.

Mr. DAVID BRUCE (Composer, Steampunk): Steampunk is a kind of an alternative reality of sort of Victorian sci-fi, if you like. So, people often are kind of dressed in Victorian garb, they have these futuristic things, but theres no electricity there. Its all kind of steam powered. The music I love is classical and folk music. Both dont usually involve electricity. Its usually just the sound of, you know, people scraping bows or puffing on their instruments.

(Soundbite of song, Steampunk)

LUNDEN: The music is unabashedly tonal, says Nate Schram.

Mr. SCHRAM: Its really lively, very accessible and sometimes, as classical musicians, were kind of used to hearing new music as like how are we going to present this to an audience? When this music came to us, already presentable, we just had to learn it and have fun with it.

LUNDEN: In fact, they had so much fun with it they all dressed up in Victorian costumes, accented with bicycle gears and chains, to the delight of the audience.

That kind of communication, whether in the concert hall or in the schools, is really what the Academys all about, says Sir Simon Rattle.

Sir RATTLE: It makes me very optimistic about the future of music here, when you have these people who also have realized that they have to be evangelists, not high priests. So, they must go out into the community, they must be working with people, they must be in schools, they must give out of themselves, because otherwise the art form is going to die.

For NPR News, Im Jeff Lunden in New York.

(Soundbite of song, "Steampunk")

SIMON: And how do you get a bunch of New York City school kids to love the music of Brahms? Find out when we next meet Nate Schram and his colleagues from the Academy.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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