Music Performance Electives

Duos for Strings and Pianos (Fall 2018)
The duo repertoire involving piano and strings is incredibly vast and offers a great deal of insight into a given composer’s compositional style. This course seeks to explore this expansive repertoire and discover links that bind this medium together over time. In addition to studying the progression of these works, students will discuss theoretical and historical issues arising with each piece. In-class discussion will revolve around the application of these ideas to performance, showing a practical side of theoretical study.

The course will include regular in-class performances by the students, exploring a variety of repertoire from the canon. These performances will then be discussed and the class will be able to explore new possibilities arising from a deep analysis of each piece. The progression of this repertoire will largely be decided by the repertoire of those students in the class; however, it will follow a more chronological order when possible. Generally, students will be given the option to prepare works together that they wish to explore in a detailed manner.

Course is designed for string players and pianists. Interested wind players should inquire and suggest repertoire.

Improvisation: "The Edge" of Composition (Fall 2018)
In recent years, dozens of Curtis students have taken improvisation to improve their playing and musicianship in their solo, chamber, or orchestral careers. The ability to improvise is one of the most essential skills for the performing musician. Among its numerous benefits, improvisation:

  • develops confidence in mastering one’s own instrument or voice stimulates the imagination and encourages creativity
  • builds communicative skills and stage presence in performing for an audience
  • combines being present while thinking ahead and develops better time perception
  • enhances chamber playing as it requires sensitive listening while improvising
  • expands the performer’s expressive range beyond the written notes
  • improves musical memory, especially through call and response exercises

No prior experience in improvisation is needed. This class will combine historical and practical aspects of improvisation and composition. Looking back at the history of Western Art Music, we can see that “there is scarcely a single musical technique or form of composition that did not originate in improvisatory practice” (musicologist Ernst Ferand, 1961).

In this course, we will explore the cross fertilization between improvised and composed music, from major improvisers such as Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, to twenty-first century trends and innovations. Important topics include the influence of improvisation on the compositional process, and planning versus spontaneity in music performance. The historical exploration will be complemented by a practical component, involving in-class playing and improvising by the students.

Creating Cadenzas (Fall 2018)

The most notable feature of a performer’s creative contribution to a written composition, since the early eighteenth century the cadenza has earned a unique place, mostly in the concerto repertoire. In creating our own cadenzas, we should first analyze the harmonic language, themes, and formal structure of the specific concerto; and learn about other cadenzas by the composer or from his/her time. Then, we can practice idiomatic figurations on our instruments, try to continue differently themes from the concerto, and plan the structure of our own cadenza. The question whether a cadenza should be in the style of the concerto will be addressed, and examples of existing cadenzas will be discussed as well. We will also learn about the history of cadenza improvisation and composition. At the end of the semester, students will perform their own composed cadenzas.

Advanced Conducting (Fall 2018)
This course is designed to give you hands-on experience in developing the skills necessary to become a conductor. Course goals include a better understanding of the following: the role of the conductor, conducting technique, score preparation, and concert programming. Course material includes discussions of these topics as well as evaluations of conductors you work with or observe in rehearsal and performance. In addition, you will conduct various small ensembles over the course of the semester, which will include direct feedback from the other students in class as well as from the players.

Prerequisite: Elements of Conducting

Harmonic Thinking in Performance (Spring 2019)

This course offers tools that translate harmonic awareness into making informed interpretive choices. The harmonic component of music relates to many other parameters: melody, rhythm, texture, form, instrumentation, performance markings, expression, and character. Preparing harmonic reductions at various levels of passages from the students’ own repertoire will serve as a basis for understanding the harmonic structure of music: chromatic notes that deserve special attention; the presence of forward-moving or ambiguous progressions; mid-phrase expansions versus cadential punctuations; issues of harmonic rhythm and hyper-meter; and so on. At the concluding phase, the students go back to the original piece and think about possible interpretive possibilities, based on increased harmonic awareness. As they learn to analyze the music, they gain authority and become more informed performing artists.

Debussy and Ravel: The Edge Effect (Spring 2019)
These two pioneers of early twentieth-century music were inspired by many musical and extra-musical influences from around the world, yet fused them all into creating new works that were distinctly French. In this course we will explore the cultural melting-pot in the music of Debussy and Ravel, with examples from orchestral, chamber, vocal, operatic, and solo instrumental genres. Participants will learn to identify cultural influences in individual works, analyze how these translate into musical components of harmony, melody, and form, and put all of them in the larger context of a unified composition. In the second half of the course, participants will apply this knowledge to performance aspects in works of their choice from the two composers.