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Curtis Celebrates the Class of 2015commencement2014

On May 16 Curtis celebrated 43 graduates at the annual Commencement ceremony. Congratulations to the Class of 2015! In addition to the graduates, the family of Curtis founder Mary Louise Curtis Bok was honored with the Curtis Award, which was accepted by Commencement speaker Derek Bok, president emeritus of Harvard University and former chairman of the Curtis board of overseers. Joseph de Pasquale (Viola ’42) was recognized with a special Lifetime Achievement Award, in honor of more than 50 years on the Curtis viola faculty. 


View photos from the 2015 Commencement Ceremony.

Fernando Valcárcel (Composition ’96): Performing with old friends
Music Director, National Symphony Orchestra of Peru

What are you listening to? (and how do you listen? In what format do you listen?)

Basically I am listening to much orchestral music lately since I am a conductor. Classical music is my primary interest although I am a great admirer of Peruvian folk music. I am also listening to Robert Schumann a lot lately. I am not a technology person. I still prefer, I must say, a live performance and the excitement that it gives.

What’s next on your schedule?

My second season as music director of Peru´s National Symphony Orchestra. I will conduct some premieres for Peru—Penderecki's Viola Concerto with Roberto Díaz (Viola ’84) and Lutoslawski's Cello Concerto with Wendy Warner (Cello ’93).

What is your favorite Curtis memory?

I have many.

  • The first time I entered the building for registration. I remember the feeling about it. I knew about the Curtis tradition and it was like entering a church because of the solemnity of the building and the atmosphere you could perceive around. It was such an honor becoming part of that tradition.
  • The spirit I could breathe during the orchestra rehearsal time. It was so moving watching my fellow musicians make music at such a level. Curtis gave me the chance to meet some of the greatest musicians during those rehearsals.
  • I also remember a lot the tea time.

How did you feel the first time you performed on the Curtis stage?

I was very nervous! The first time I played on stage was one of my own pieces, a trio, on a chamber concert by Curtis composition students. A couple of months later one of my pieces was performed by the orchestra. It was, perhaps, the most difficult on the program and my good friend, Juan Carlos Lomonaco (Conducting ‘96), did a good job with the piece. That was one of my best experiences at Curtis.

What are your concert rituals?

I sleep in the afternoon before the concert.

What’s your favorite post-concert food and/or drink?

I like going to eat Chifa, a mixture of Chinese and Peruvian food, very popular in Peru. I often go to a very good restaurant close to Gran Teatro Nacional, the theater where my orchestra performs.

What’s one of your professional dreams?

My last time at Curtis was in 1997 and it would be a privilege to come back and perform at Curtis again after all these years.

Daniel Wachs (Piano ’98): Molded at Curtis
Director of Orchestra Studies, Chapman University, Orange, Calif.

Daniel WachsWhat are you listening to? (and how do you listen? In what format do you listen?)

This being Southern CA, I generally do my listening  (and catch up on phone calls!) during my commute. I enjoy listening to Jim Svejda on KUSC and currently have Silvestrov's magnificent Fifth Symphony in my CD player as well as the Portuguese Fado singer, Mariza.

What’s next on your schedule?

The Chapman Chamber Orchestra will be performing "Dances & Gypsy Tunes", music by Golijov, Ravel and Beethoven. I then travel to the Palm Beach Symphony where I have been engaged to create their education concerts as well as conduct a gala fundraiser at famed Mar a Lago.

What is your favorite Curtis memory?

Too many to single out one. The awe I felt the first time I stepped into the Common Room; the first time I heard the Curtis Symphony under Maestro Mueller (Bruckner 8); the weekly Houlihan's dinners with my piano colleagues following Thursday piano class; the weekly Philadelphia concerts (and waiting at Ms. Bruestle's door for the tickets on Monday mornings!); the small things like the leather-bound room schedule book and Ms. Katz's typed written lesson schedules. I could go on and on.

How did you feel the first time you performed in recital/concert on the Curtis stage?

Absolute terror, and not just the first time. The best story about that stage is of course when Horzowski was asked why he chose to run his program first at Carnegie Hall before playing at Curtis and he replied "Because playing in Curtis Hall is infinitely more terrifying."

What are your concert rituals?

Well, they don't seem to work, as recently I forgot my cufflinks and two years ago I forgot I don't eat much and I like to play piano before I conduct - it calms me and puts me physically in touch with music. 

What’s your favorite post-concert food and/or drink?

Drink? Lemon-drop martini. Food? Lemon-drop martini.

What else?

Curtis is not necessarily where we are formed, but it is where we are molded. It is where my musical maturity occurred and like my first love, my heart is still there.


Learn more at Daniel's website.

Ryan Johnstone (Trombone ’03) brings big musical ideas to middle schoolers.

Ryan Johnston Ryan Johnstone (Trombone ’03) was surprised when, in February 2012, he was named Texas’ outstanding young bandmaster of the year by Phi Beta Mu, an honorary international bandmasters fraternity.

To John B Hedges (Composition ’02), Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra’s composer-in-residence, it was no surprise at all. He wrote Wrangling Wildfire for the Aledo Middle School Band, which Ryan directs. “Those kids shouldn’t have been able to play what I wrote,” explains John B. “There’s something almost superhuman about what Ryan’s getting out of these young kids down there. It’s really exceptional.”

Ryan commissioned John B to write a memoriam for Ryan’s mother, who died of cancer in 2009. Ryan wanted to challenge his students on two levels: to understand that music can address our most powerful shared human experiences and to play musically and technically at a very high level—a Curtis level, even.

He loved the substantive music John B wrote for the low brass in his compositions at Curtis. “We were more active in his pieces,” says Ryan, “and a lot of work went into it.”

John B chose wildfires as a metaphor for the uncontrollable spread of cancer that claimed Mrs. Johnstone’s life. It wasn’t until a few weeks before the premiere in December 2010, when the students hit a plateau, that Ryan explained the more personal and more universal meaning. They dug down deep.

John B spent a week in residence, the premiere was a huge success, and the band was included on a special CD compilation of Texas school bands. Ryan heard from many fellow band directors, who said, “Thank you for showing all of us what middle school kids are capable of.”

Ryan moved back home to Texas in 2005 after receiving his bachelor’s at Curtis and master’s at Yale. Although bandmaster may not be a typical Curtis aspiration, Ryan is proud of his career and his work with young musicians. “I’ve moved past the feeling of ‘I really didn’t accomplish what I wanted to,’” he says, “because I’m able to accomplish a lot and I feel very satisfied—musically even—in the job that I do.”

Texas is proud of him, too.

Keith Lipson (Clarinet '98) is our man in Beijing.

Keith LipsonIt was 2003. Keith Lipson (Clarinet ’98) was freelancing and teaching in Los Angeles and New York—and he wanted to do something completely different. So he took a Chinese-language class and felt a fire in his belly. He moved to Beijing, quit music, and to pay the bills, he worked in business, translating, and teaching English.

Three things delighted him about Chinese: its ancient writing system, the opportunity to read philosophers Confucius and Lao Tzu in their original language, and the musicality of the spoken language.

“Thanks to my musical training,” Keith explained, “I could pick up the differences in tones more easily than someone without a musical background.” Now he speaks fluently.

In 2005 Keith returned to music when he met up with another Curtis alumnus, Eli Marshall (Composition ’03), in Beijing. Eli encouraged Keith to play clarinet again, and together they formed the Beijing New Music Ensemble, the only independent music ensemble in China dedicated to new music. “When I practice, there’s a little Montanaro voice in my head,” Keith says, citing his Curtis teacher, Donald Montanaro (Clarinet ’54). Keith’s own private students may hear it as well. Just ask first-year Curtis students Fan Hongmin and Xue Guangyao who took private lessons with Keith last year and now study with Mr. Montanaro at Curtis.

Keith’s life in China is now deeply rooted. In March 2011 he married Katy Ye Dan, a traditional pipa player. In September he became principal clarinet of the Beijing Symphony. “For me it was good to get the distance from music,” he says of his professional detour. “I know from experience that I prefer doing this to any other job.” And even better, he gets to do it in Beijing.

Yvonne Lam (Violin '05) flew out of the pit and onto the stage when she joined eighth blackbird, the new-music sextet, in August 2011.

Yvonne Lam

"It was electric,” she said of performing with them in April for her audition, “and so much fun on stage.” Her first performance as a member was August 22 when they played Chicago Counterpoint at a festival of the music of Steve Reich in Millennium Park.

“Yvonne has tremendous intelligence and integrity,” said Ida Kavafian, who recommended Yvonne for the position, “and I thought she had an affinity for new music.”

Yvonne is excited to embark on a new path after three years as assistant concertmaster with the Washington National Opera Orchestra. In addition to learning voluminous repertoire for eighth blackbird—much to be performed from memory—she will gain experience in the business side of music while helping to run the ensemble.

The original members of eighth blackboard united at Oberlin in 1996. Recently the ensemble premiered and recorded On a Wire, a concerto for the sextet with orchestra, by Jennifer Higdon (Composition ’88) with Robert Spano (Conducting ’85) and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. The ensemble is in residence at the University of Chicago and the University of Richmond. 

Read The Washington Post article about Yvonne's appointment or follow her career more closely at her website.