Not Your Usual School Music Recital: Juilliard’s Students Show What They’ve Learned

United StatesUnited States  Handel, Telemann: Juilliard 415, Monica Huggett (leader and violin), Peter Jay Sharp Theater, Juilliard School, New York City, 2.12.2011 (SSM)

Handel: Concerto No. 1 in B-fIat Major, HWV 312 Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, HWV 313
Telemann: Quartet in D minor for Two Flutes, Bassoon, and Basso Continuo, TWV 43:d1, from Musique de Table (1733)
Handel: Concerto No. 6 in D Major, HWV 317/337
Concerto No. 3 in G Major, HWV 314
Concerto No. 4 in F Major, HWV 315
Concerto No. 5 in D Minor, HWV 316

Admirers of Baroque music know that the name Monica Huggett on a concert’s program notes is a guarantee that what they will be hearing will be of the highest quality. This is true whether she performs in a recital, conducts a student orchestra or is part of a chamber music group like the faculty-staffed Juilliard Baroque. The concert presented here was, as expected, a great success: Ms. Huggett led students of the Historical Performance Department in a charming program of Baroque music including the lesser- known of Handel’s two concerto grosso sets, the Opus 3.

It’s hard not to be impressed with the musical achievement of this group (and the exceptional training they must be receiving from the faculty). Several students perform on a level that would qualify them to join a professional Baroque orchestra. This accomplishment is made even more astonishing by the fact that they are playing on original, or copies of original, instruments with none of the modern keys added to make instruments like the flute and oboe easier to play. The stringed instruments and their bows are different enough from the ones on which they were trained to play to require students to forget what has been drummed into them since their first music lessons: the bows are held differently, the strings tuned differently and vibrato is to be avoided. As for the brass instruments, well, just forget everything you’ve been taught, such as using your fingers to play the instrument.

Like most of the instrumental music published by Handel, the Opus 3 set of six concerti grossi was written to be played by amateur musicians. Amateurs were much closer then to what in our day would be considered professionals. In Handel’s time any player(s) who excelled would take the more virtuosic obligato part of score, while the “amateurs” would be part of the orchestral section (ripieno). Each concerto in the set highlighted one or more instruments. The Concerto No. 1’s solo instruments are the violin and oboe with the most difficult playing reserved for Ms. Huggett’s violin. Kristin Olsin’s oboe playing in this concerto was fluid in the slow movements, pointed and rhythmic in the faster ones. Outstanding string playing dominated the first movement of the Concerto No. 2, while the oboe and bassoon carried most of the other movements. The fourth movement, strongly resembling Handel’s opening movement of his Opus 1, No. 11 flute sonata, leads into an oboe dominated gavotte, reminiscent of Lully’s dance pieces

Other highlights of this performance included the flute playing of Antonio Campillo Santos and the sharp-shooting 16th-note runs by violinist Nanae Iwata in the Concerto No. 3. In the Concerto No. 6 only two movements are printed in the original edition, but it is possible that the orphan overture HWV 327 might have served as the brief segue to the final Allegro and as a way to restore the concerto to its Fast-Short-Fast state. Performed here by Ms. Huggett and flutist Christopher Matthews, the back and forth dialog between these two instruments was short but ravishing. The masterful playing of the Concerto No. 4 with its wonderful Lullian overture was for me the epitome of the evening. Only in the difficult Concerto No. 5 did the group seem somewhat under-rehearsed and unable to catch their breath in Ms. Huggett’s exceedingly fast race to the end

It is a major accomplishment that the Historical Performance division of the Juilliard has succeeded so well with a student program that is, after all, only in its third year.

Stan Metzger