The New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the Orpheus and Saint Paul Chamber Orchestras, and the Orion, Brentano, and Mendelssohn Quartets are just a handful of the preeminent organizations in which members of the Mannes Strings faculty perform. Notable for its size, caliber, wide-ranging connections in the music world and participation in top groups in New York, across the United States, and around the world, the department appreciates the importance of guiding young musicians to the highest professional level -- covering a broad range of performance situations — so that they can hit the ground running as working musicians.
Stars such as veteran double bass teacher Orin O’Brien, who became the first female member of the New York Philharmonic when she joined in 1966 under Leonard Bernstein, and Max Zeugner, a young double bassist, also a member of the New York Philharmonic and a former collaborator with the Pet Shop Boys, demonstrate the distinctive qualities of Mannes' teachers and the depth within individual instrument families. Violinist Miranda Cuckson, one of the newer faculty, has spearheaded 21st-century music and techniques for students, and violinist Todd Reynolds, one of the founding fathers of the hybrid musician movement, adds another dimension to what the solo performer can reveal through technology in pan-genre exploration. Also among the star-studded string faculty at Mannes are Cynthia Phelps, principal violist of the New York Philharmonic, and David Chan, concertmaster of the Metropolitian Opera Orchestra. There are many diverse talents, each with his or her own story, and the broad mix adds to the strength of the core conservatory foundation.
"Bach is like a bible to us," department chair Hiroko Yajima notes when discussing string pedagogy at Mannes. "A rich background of the classics is important, but we are striking a balance. The world is changing a great deal."
Students in the Strings Department focus on learning a broad range of performance techniques to prepare them for a comprehensive array of contexts, from solo work to chamber repertoire to symphonic literature to Broadway "pick-up" gigs. Mannes graduates learn flexibility above all else: how to produce at the professional level and adapt. For example, this year students have been learning how to play in a conductorless chamber orchestra, as exemplified by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, as part of a new Special Projects program that rotates themes. There is also a workshop in which nontraditional 20th- and 21st-century techniques are studied, culminating in performances by the students. Each student has weekly private lessons, individual instrument classes, Strings classes, and seven Master Classes each year with outside visiting artists.
With many ensembles, from the Mannes Orchestra to numerous chamber music opportunities spread over four different concert series, Mannes offers all Strings students a multiplicity of public performing opportunities, including solo recitals. There are seven orchestra concerts, including opera performances. These include two concerts at Alice Tully Hall and one at Carnegie Hall. There is also an annual concerto competition, with the winner performing with the Mannes Orchestra at Alice Tully.
Recent Mannes graduates have been successful in a number of different areas. Former students perform in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the Philadelphia Opera Orchestra, the Milwaukee Symphony, the Tokyo Symphony, and European orchestras. Some graduates are members of successful chamber music ensembles, including the Trio Cavatina, which won the famed Naumburg Chamber Music Award. One violin graduate, Dan Zhu, has won prizes at major competitions, including the Queen Elizabeth in Brussels, Montreal, Sendai, and China International, and is enjoying a major solo career.
With the faculty-student ratio low, there is real dialogue among faculty on the progress of each individual student and a familiarity among the students and their teachers, a support system that does not stop at graduation. "We are a community," Yajima says. "We nurture. Both faculty and students are nurturing one another. Sure there is competition, but it is healthy competition."
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