The Juilliard School of Music from New York, the most prestigious conservatory in the world, paid a visit to Festival Oude Muziek, the most influential festival worldwide when it comes to early music. Since 2009 Juilliard owns a department of early music which is becoming more prominent every day.
They explained their pedagogic approach at the STIMU-symposium Curriculum Matters and during a summerschool lecture. Here the condition of the early musicscene in the US was discussed in the presence of many specialist from all around the world.
Of course Juilliard played a bit of live music: the student orchestra Juilliard415 performed twice during the Festival Oude Muziek. Also the professors contributed during a teacher concert and master classes. It was the first time that the Juilliard School of Music presented itself for an audience outside the US.
About the concept of early music
What exactly is ‘early music’ and why is the visit of the conservatory so important? Antoinette Lohmann, professor in baroque violin and alt violin at the Utrecht Conservatory, explains that early music is rather an approach than a genre:
“The term early music is actually not the right one. I rather talk about the historic informed performance practice (HIPP). This approach questions how to deal with music of all times.
I approach music from the historic perspective, which means that I treat the music the way a composer would. Important in this theory are the resources that were available during the composers life, for example the instrument or the bow. Also very important is to look at remaining (written) sources to see what the techniques used in those days were, or to look at the notions of musical aesthetics.
The use of instrument from a certain country and a certain period of time can give a lot of information about how that music should be executed. The use of gut strings, the way they used to hold a stick, the absence of the chin holder and the shoulder support require different techniques than those used with modern instruments.
Unfortunately, this theory leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Not even to mention the questions we forget to ask ourselves. Every composer, every writer had his own context, and every interpreter has its own context. So it’s best to let go the idea to find a certain truth.
For me it’s most important to find the characteristics of a certain genre or style and to do them justice. Early music in this context is no genre, it’s merely an approach. A way to look at music from its origins, from the time it was created, as far as that’s possible. Sometimes I can be wrong, but I always try to understand how music of a certain time was intended.
I think it’s important to take into account the differences in style periods and countries. There will always be chronocentrics who believe that changes in the course of time solely imply improvement and that the modern practices are the most advanced preferable. I however believe we do music more justice when we approach it from its own time. No one will reconstruct the journey of Colombo with the use of a plane.”