NEW YORK—There are musicians, and then there are musicians. Yet, musicians with innate talent are not always known to the world. That spark of genius, which cannot be explained by hard work alone, must be discovered by someone who knows how to recognize it.
Dr. Julie Jordan, a Steinway piano artist, a master teacher, and an impresario, has a talent for recognizing that spark of genius. She is the founder and artistic director of the New York Concerti Sinfonietta, a series of performances that showcase the winners of the International Shining Stars Competition that she organizes.
Recognizing the Spark
Music is a means to connect, inspire, and uplift, and Jordan herself is a part of that. “Everywhere I go, I feel connected,” she said.
She approaches life with open ears, heart, mind, and even pores, using her talent as much as she can. As the saying goes, talent is a gift that comes with great responsibility, and if it is ignored, life can become rather frustrating. Jordan takes on that responsibility full-heartedly.
“I like to be for the young artists, I like to give them opportunities, and if they don’t exist, I make them happen,” she said.
In early March, she went to Ireland in search of talent—in that “very musical” country, as she said—also to connect with her Irish roots.
Over the course of three days, she listened to 40 candidates at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin, both from the academy and from elsewhere, and chose the best for the prestigious Carnegie Hall debut prize. She also held auditions at New York University and received auditions of musicians from Europe and Asia via YouTube. She said she had to add a second and third debut award, as there were so many deserving students.
“I look for a spark! … It has color, it has personality, it is not just technical proficiency,” she said. The candidates she chooses have what she calls “musical thought.” In other words, they have a story and something to say, and they are able to say it in the way they play their instruments. Every personality is so different, each musician makes any piece his or her own, she emphasized.
Besides evaluating technique, “you have to look for something that will actually carry the music,” she said.
Talking about one of the winners she chose, Killian White, a 15-year-old cellist and a student of Christopher Marwood at the Royal Irish Academy, she said, “He plays right to you … he connects.”
While showing a video of the audition of another winner who will be performing in the Sinfonietta, Jordan pointed out Mairéad Hickey. “Listen, listen to how she caresses that tone,” she said.
Hickey has won several international competitions such as the Jeunesses Musicales Violin Competition in Romania 2012 and the Antonio Salieri Prize in Italy 2010, among others. She is currently studying at Kronberg Academy with professor Mihaela Martin.
Hickey, who recently turned 19, started playing the violin when she was 3 years old. “She carves out the tone effortlessly, the virtuosity supports her artistry, it’s intuitive, she’s been taught but she also has power,” Jordan said. “I didn’t have to wonder which one I should choose, I just know,” she added.
Jordan’s greatest challenge is not having enough hours in the day to do as much as she feels compelled to give. She said, “I like to be all things to people. I would love to provide scholarships for all of these students,” and mentioned she was grateful for the Royal Irish Academy of Music’s support in holding the auditions in Dublin.
Jordan is bursting with energy and enthusiasm. She said that in her 20s, she ran three marathons and didn’t even train for the third one because she found it was so easy. Now she’s running a relay of concerto performances every year. She’s so passionate about life and music. “Find your passion and stick with it,” she said.
“I actually always have a unique way of making the concert happen because I have a musical goal, a vision; I want it to be off the charts. I want it to be so darn good that you are going to want to come back,” Jordan said.
When it comes to talent, “everyone has a spark, but then you have to light the fire,” Jordan said. To light the spark, she founded the New York Concerti Sinfonietta, which is just about concertos.
Jordan finds the three-movement composition of a concerto to be the best framework for showcasing new talent. It provides a springboard for the young musicians, as well as an opportunity for audiences to enjoy seeing and hearing up-and-coming musicians during a significant milestone in their budding careers.
In the concerto, the orchestra sets the scene. Then the soloist comes in “pitted against the orchestra,” for a conversation. “It’s a virtuosic back and forth,” Jordan said. The Italian word concerto means concert, which also means together, so “it’s a collaboration of the highest level,” she said.
“Then there is a development section that is the same as in the solo sonata, but what you get in the concertos is the colors of the orchestra, and then the soloist is often highlighted by the orchestra and does a cadenza or a virtuosic display,” so that everybody hears how technically proficient the soloist is.
“It’s so dramatic!” Jordan said, leaning in with eyes wide open.
For a soloist, playing a concerto is like speaking your heart and mind within a large group of people, the orchestra, which supports and competes with you to show who you are and what you want to say to the world.
White has already performed with an orchestra. He talked about his experience in an email: “It was a brilliant experience to have this whole orchestra behind you. It felt like driving a big rig, and everywhere you turned they had to follow. I’m bursting to play the Dvorak with the New York Sinfonietta. I hope to bring them on a rollercoaster ride!”
Paul Hostetter will conduct the 40-piece ensemble for the three Sinfonietta performances, featuring soloists Killian White on cello, Joe O’Grady on piano, Christopher Moriarty-Pearson on clarinet, Emirhan Tunca on cello, Mairéad Hickey on violin, Yurie Miyamina on violin, the Julep Piano Trio, Hannah Tarley on violin, Alexander Rohatyn on cello, Sujari Britt on cello, Ian Maloney on cello, and Lindsay Cheng on cello. They will play concertos by Dvorak, Mozart, Weber, Elgar, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Bach, Haydn, Wieniawski, and Beethoven.
The upcoming concert at Carnegie Hall will also feature a special guest, Wycliffe Gordon, who will play jazz trombone.
This year, Jordan celebrates her 30th anniversary of teaching in the evening division of the Juilliard School. At one time, she would teach as many as 80 students per week (groups and individuals) ranging from ages 4 to 97. Since 2008, that number has been reduced to 30 so she has enough time to direct competitions and the Concerti Sinfonietta concerts.
Jordan, the only musician in her family, started to play the piano when she was 8 years old, growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area in California in an Irish-Filipino family of eight children. She earned a B.M. degree, magna cum laude, in piano performance at Dominican University in San Rafael, Marin County, California. She feels very fortunate and grateful for the excellent teachers she studied under, such as the eminent Polish-Austrian pianist Adolph Baller, accompanist of violinist Yehudi Menuhin of the renowned Alma Trio; Aube Tzerko, a disciple of Artur Schnabel; and Tanya Ury, an assistant to Edwin Fischer.
From an early age, her talent was easily recognizable. She attended the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California, as well as the Aspen Music School in Colorado, and received her M.F.A. degree from UCLA.
Her musical career took off with awards from the Marin Symphony, Berkeley Bach Festival, and Pacific Musical Society, among others, and experience playing in 14 orchestras. She said that despite the hard work, it felt effortless.
Moving east, she studied further, earning an M.M. from The Juilliard School and a D.M.A. from the Manhattan School of Music.
“My teachers were most inspired,” she said. “What inspires me now are my students.”
She felt the experience of performing with an orchestra profound and inspirational, an experience she wants to extend to talented students, to help them develop to the fullest.
“I think that the more I give, the more I gain because I feel so proud and it’s so gratifying to know that I’ve helped them,” Jordan said. “So my philosophy is to share through music. I do believe that our purpose is to be true to ourselves and to share, and I would love to bring music to the lives of all … music is universal, it reaches the soul,” she added.
New York Concerti Sinfonietta’s triple-header performances will showcase the first prize winners of the competition on Sunday, May 3, 2:00 pm at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall; on Monday, May 4, 7:15 pm at Rutgers Presbyterian Church; and on Tuesday, May 5, 7:15 pm at St. Gregory the Great Church.
The next Carnegie Hall Debut Competition with the New York Concerti Sinfonietta will be in County Cork, Ireland, for all instruments on June 24–July 6, and in the San Francisco Bay Area for students at Stanford University, the San Francisco Conservatory and the Dominican University in the summer as a tribute to Adolph Baller. The winners will perform in Carnegie Hall’s 125th Anniversary Season on Oct. 11, 2015, and on June 3, 2016, as part of their prize. All inquiries email: email@example.com
This Is New York is a feature series that delves into the lives of inspiring individuals in New York City. See all our TINYs here: epochtim.es/TINY