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Turning Point

Throughout the spring, Ensemble ACJW has been presenting a series of three concerts at National Sawdust, one of New York City’s most cutting-edge new music venues. ACJW violin fellow Siwoo Kim reflects on the process of creating the program for “Turning Point,” the second concert in the series—taking place on May 3—which features Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony (in Webern’s small ensemble arrangement), as well as pieces influenced by his revolutionary ideas.

“Would this set of composers get along if they went out for a drink together?”

Ara Guzelimian, provost and dean of The Juilliard School, asked the ACJW fellows this question during a professional development seminar regarding the art of programming concerts. That idea (naturally) struck a chord with me, and I realized I have a deep interest in creative programming. No matter how good a single piece or a performance of a work is, context is most important.

Violinist Siwoo Kim, violist Dana Kelley, and cellist Caleb van der Swaagh performing at National Sawdust in March, 2016.
Photo by Richard Termine.

As performers, we are responsible for the audience’s evening, so having a natural, dramatic arc in the choice and order of repertoire certainly helps. Violinist Itzhak Perlman once said to me that a recital program should be like a dinner menu—appetizer, entrée, and dessert. Does the entrée go well with white wine or red wine?

One of the coolest experiences we have as fellows of Ensemble ACJW is to curate three of our own hourlong concerts at National Sawdust. We broke up into teams of six to build the three programs.

“Turning Point” is our upcoming May 3 concert that I was involved in programming. The process was meticulous, but our team is proud and excited about the outcome.

Some fellows felt strongly about performing Arnold Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1 (arranged by Anton Webern), so we chose it as the centerpiece (the steak!). We’re working hard to deliver a great performance of this epic masterpiece—a piece full of innovation while preserving late-Romantic philosophy.

We immediately started thinking of which composers’ works would offer variety while maintaining a through line. One such work is Tōru Takemitsu’s Entre-temps for oboe and string quartet, which was written during a period during which Takemitsu—much like Schoenberg with the Chamber Symphony—was harkening back to the Romantic style of expression. Takemitsu told Pierre Boulez that this was his “Romantic” period.

This year, we grieved the loss of Pierre Boulez, a musical titan of the 20th century and a Schoenberg specialist. He was music director of the New York Philharmonic before moving to Paris to lead Ensemble intercontemporain. In November, Ensemble ACJW had planned to perform Boulez’s Dérive 1 with Jean-Christophe Vervoitte of Ensemble intercontemporain in Paris; however, the tragic Paris attacks unfolded as the fellows were about to board the plane, so the trip was canceled. David Fulmer, who had helped the fellows prepare the music for the trip, will be conducting the work for our Sawdust concert on May 3. The performance of Dérive 1 in “Turning Point,” I like to think, is a tribute to Pierre Boulez and the victims in Paris.


The night before Pierre Boulez passed away, Ensemble ACJW was working with Matthias Pintscher on his string trio. He came to Carnegie Hall sporting a Boulez t-shirt (Matthias is his successor as director of Ensemble intercontemporain and the Lucerne Festival). I’ve personally been a big fan of Pintscher’s musical aesthetics ever since I played his music under his baton in the Juilliard Orchestra. Figura II / Frammento represents the elusive and colorful virtuosity I am fond of.

Ruth Crawford Seeger is the only American composer represented on this program. Her music is characterized by dissonant and American serial techniques. She was also influenced by Arnold Schoenberg when she met him in Germany. To complement Pintscher’s string quartet, we programmed the famous Andante movement of Crawford Seeger’s string quartet. Both pieces avert tonal centers in their own unique ways.

Technicalities aside, each of these five pieces will bustle with aesthetic individuality in a potent, hourlong concert. As performers, we are having an invigorating time understanding and connecting ourselves with the music. We can’t wait to share it with everyone! I think Pierre Boulez, Tōru Takemitsu, Matthias Pintscher, Ruth Crawford Seeger, and Arnold Schoenberg would have a great time if they got a drink together at National Sawdust—especially on May 3 at 7 PM!

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