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Ensemble Connect: An International Community

For more than a decade, Ensemble Connect has brought together some of the finest young professional instrumentalists in the country to develop the skills needed to undertake careers that blend performance with opportunities to enrich their communities through music. The two-year fellowship—created in 2007 by Carnegie Hall, the Weill Music Institute, and The Juilliard School in partnership with the New York City Department of Education—has become a springboard for many leading musical performers, teachers, and entrepreneurs in the arts today. With 119 alumni working internationally, Ensemble Connect is increasingly drawing interest from aspiring young musicians around the world.

In 2018, Ensemble Connect welcomes one of its most international classes yet, with 18 fellows joining the program from Canada, Hungary, Israel, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and, of course, the United States. Three of these new fellows recount their musical journeys, explaining what drew them to the program and how they hope to apply the skills cultivated in Ensemble Connect as future arts leaders.

Noémi Sallai, Clarinet

My first encounter with a musical instrument happened when I was around eight years old. I remember clearly that my mother came home with a plastic recorder and gave it to me. I started to play it immediately, making up melodies and phrases. At that point, my mother noticed that I had some musical talent. She brought me to the local music school in the small town in Hungary where we were living. Even though I had not realized it at that time, thus began my musical career.

I was 18 years old when I got accepted to the Bard Conservatory of Music. For the first time in my life, I left my home country of Hungary and flew to the United States. It was exciting and terrifying at the same time. I did not know anybody or the English language, but I was eager to discover this new, unknown world that had so much to offer. For five years, I was studying and perfecting not only my clarinet playing, but also my language skills. (In addition to my bachelor of music degree, I was also working on a bachelor of arts degree in German studies.)

After graduating from Bard, the years of practicing paid off when I was admitted to my dream school to pursue my master’s degree: The Juilliard School. It was unbelievable to realize how far I had come since I first started playing that plastic recorder my mom brought home. I was there, at the musical center of the world, playing with the best of the best! I thought this feeling could never be surpassed, that is, until I was accepted to Ensemble Connect as a clarinet fellow.

I feel privileged to be among such extraordinary musicians. In this program, I have the unique opportunity not only to perform in amazing venues, but also to teach at a public school for two years. I believe this program will prove to be invaluable in helping me become the musician, teacher, and artist I wish to be.

Arlen Hlusko, Cello

Apparently, I was a very curious child. Growing up in a rural farmhouse in a small, quiet Canadian town called Lowville (literally the low point between two cliffs), I spent most of my childhood getting muddy running around outside with my brothers. No one in my family was musical, but by chance a woman who occasionally looked after me was a pianist. As the story goes, the only time when I would sit still was when she sat down to practice: I would run from wherever I was in the house, sit under the piano, and put my hand on it to feel the vibrations. She suggested I start learning the cello with her son, and so I found the trailhead that would lead me to where I am today.

This trail has taken me to study in Toronto, Shanghai, Calgary, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and now … I find myself in one of the noisiest, craziest, most inspiring cities in the world—at once overwhelming, exciting, invigorating. I have been lucky enough to spend the past decade studying my craft and pursuing my dreams across North America and beyond, but there have been a multitude of times when I’ve questioned my career path. Especially amidst the current climate of our society and world, I often wonder if I am doing enough. Am I doing enough to help others? Am I doing enough to give back in all of the ways I’ve so generously been given to?

While at school in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, I was lucky to find opportunities where I could volunteer as a cello teacher and coach for the students of Youth Orchestra Los Angeles and Play On, Philly!, among others. I eventually found my way to ArtistYear. Through this program, I got to explore combining my love for music with my desire to give back, and my passion for learning about the human brain. I forged partnerships with Penn Memory Center and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to develop programs based around the effects of music and how it can help people with Alzheimer’s disease or those who live on the autism spectrum. It was an incredibly inspiring year of work, one that has continued to play a significant role in my daily life ever since.

I was drawn to Ensemble Connect because there’s no other organization in the world that I’m aware of that can offer the same world-class quality of chamber-music performance alongside extremely high-quality and focused community engagement. To find a program that commits equally to both—and helps one develop thoughtful skills in implementing both—is unparalleled. I am thrilled to be here and to be part of such an inspiring group of artists. I can’t wait to see the relationships we will make and all that we will build together in one of the craziest cities in the world throughout the next two years and beyond.

Ha Young Jung, Bass

Growing up, my family moved a lot from district to district in Seoul, South Korea. At the age of 15, I was admitted to a boarding school in the United Kingdom. Not speaking the language as a teenage girl in high school was not easy—I always found myself wanting to talk and make friends, but I couldn’t.

Adjusting to new schools and neighborhoods was never fun, but I got through it each time because of music. I was able to introduce myself by way of my double bass, which felt so much easier than using words in a language that I did not speak. Music—specifically my bass—was my closest friend, something I could turn to when I felt alone and lonely.

After my first year in the UK, I vowed to myself that music would be something I’d pursue for the rest of my life. Ensemble Connect is a program that engages people through music. In order to do that successfully, we must go beyond concert halls and reach deeper into our surrounding communities. That is what Ensemble Connect prepares each of us to do, both throughout our fellowship and in the years that follow: engage diverse audiences, showing people from different backgrounds and cultures that music can inspire us all to overcome tough circumstances.


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