Alan Gilbert, music director of the New York Philharmonic, graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music 18 years ago, and returned Saturday to deliver the school's commencement speech. He talked about what a "special haven" Curtis is, "insulated and protected" from the outside world.
And the value of a good reality check.
"As I look back I do remember one exception in my memories of this sheltered, supportive existence. There was a very challenging rehearsal period that seemed to be unnecessarily brutal for the orchestra. It got so bad that we, the students, mobilized and officially complained to the administration: We felt that it was unfair, and educationally indefensible to have to learn so much music in such a short period of time. The soloist for that concert — one Isaac Stern — I would say it’s fair to say he sided with the school, and defended the pressure and pace by saying, 'Come on guys! This is what it’s really like out there!' It was a shock to hear that; it was an intrusion of a harsh reality into our Curtis lives. It also seemed like a facile justification, and even today, from an educational standpoint, I don’t think I would argue that it is desirable to place such demands on a student orchestra. Still, I must say he was right: the experience was a dose of reality, and it may well have been a good lesson."