Tal First

For the August Edition of Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Tal First, a third year violinist from Israel. Read on to learn more about Tal’s passion for violin, his approach to adapting in NYC, and his experience with Musethica.

Tal First sitting with violin.

Tal First sitting with violin. Credit Ilan Spira.

You began your violin studies when you were six in Israel. What influences were there for you to pursue violin?

Tal playing violin as a child.

Young Tal playing violin.

I started playing the violin after attending a concert played by the school’s violin and cello teachers. I remember listening to the violin’s sound and being amazed by how beautiful it is. During lessons I loved when my teacher (Geri Ferber) demonstrated on his own violin (probably because he made the sound that I still couldn’t fully produce), and very early on he started giving me [Itzhak Perlman’s] tapes and CDs, so Itzhak Perlman quickly became a source of inspiration.

What are some of the differences you’ve noticed while studying violin in Tel Aviv compared to your time here at Juilliard?

My own mentality. These two different situations are more than just two different institutions. In Israel I studied in a music school that is part of the Tel Aviv University, so there was that. Also, I served in the army at the same time. I simply couldn’t really devote my entire life to my studies at that time. However, when I came to Juilliard everything has changed immediately: I wasn’t in the army, I wasn’t with my family, my life started being in English, I left my comfort zone. All these changes and sacrifices were made in order to achieve a new mentality: everything for the violin and music. This is the biggest difference between my time in Tel Aviv and my time here at Juilliard.

Can you explain more about the IDF for those who are unfamiliar with this commitment in Israel?

So, basically everyone in Israel has to serve in the army at the age of 18. There are many different programs and paths in the army; and, I got into what is called the “outstanding musican program”. The musicians in the program get the chance to keep practicing their instrument on a daily basis (otherwise they can’t practice regularly for 2-3 years, and that is… bad) while serving in the army.

Are there any cultural aspects in the U.S. that you weren’t fully prepared for when you first arrived for your studies?

Yes! I remember having to get used to public transportation’s existence on weekends!

What advice do you have for students who have difficulties overcoming culture differences? What have you found helpful?

Adjusting is part of us, and part of this world. Don’t be afraid from the cultural differences you notice. Remember that at the same time when you live within a new culture, your new environment is curious about you and your culture as well. So be yourself and share your own culture while you embrace others’ cultures- it goes both ways.

What do you miss most about Israel/your hometown?

Friday night dinners with my family.

Tal with his cat, Steak

Tal with his cat, Steak

Where do you suggest our readers visit in Israel?

Caesarea and Tel Aviv. Caesarea has this beautiful “old city” part that was built 2000 years ago, and in Tel Aviv you can just walk around, enjoy the unique vibes and eat some of the best food.

What do you think some of the best food is?

First of all, if you come to Israel you have to try some of the Mediterranean cuisine. We have wonderful dishes of fish, salads, hummus, falafel… Besides that, in Tel Aviv there is a large variety of restaurants of different cuisines that one should not miss.

Do you have any favorite places or things to do in NYC?

I came to NYC mainly for the cookies and banana pudding…

Can you share more about your involvement with “Musethica”?

Tal performing violin.

Tal performing violin.

Musethica is a foundation that organizes chamber concerts in places for people with special needs and circumstances. [Learn more about Musethica here: www.musethica.org/ ]They create a once-a-week-group from a few students and a teacher, and after a few days of rehearsals we go and perform in these different places for about 10 concerts in 3-4 days. I started my journey with them the year before I came to Juilliard; and, I participate in a “Musethica Week” almost every time I go back for a visit in Israel. This project is so important to me because of its unique combination of professionalism and humanity. On the one hand I receive the opportunity to play with some of the best teachers and students, dealing with stage fright, as well as pushing myself to the limits as a performer: when you have 10 concerts in such a short time, it is easier to achieve the feeling of “I have nothing to lose. Let’s try this and that”. As I got familiar with this feeling, I can now better feel it when I have a one concert opportunity as well. On the other hand, when playing for those people one can really understand the power of music. We play in many different places, such as: schools, hospitals, Alzheimer Centers, Mental Health Centers, prisons, and more. So many people in those concerts are being touched by the music in a way that we don’t see in “normal” concerts. One of my favorite memories is from when we played Mozart’s famous string quintet in G minor in an Alzheimer Center. A 90-year-old was sitting in the first row, and he was in a very late stage of the disease. The doctors told us that he used to be a professional violist. As soon as we started playing he became still, quiet. As soon as the viola came in with the famous theme he started doing the fingerings on his knee!!!!. The music gave him inner peace for a little while, and we were unbelievably moved with what we just saw.

If you were not a violinist, what do you think your life pursuits may be?

I used to play tennis quite a lot, so this might be one answer. This year I discovered my love for cooking. With some practice, this could have been another option.

Do you have any favorite tennis players?

Definitely Roger Federer. Besides the fact he is just a player from another galaxy, he seems to be charismatic, respectful, modest, and a nice person. I guess it is just very easy and natural to become his fan.

What is something that many may not know about you? Is there anything else you would like to share?

I am Israeli, but before the holocaust my entire family lived in Poland. So, I grew up with my grandparents’ polish cooking. A lot of Pierogi.

Tal with friends from Juilliard

Tal with friends!

 

 

 

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Arash Noori

For the Office of International Advisement’s May edition of Eye-on-Culture, Arash Noori (www.arashnoorimusic.com/) was interviewed. A graduate student in the historical performance program, Arash is a lutist/guitarist born in Tehran, Iran, who is now a Canadian citizen. Read on to learn more about Arash’s love of Monteverdi, his experience with Juilliard415, and the steps he is taking to be more health-conscious.

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Arash Noori with guitar

You are an accomplished guitarist/lutist. What are some of your first memories of these instruments?

My older brother of 5 years had begun taking piano lessons, when I was about two and a half/three years old, and it was at his teacher’s house that I had my first conscious encounter with the guitar. We had gone by to drop off (or pick up…I don’t remember) my brother for a lesson and there was guitar just laying around this teacher’s studio…and I just couldn’t help but to go over for a closer look. It was like a magnet; I went on over picked it and started strumming away. Luckily no one yelled at me to stop…I wonder if I would have become a musician if they had!

You have won many international competitions, and have been described as “the compelling guitarist” by the New York Times. What do you believe makes your music compelling? Can you tell us your secrets?

Hah. Well, the New York Times quote (https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/14/arts/music/review-cantanta-profana-revives-a-henze-cycle-inspired-by-german-poems.html) comes from a review of a performance of Hans Werner Henze’s Kammermusik, a work that I had been wanting to perform for years. It’s a difficult piece to put together; difficult for all instruments of the chamber orchestra, nearly an hour long, with a devilishly difficult tenor part…it’s almost impossible to manage to put together within the confines of the “chamber music program” of even the finest music schools. I finally had a chance to perform the work with some of my closest friends and favorite musicians, the Cantata Profana Ensemble (www.cantataprofana.com/) and the remarked tenor Tom Cooley (www.thomascooley.com). So how is this for a recipe for a successful performance: find a work that you feel strongly about (kind of work that makes your creative and performance impulses fire on all cylinders), add years of anticipation and ruminating until you finally get a chance to perform it, and surround yourself with dear friends and amazing musicians to do so…and I think the odds are that the resulting performance will be pretty darn “compelling.”

You have completed degrees at Yale, and the University of Toronto. Can you tell about your shift from these institutions to Juilliard? Have you noticed any differences? My training at Juilliard has been by far the most focused—accumulating a ton of professional-level performance experience with world-class directors. By the time we’re through with hours of rehearsals, coachings and performances, gosh, there isn’t much time for anything else. My undergraduate experience at University of Toronto was a reasonably well-rounded liberal arts education with a concentration on music; I was a classical guitarist at Yale which meant a lot of independent practice time and a chance to take in as much as one can on the very special and lively campus. The Historical Performance program at Juilliard has definitely been the most intense training I’ve received.

Can you tell us more about why you decided to pursue a graduate degree in historical performance? I simply fell in love with lutes and early guitars…I mean obsessive. As well as the music that goes along with the instruments; particularly the music of Claudio Monteverdi is very close to my heart. He’s my desert-island composer for sure. I just had to pursue further my training in the field given my love for the music and the instruments and the HP program at Juilliard is the gold standard.

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Arash Noori performing on lute.

 

I’ve seen photos of Juilliard415 online, and it seems like everyone has a lot of fun traveling! What are some of your best experiences being part of this group?

Gosh, at the risk of sounding corny, I will say that every project we do is special; this is a special ensemble and an incredibly special program. But I must say that the “Genius of Monteverdi” program that we did under the direction of William Christie in October of 2017 will be the one that I’ll carry with me with vivid memories for a long time. Everything about the project was seemingly tailor-made for me to have an experience of lifetime: I’ve already mentioned my love for the music of Claudio Monteverdi, the repertoire selection—mainly from the 8th book of madrigals “Madrigals of War and Love”—and working with one of my favorite musicians on the planet, William Christie…this was just a dream come true. And to top it all off, Maestro Christie didn’t conduct the project but rather led from harpsichord, playing basso continuo. And as a basso continuo player on lute-family instruments , I got to play along with him. Without getting too technical about the process, it’s analogous to being in a “band”; it’s that kind of improvisatory music making where you have to be very aware of each other—being reactive and supportive to one another as well as whomever you’re accompanying (in this case, our wonderful singers from the vocal arts program)…when you get it right and are playing with expressive and communicative musicians, there is nothing quite like it. It’s fun, spontaneous, creative and exciting and I still really can’t believe that I got to do it with one of the best, ever, William Christie…you know, we were in a “continuo band” together 🙂

What are some things that many people may not know about you?

That I was raised in Iran until the age of 12. My Iranian/Canadian background is no secret but even some of my close friends forget that I was raised in in Iran until I was almost a teenager. I’m not quite sure why; I suspect it’s because of the absence of an accent, or rather the presence of a strong Canadian accent which people detect more readily than a Persian accent…I sound like I was born and raised in Saskatoon and only left yesterday, so people forget that I went through all of elementary school in Iran. I used to think that the Canadian accent is myth; I didn’t hear much of a difference in the way that I and my American friends talked, but having discovered the field of Historical Performance entirely in the United States as a graduate student, and having encountered certain words for the first time with an American accent, when I go home and I hear a Canadian HP colleague say “viola da gamba,” I say to myself “oh boy…there is a Canadian accent… and it’s strong!”

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Performing and teaching primarily the music of the 17th and 18th century; sharing the joy of everything that I think is so incredibly special about this repertoire.

I have heard that you have some strong opinions in regards to probiotics, can you share more with us?

Well, let me start by saying that I love being an instrumentalist—and that I love practicing as much as I do—but one realizes sooner or later that it’s not necessarily the healthiest lifestyle. And I was getting to a point where I was beginning feel the negative the health effects of being an instrumentalist at a high level and I made a choice to start being more health-conscious. And the only way that I could do this was to actually treat the matter as a hobby, rather than some thing that I “should do.” Chores are not sustainable with me, so I tried to have fun with it. And it’s an easy thing to do with all the good material that is now available online, from accomplished, accredited experts who choose to share a wealth of information on blogs and podcasts etc.; it’s really incredible. So it’s not that I’m following health “fads”; the people that I that I read and listen to are noted, published experts. It’s become very much so fun; I like keeping an eye out for information, “super foods” and recipes. Recently I’ve become interested in probiotics—simply put, beneficial bacteria that you carry in your gut that can help regulate and strengthen the immune system along with many other health benefits— and realizing that fermented foods are the best source of getting more of these probiotics inside you, I bought a fermentation kit and started making my own sauerkraut! I haven’t been brave enough to attempt kimchi yet but I’ll get there. It’s taken me a while to get any good at making sauerkraut itself; the first couple of batches were, well, not good! In any case, sauerkraut the side I’ve become so fond of this new passion/hobby and I genuinely enjoy doing it; it’s a nice break away from the profession of playing and practicing and it’s an enjoyable way of remedying some of the negative health effects of being a professional musician.

 

Cesar Parreno

For this March edition of Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement spoke to César Parreño.  César is a first year vocalist from Guayaquil, Ecuador. Read on to learn about César’s quick stint in business school, his experience coming to the US, and his true love, Sasha, his dog.

Cesar and his dog, Sasha

Can you share with us the first time you were involved in the vocal arts?

I’ve always enjoyed singing, ever since I was a kid; [I] didn’t know that singing would end up being my profession. My mom tells a story that [she] once saw a 1-year-old toddler (me) singing and dancing to a music video on TV. My mom interpreted those mumblings, and probably not so pretty sounds, as singing and since then she knew I liked [music]. At around 10 she signed me up [for] a music school back home, and there I had my first lessons. I stopped around 2 years later.

Why did you stop?

I quit for a while after a horrible performance. I always kept singing in my high school’s band. We performed in events throughout the year, but it was always pop, rock, or Latin music, not classical at all. Then high school ended and I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do with my life, so by default I started business school back home. Because it was really close by, I started taking lessons with my teacher back home, Beatriz Parra. There, I started taking lessons and almost immediately joined their choir (http://www.facebook.com/corocallas). Eventually, music started [to steal] me away. In Ecuador classical arts [don’t] have the space they deserve. It is very difficult to have a career as an opera singer when the classical environment is so [limited]. Saying that it is challenging and against the norm is an understatement. Years passed and I realized I didn’t enjoy business. I was only taking the liberal arts courses and avoiding the business core. I allowed myself to accept the fact that I could indeed have a chance in studying classical singing and [make] it my profession. I have to admit, the choir and the environment of artists I spent time with was one of the most determining factors in my decision.

I  always wanted to study abroad. I have to confess I didn’t know about conservatories and music schools in the U.S., I heard of Juilliard before, so I went online and googled: “Best music schools/conservatories in the US” browsed around 3 lists, picked and researched my 4 favorites, [then] applied. Just like that. I didn’t know about any specific teacher I wanted to study with; I didn’t know anyone from there; I just did it. Talk about crazy things, right?

Can you tell us your relationship with music and the arts as you were growing up?

While growing up and during high school I thought of music as a hobby. I never really thought about it as a career until I actually dropped business school. I didn’t really have a person to look up to. I am the first professional musician in my family, too. My parents don’t really listen to classical music at all. I was never exposed to a real artistic community. This is why the choir was so important to me. It gave me a little taste of the musician community. Culturally, being a musician is not a “regular” career choice, thankfully my parents saw my potential, and have been supporting me every step of the way.

Do you mind sharing any information about your family and pets?

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Cesar and his family

Of course, I don’t! I am the elder of two brothers. My younger brother’s name is Sergio. He is currently in high school and not worried with the “What will I do with my life?!” dilemma yet. My dad’s name is Patricio (actually César Patricio, but lets not talk about that) he works in an insurance company. Funny thing, he loves soccer and almost all sports, while I don’t. We both enjoy action TV shows though! And last but not least, my mom, Katia. She is a dentist. She has her own office and we talk A LOT. It’s our favorite hobby. She is also a really musical person! She enjoys music and always wanted to learn how to play piano. Her dad, Pablo, is also a singer at heart. You can always hear him sing around his house, and even recorded a CD with two guitar accompaniment! I guess I got the love of music from my mom’s side!

I have a cat named Juana; she is not that friendly. She will sometimes just run to you and bite you. But we love her anyway. However, the real star of the show is my Pekingese dog, Sasha. She is the best dog ever, period. She is super calm and really enjoys human company. She would follow me around everywhere and would let anyone pick her up for a long time (as long as you pet her). She is also a terrific hunter. Just wanted to let you know. Don’t be jealous.

You’ve had many performances already in your career, do you have any favorites? Or any that have been particularly meaningful to you?

Of course, 3 come to mind.

The first one is a really big performance celebrating the city’s (Guayaquil) anniversary in which I was hired to sing one of the main roles. It was also the inauguration of a giant statue in the middle of the city. This giant even had a full orchestra and was live-streamed on TV and social media! It was a huge thing! I’m so happy I was a part of it!

The second one is when the choir I was in (in spirit I still am) went to Peru to an international choir festival. We had so much fun traveling and going to Machu Pichu and gasping for breath at 11,152 feet over ocean level! It was an unforgettable experienced singing with my friends and traveling to do music outside Ecuador!

And the last one is the one I hold dearest to my heart. It was during the final performance of the classical singing international festival (http://www.facebook.com/festivalsantiagodeguayaquil) organized by my teacher, Beatriz Parra. This was the last performance I had before moving to the states to start my studies [at] Juilliard. As you can imagine, emotions were high. My final song was “No puede ser”, [a heavily emotional piece] by Pablo Sorozábal.  At the end I hit that long, final A. I see my friends and family’s faces, smiling, clapping, cheering. And I lost it. I tried bowing with a smile, but my face started trembling. I started crying. I resumed full crying backstage. It was not as much happiness that I was leaving, it was more of a sense of accomplishment, closure if you may. That will be one of my most treasured memories. Because it had all that was important to me; music, friends and family, all in one place, all in one moment.

Cesar on stage

You currently are an active participant on campus and in the residence hall. Which events have been your favorite so far this school year?

Oh so many to pick from. I have to admit I enjoy all diversity dialogues. I’m always surfing through science videos in youtube, and diversity dialogues are like those but interactive and with people! In the residence hall I loved geek movie night with people from the Geek Coalition! We watched Galaxy Quest and I loved every minute of it! Another one of my favorites was Breakfast and Cartoons. Had two of my favorite things: cereal and cartoons. What else could I ask for?

Your hometown is Portoviejo, even though your family lives in Guayaquil. Can you explain your relationships with both places? Are there any cultural differences?

It’s funny because I always say I’m from Manabi, Portoviejo. Even though I used to live in Guayaquil since I was 2/3 years old. I wouldn’t say there is much of a cultural difference though. A good thing that comes from being from two different places its that you get to travel during Holidays!Cesar and friends in Ecuador

Ecuador has experienced many challenges recently politically, and environmentally. Can you explain what this is like?

Sadly, 2 years ago my hometown was devastated by an earthquake. A lot of people around the upper west coast lost their lives. This made the economy more challenging than it was for me and my family, given that we had to help family that lost their homes back in Portoviejo. Things are looking much better now. One day, Portoviejo will be back better than ever.

Can you compare life in NYC to Guayaquil?

I’ve always lived in a big city, so its not that different. Funny thing, for me the transition from Guayaquil to NYC was not that harsh (if at all) it just felt like: “Welp, I’m here. Let’s get to business.” I also never felt quite like home in Guayaquil, I was always lacking something, and I think I’m still looking for it.

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As you’ve shared before, Ecuador does not have as developed of an opera culture as other countries. How was the transition (musically) from Ecuador to Juilliard?

It was overwhelming. I came from a place where we did a couple of opera scene shows, but nothing too big. I am not that familiar with the classical music world yet. Coming to Juilliard showed me how much more music there was to listen to and how many stories were told through music. It was a humbling, exciting, and overwhelming sensation. I also didn’t have any music theory or ear training back home.

Although opera is not a tradition in Ecuador, what are the other musical or art-related traditions?

Being from the city I’m afraid I am not that familiar with more rural traditions of Ecuador. However in Ecuador the Pasillo is a very popular song genre. I’m also very fond of it because It was in a Pasillo competition when I first won a singing competition! I remember making the artistic decision of ending the song knelling in the stage for dramatic effect. My young self knew that I was supposed to be a singer, I don’t know why I didn’t listen to 12 hear old me!

Cesar's choir in performanceWhere do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years? 25?!

I really have no idea. I don’t even know how the classical music world works yet. I do know I want to make my family and my country proud. Although, I do know I want to travel and sing all around the world. Hopefully one day *crosses fingers*.

Is there anything else you would like to use this space to share?

I just want to let everybody who loves music [know] that they should never discard music as an option for a career. It is never too late to start singing. You never know what might happen and people who know about music might see something inside you that you don’t know is there yet. Always give yourself a chance.

Cesar on a hike

 

 

 

Thapelo Masita

For the Office of International Advisement’s February Eye-on-Culture, Thapelo Masita was interviewed. Thapelo is a first year graduate student studying cello from Blomfontein, South Africa. Read on to learn about his experiences touring with KZN Philharmonic (http://www.kznphil.org.za), studying in the United States,  and his brief stint as a violinist.

Thapelo Masita

According to my sources, you started playing cello when you were 12. What were your musical experiences previous to the cello?

Before cello, I played violin for about a year. I switched to cello because I still sounded horrible on violin after a year. My friends were getting better than me on violin so, I went to the director of our program and asked to start cello. He agreed and when I got home, I told my parents that I had graduated from the small one to the big one. Being non-musicians they were proud and surprised.

How do your parents feel about your pursuit of music?

Both my mother and father were very supportive from the beginning, they both love music. In fact my mother used to be the choir conductor for many years.

You’ve studied music at various institutions, such as, Interlochen (http://www.interlochen.org), and Eastman (http://esm.rochester.edu) before coming to Juilliard. How have these experiences shaped your current studies?

I don’t think I would have been able to survive Juilliard’s intensity had I not had these two prior experiences. Interlochen was a safe place in the middle of the woods where I had independence but still a lot of guidance. Eastman is really where I did most of my growing and made friends for life. Having been at these schools, I have developed personally and I just know more people. As a result, living in a big city like New York doesn’t feel so alienating because I have had 5 years to make friends, many of whom have ended up in New York.

You’ve played with a multitude of orchestras in the United States, and in South Africa. Can you tell us more about these different experiences and how they have influenced your current work?

I was fortunate enough to get my first real professional orchestra gig right after Interlochen. I went on tour with the KZN Philharmonic one of the top orchestras on the African continent. We toured France for two weeks to celebrate Nelson Mandela. It was some of the best fun I’ve ever had and also eye opening. This tour taught me what it really means to be prepared in the professional world. I take that lesson with me everywhere I go. I was also principal cellist of the Bochabela String Orchestra (http://bochabela.com) which was the main training ground for me in terms of playing in a section and leading. BSO is the flagship ensemble of the Mangaung String Project (http://www.musicinafrica.net/directory/mangaung-string-programme), an outreach project in Bloemfontein, South Africa which teaches classical music to children from previously disadvantaged communities.

Thapelo with string quartet colleagues

Can you tell me more about the Mangaung String Project? How did you first get involved?

The Mangaung String Project started in the 90’s in Bloemfontein after the American bassist Peter Guy, who had recently moved there realized that children in South African townships had no access to classical music. So he decided to start teaching a group of 5 students at Bochabela Primary School in Bloemfontein. Today the program has over 500 students in several cities near Bloemfontein.

I was first introduced to the program when I was 11. They came to my primary school to give an outreach concert and offer lessons to students who were interested. Many children applied to study.  It was fun. We all had to start on violin but after a few months I switched to cello because it was big and I had become tired of the violin sound.

You speak SIX languages! Have you have ever experienced a linguistic mix-up?

The differences between Sesotho and Setswana can sometimes be tricky to navigate but other than that, no. Although the six languages is a little unusual, most people in South Africa speak at least three languages proficiently by the end of high school.

Can you tell us what your favorite place is in your hometown? Why is it your favorite?

I have too many to speak of in this instance, but I can tell you that a place I go to most often,  is the music school where our program is based. It has been my home since I was 11 when I started violin. I spent all my afternoons and Saturdays there until I moved to America. Some of the most vivid memories in my life were made there. I also love the chaos at the school there children playing everywhere, teachers trying to get them to practice and just a general joy about the place. I really love it.

Thapelo by a river in South Africa

What are some cultural differences you’ve noticed from South Africa, the United States, and other places you have traveled to? How has the adjustment to these cultural differences been? Do you have a story of a funny cultural misunderstanding?

So many.  But perhaps the most surprising [difference] when I first arrived in the US and [actually] in my travels to Europe, is how people relate to one another in the western countries. In South Africa, people are so much more open and speak to and empathise with one another so much more easily I find. We call this the principal of Ubuntu. It is difficult to translate this but it essentially means humanity; an understanding that we are because our neighbour is. Adjusting has been fine for me thus far.

What is the biggest misconception about South Africa that you’ve experienced?

In America, people think all South Africans speak either Afrikaans or Zulu. This could be for a multitude of reasons but South Africa has 11 official languages all which are distinct and independent. These languages have their own rich  histories and literature that is specific to each tribe which the language originates from.

For those of us who know less about South Africa, can you give us a little more information about the people and cultures of South Africa? Or, do you know where we should start our own research?

Well, where to start with this… South Africa has 11 official languages. Nine of these languages are these tribal languages, Sesotho, Setswana, Sepedi, I s’Xhosa, I siZulu, Venda, Ndebele, Swati and Tsonga. The other two are English and Afrikaans which came to our people through colonization, English from the Brits and Afrikaans because of the Dutch.

There is a saying in Sesotho which says, “Motho ke motho ka batho.” This roughly translate[s] to, “a person is a person because of other people.” I believe this saying exists in all the languages of the South African tribes. This idea is central to our beliefs and South Africans are more compassionate and open as a result. We are by no means perfect, but every foreigner I have met seemst to feel the same way about South African people of all races and cultures.

Thapelo's family

You’ve traveled pretty extensively, where is one place that you not had the opportunity to visit yet, and would like to go to, and why?

This changes throughout the year for me but recently I have made a few  wonderful friends from Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Colombia. They have told me fascinating stories about their cultures, food and abundant nature in their countries. I would love to go and experience it myself.

Thapelo with Eastman faculty Steven Doane and Rosemary ElliottNow that you’ve studied in the United States for over 5 years, what advice would you give to a student who wants to study away from home for the first time?

Try your best to have an open mind at all times. Living overseas, one meets people who have had lives so different from one’s own that it can be difficult to relate to people. Don’t be deterred by that, it should make you want to learn more about the many different ways people have found to deal with this thing we call life.

According to Instagram, you’ve spent time with some very interesting peoThapelo6ple. Do you have any favorites?  

I might sound like a bore but, that will always be my beloved mother. She was the queen and I miss her always.

If you could have any professional job at Juilliard (President, admissions, working in the international student office), which would it be?

I love the idea of leading a school and helping to create the best possible environment for students to learn. So I would say President but I also really want to play in the Juilliard quartet so I guess I’ll have to say those two jobs.

Do you have any hidden talents that you would like to share?

I sang a lot when I was with the Bochabela String Orchestra. It was fun, I still enjoy singing.

 

 

Can Wang

For November, the Office of International Advisement engaged with Can Wang, a third year student in the dance program from Jinan, Shandong, China.  Read on to learn more about her love of piano and the arts, her experience as a student leader, and her advice for other international students.

Can Wang in performance

According to our sources, piano inspired your beginnings in dance. Can you tell us more about how your study of piano and dance have intertwined, and created the performer you are today? 

I started consciously being influenced and attracted by music and dance at the age of 3. I fell in love with the sound of the piano when I heard it in the kindergarten for the first time, and I told my mom that I wanted to learn it (I didn’t know the instrument is called “piano”. My mom figured it out after she went to see the piano in the kindergarten). My parents bought the piano for me when I was 4 years old, and I became the first kid that plays the piano in my neighborhood ( because neither playing instruments nor dance are popular in my neighborhood back then, but now there are more and more kids that are playing instruments and dancing). I was taking dance class in kindergarten too. When the piano and dance started to co-exist in my life, I would improvise dance for the piano music I listened to, and improvise on the piano for the dance I learned. It seemed natural to me to connect them, and they became my best friends.

Playing the piano at a young age not only enhanced my sensitivity for music, but also helped me build my patience, which are a very important skill to have for a dancer. No matter what I do—choreograph, dance or teach, patience and sensitivity for music are always there to allow me to explore deeper into the possibilities, and come up with new ideas.

You’ve have previously performed works by Andrea Miller, Helen Simoneau, Katarzyna Skarpetowska, Nacho Duato, Janis Brenner, Jacqulyn Buglisi, Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Michael Parmenter, and Jose Limon. Did any of these experiences have a strong impact on you? And if so, how?

Those experiences are significant to my study at Julliard. Working with choreographers and studying repertoires broaden my understanding of dance. There are many reasons to dance, and dance works are made from questioning “why we dance”. Choreographers and rehearsal directors come into the studio and share their interests and questions with us, and we start to explore and develop dance works altogether. As we are on stage, the dance works become languages we use to communicate with audience.

Can Dance 2

In addition to your pursuit of contemporary dance and ballet, you have skills in Chinese traditional dance. For our readers who are not familiar with this form of dance, could you please tell us more about how it is characterized and the style? How have you worked background in Chinese Traditional dance into your work now?

When I was in China, I’ve studied Tai Chi and Chinese traditional dance. Chinese traditional dance is consisted of Chinese folk dance and Chinese classical dance. There are 6 different types in Chinese folk dance which are symbolic of each geography, climate, daily labor, agriculture and religion. Each type of Chinese folk dance has its own temperament, and a lot of the movements have specific meanings because they are manifestations of their daily life.

Chinese classical dance is a revival of ancient Chinese dance. It was mixed with the gestures and postures of Chinese martial arts and Chinese opera, and it emphasizes the use of the focus and coordination of the movement and breath. Similar to Tai chi, the movements are the result of the flow of the energy which are usually circles in different directions and dimensions.

The influence from Chinese traditional dance is strong and visible when I dance and choreograph. The movement patterns are deeply remembered by my body. As soon as my body moves, it would repeat the patterns naturally and unconsciously.

It seems that you’ve had many years of experience of working with teenage dancers in Beijing, how did you become involved with this educational outreach program? What do you like about this program?

Working with teenage dancers and performing with National Ballet of China for their annual educational outreach program are two separate activities I did in China. When I was studying at the secondary school of Beijing Dance Academy (http://www.bda.edu.cn/english/index.htm), the National Ballet of China needed young dancers to perform with the company for their outreach program while half of the company was on tour. It was a performance we give in colleges and universities all around China. It included lecture on the history of Ballet and also history of Ballet in China, followed by the performance of excerpts from the Western and Chinese Ballet repertoires in a chronicle order. I loved the idea of bringing ballet into campuses to make it accessible for young audiences.

I began working with young dancers when I was a teenage dancer myself. My dance teacher from my hometown Jinan, has always encouraged me to help dancers who are younger than me. I’ve been going back to my teacher’s studio every summer since I was ten, and the students I’ve helped are now professional dancers studying in the secondary schools and dance academies, and working in ballet companies in China and abroad. This past summer, I created two contemporary dance solos for two 12-year-old male dancers for their school’s competition, and I rehearsed a ballet variation for two 13-year-old female dancers for their school’s showing. I’ve been learning immensely from the young dancers I’ve worked with in China. It helps me to refresh and reorganize the knowledge that has been increased in me throughout training and education from different culture. It gives me opportunities to practice my observation and communication with individual dancers, and it makes me feel grateful for the education I’ve had and also responsible for sharing what I’ve learned to the young dancers.

You were an Orientation Leader this year. What prompted you to apply? What was the best part of the orientation leader experience for you? What would you suggest to students who may like to apply to become OLs next year?

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Photo by Matthew Quigley

 

When I was a freshman, my first impression of Juilliard was from the orientation leaders. I remember how excited and helpful they were, which made me to be an orientation leader since then.

Being an OL is amazing and challenging experience to me. I learned that I have to think about both positions of being a freshman and an OL before making a decision, so that I can really understand them before helping them with their needs. It also offers a time and space for me to discover what my strengths are as a leader and how I can function in the OL community to make the orientation successful.

To the new OLs: to understand what type of leader you are is equally important as being supportive and selfless in the OL community. Make yourself available for helping new students and let them know that you are happy to be here with them.

In addition to being an OL, you are now a colloquium mentor. What are some of the benefits of colloquium? What is something that you learned? What do you like about being a mentor?

Can Friends

Hiking with friends at Hudson Valley.

I think colloquium peer mentor serves a similar goal as the OL, which is to help first-time undergraduate students adjust their new life at Juilliard. What’s unique about being a colloquium peer mentor is that I’m connecting the faculty and new students, like a trail that connects the top and the bottom of a mountain. It’s hard to get to the mountain top while standing on the bottom and vise versa, but it becomes achievable when there’s a trail in between. I like being supportive, and I enjoy being trusted by people. It was necessary to let new students know that I’m here for them when they need me.

If you were a tour guide of your hometown, which places and what things do you think we should see and do?

 

My hometown is Jinan which is the capital city of Shandong Province (Shandong is also the hometown for the philosopher Confucius and the China’s First Lady Ms. Peng). Jinan is also the “city of springs” as there are 72 springs in the city. It is also why Jinan hasn’t had a subway system, because the government wants to protect the springs underneath the ground.

Can Family

Can teaching her grandma how to use an iPad.

In Jinan, you can visit the natural and historical attractions such as Bao Tu Spring, Qian Fo Mountain/Mountain of Thousand Buddha, Da Ming Lake; eat great food on Fu Rong Street; go to see acrobatic performances of Shandong Acrobatic Troupe and Quyi— a performance art consisted of narrative storytelling, staged monologue and dialogue; shopping and going to movie theaters can be a pleasant and overwhelming experience too.

What is a difference that was shocking to you when you first arrived in the US? Where is your favorite place in NYC?

As I was living in Beijing for school for many years, the tall buildings and city-like life style of NYC didn’t surprise me much. The most shocking and confusing things are the intangible things such as relearning people’s body language and facial expression, processing a different language all day long, interpreting people’s humor, trying to remember the names of people, class, food, concepts and objects, learning the rules of different social situations, understanding a different value system, rediscovering who I am in a new place…I’m still learning to understand them while I’m constantly confused by them. At the beginning, I felt overwhelmed by even the simplest things in my life, and it was so hard to catch them up. Since there hasn’t been Chinese dancers at Juilliard, I understood that it’s my responsibility to learn from the base, and to give myself time to catch things up little by little. I’ve been learning and growing immensely from this process, and I know that I’m in a place where it allows me to be patient with myself and make mistakes, so that I can calmly go through confusions and learn from mistakes.

My favorite places:

MOMA, the MET Museum, Angelika Film Center, Chelsea Market, Highline Park, Chinatown, Korean Town

 

Can with an ice-cream filled treat

Where do you envision yourself in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years?

In 5 years: Intensely dancing and performing in the US or Europe in order to be familiar with the operation of a professional dance world.

In 10 years: Keep deepening my discovery as a dancer and performer, get a master degree on dance in the US or Europe, to prepare myself for being a teaching artist.

In 20 years: Keep dancing in the US or Europe, and hopefully I can start teaching in China a few times a year to share what I’ve learned throughout my career.

If you were not a dancer, what do you think you would pursue instead?

When I was 4 years old, my mom asked me: “do you want to be a pianist in the future?” I said “yes of course!” Then my mom asked: “if you want to be a pianist, you will have to work hard to go to Juilliard, so that you will be a wonderful pianist to perform all over the world.” I said “oh yes, I want to go to Juilliard to be the best pianist in the world!”

In this case, I probably would pursue a career as a pianist if I didn’t dance. But I also wanted to be a diplomat when I was in elementary school because I really liked English.

Can

Reflecting on your time here at Juilliard, what is some advice you would give new international students?

Be open to the new world and be patient with yourself.

If you make mistakes, have fun with them! They will be your teachers to guide you to a better place. And don’t forget that there are many people who are happy to help you.

Trust that your identity is your energy source and backup. It makes you become who you are today, and it’s always a reference for you while you are adjusting to a new life.

Learn everything from everywhere and everyone, not only in your class and practice room, because everyone is an artist nowadays. What defines you as an artist is how you live your life and whether you’ve developed your own life style.

Can Personal Collage

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kasperi Sarikoski

The Office of International Advisement interviewed Kasperi Sarikoski for the October edition of Eye on Culture. From Helsinki, Finland, Kasperi graduated from Sibelius Academy (http://www.uniarts.fi/en/siba) with his Bachelor of Music and Master of Music. Kasperi began his Artist Diploma in Jazz Studies Fall 2017.  Read on to learn more about Kasperi’s experience playing with Jerry Bergonzi (http://www.jerrybergonzi.com/), living in Paris, and his love for coffee.

Kasperi Website Photo

Photo by Teemu Mattsson.

When did you first begin to pursue music? What drew you to jazz?

I began playing the trombone at the age of eight. My dad had been a professional musician and, once I took an interest in the trombone, showed me his collection of jazz records. Also my first teacher was a jazz trombonist, so it was natural for me to pursue playing jazz.

Your Father is a musician too? How has this affected your studies and career? Was there a favorite record for you in his collection?

My father used to be a drummer, but he never intended his children to be musicians. Taking up music my own idea. However, once I started playing the trombone my dad gave me all the help and support he could. He taught me a great deal and I wouldn’t be here without him. I think my favourite record from his collection was Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters.

You received your Bachelor of Music and Master of Music at the Sibelius Academy. When you reflect on your time there which memories stand out to you?

I remember the first years of study when I was really eager to learn more. I had some good teachers and made a lot of progress. Now that I’ve returned to school after working for a few years, being at Juilliard reminds me of the youthful hunger one has when everything is still so new. I feel like I myself get something from that energy and am inspired to work harder.

What prompted you to continue your studies as an Artist Diploma (AD) student? Could you tell our readers more about this program?

I felt like I wanted a change and some new challenges. Living in New York had been a childhood dream so I thought I’d give it a shot. The Artist Diploma in Jazz Studies program is essentially about working with an ensemble for two years. We write music for the band, get together twice a week and perform both on and off campus. I consider it the ideal way of learning to play music.

During your master studies, you partook in an exchange study at the Paris Conservatory (http://www.conservatoiredeparis.fr/accueil/); what prompted you to go to Paris? Could you describe some differences between the Finnish and French cultures?

Kasperi_Sarikoski_kuva_By_Jetro_Sarikoski

I had visited the Paris Conservatory before as part of a collaboration with the Sibelius Academy. I really liked the city and as I had studied French at school it seemed like a good idea to apply. I enjoyed my time in Paris. It’s such a beautiful city and there’s a lot happening musically. Concerning cultural differences, I would say the French are more outgoing than the Finnish, at least if you speak the language. They are also more laid-back, which of course has its good and bad sides. But overall I liked the people and felt welcomed over there.

 

You’ve had many interactions with various famous jazz musicians, including Jerry Bergonzi and Joshua Redman (http://www.joshuaredman.com/). Do any of these experiences stand out for you?

Yes! I remember being excited about performing with Jerry Bergonzi. He came over to play with a group of Sibelius Academy jazz students in Helsinki and it felt grand being the only horn player next to him on the bandstand. Another highlight was performing the music of Michel Legrand (http://www.michellegrandofficial.com/) with the UMO Jazz Orchestra (http://www.umo.fi/en/) in collaboration with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and the composer himself.

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Nuance by Tomas Whitehouse

Can you tell us about your band, Nuance (http://www.ksnuance.com/home)? How did you meet the band members?

Nuance is a five-piece band from Helsinki and the music we play is a blend of jazz, rock and electronic music, composed by myself. I met the lads through the Sibelius Academy and the drummer is my brother Jonatan. We’ve released an album, Essence, and performed a fair amount in Finland.

Your brother, Jonatan is also a member of Nuance? Is he a professional musician as well?  What about your other family members? What do they do?

Yes, Jonatan too is following in his father’s footsteps and plays the drums. We four oldest ones are all musicians/music students while “number five” is doing his military service. My youngest two brothers and my sister are still in school.

If there was one thing you had to share about Finland, what would that be?

It would probably be the sauna, a staple of Finnish culture. We have an old saying: “First build the sauna, then the house.” That’s literally what people did back in the day. Perhaps that explains why there are more saunas than cars in Finland. The way to go is to first build up a sweat in the sauna and then jump into the lake (or the hole in the ice if it’s winter). It feels great and you get a wonderful sensation once you’re out of the water. It’s similar to having a cold shower (which I tend to do here in New York).

When you think of your hometown, what three words come to mind?

Small, sea, cold.

We noticed you came to new student orientation as an AD student even though it was not a requirement. What prompted you to attend? Why would you recommend attending orientation to other AD/DMA students?

I moved into the Residence Hall the day it opened, which gave me time to prepare for school and my new life in New York. As an international student, I thought hearing about various government and school policies twice wouldn’t be a bad idea. I also wanted to attend some of the school events and in general be a part of the buildup to a new year at Juilliard.

During your time before courses, have you been able to explore NYC? Is there anything you would like to do or see in the city or nearby?

Selfie_NYC2 - CopyI’ve done some sightseeing and visited various music venues around the city. I really enjoy jogging alongside the Hudson river! There still are a few things on my to do list. One of them is to attend a baseball game. Until I do I’ll feel like there’s something missing from my American experience.

What is an aspiration that you have unrelated to music?

I used to be an avid soccer fan and would play on a weekly basis. I haven’t kicked a ball yet here in New York, but I hope to do so at some point. I also enjoy cooking and the (meticulous) brewing of coffee.

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Kasperi at the Brooklyn Bridge

Do you have a favorite soccer team? Have you visited any great cafes here in NYC yet? Do you have a recipe, or favorite meal you like to prepare?

My favourite team is Tottenham Hotspur from London. They’re an exciting team and play with style. I’ve been to a few cafes in New York and my favourite one so far is The Smile in Tribeca. I like cooking all sorts of dishes, but something I’ve been more doing lately is pizza. You can get really deep into that but I’ve just scratched the surface.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 20 years?

Home_grown_produce - Copy

Home Grown Produce!

I truly don’t know! I’m just trying to live a day at a time. I hope to keep making music for years to come, but I wouldn’t mind taking up something else later on in life.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

I would like to thank my father and mother for their lifelong support. I wouldn’t be here without them. I would also like to thank The Juilliard School, in particular the Jazz Department and the Office of International Advisement. Being a foreigner, I‘ve been surprised by the welcoming atmosphere and support. I hope to be able to give something to the school in return.

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Soccer with Kasperi’s brothers and sister

Sumire Hirotsuru

For the September edition of Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Sumire Hirotsuru (https://sumirehirotsuru.com/), a second year graduate student studying violin. Raised in Oita, Japan, Sumire studied at Harvard University before enrolling at Juilliard in the fall of 2016.   Read on to learn more about Sumire’s experience studying at Harvard, performing with the Silk Road Ensemble (http://www.silkroadproject.org/), creating an education program for Japanese children, and much more!!!

Sumire with Lower Manhattan in the background

You started your violin studies at the age of three. Do you have a memory of the first time you picked up the violin? 

I don’t remember the time when I picked up the violin, but I still remember when I performed on stage for the first time. I was not so nervous because I was wearing my favorite cute purple dress.

You are currently a member of a Juilliard quartet called The Ansonia and have been the principal violinist for the Juilliard Orchestra. Do you prefer to play with a full orchestra or a chamber group?  In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of the two?

I prefer playing with a chamber group because how you listen to/look at each other has more direct effects on the sound delivered to the audience. I love it especially when each musician plays on stage differently from the rehearsal, and entirely changes the way the group plays the same music; that is when we enjoy improvisational elements of music making and direct human interaction that make performances more fun and interesting. An orchestra is also fun to play with, especially with the variety of sounds that so many people on the same stage can create – but I think smaller groups fit me more.

TheAnsoniaQuartetJapanTour

Sumire with her chamber group, The Ansonia, during their tour in Japan

You have performed with Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble on several occasions. What is it like to share a stage with such famous musicians?

Yo-Yo and Silkroad

Sumire with Yo-Yo Ma and Silkroad

It was the experience with the Silk Road Ensemble during my college years that made me continue music after graduating from Harvard. It is not about how famous they are, but it is everyone’s incredibly warm personality and the way they build up performances that appeal the most to me; they are very welcoming, and open to any ideas when we rehearse together. And above all, performances are the most exciting part. Making eye contacts, adjusting to each other’s playing, and sometimes improvising on stage – they have taught me so much on how to listen to each other while playing.

You are also a member of the Video Game Orchestra (http://vgo-online.com/) which sounds like the opposite of the music you play with Yo-Yo Ma and Silk Road. Can you tell our readers a little about?

Tring out pipa

Trying out pipa

As a member of the VGO, I have recorded official video game soundtracks including Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts, and performed video game tunes in several game/anime conventions in the states. First of all, those are very fun music to play because of the nature of video game music, and second of all, joining recording sessions has been a great experience for me because you basically have to learn on the first run-through and then play perfectly on the second run-through when we have hundreds of tracks to finish recording. In addition, performing for completely different audience members reminds me of the importance to reach out to non-classical music listeners. What VGO does sounds very different from what Juilliard students do, but I really learn a lot from them.

 Before attending Juilliard, you studied Music and Global Health and Health Policy (GHHP) at Harvard University. What drew you to this secondary major? Why did you decide to study music at the graduate level rather than pursue global health?

As explained above, playing with the Silk Road Ensemble was definitely a life-changing experience that dragged me into the music world after graduation, even though I wasn’t expecting myself to continue music before. Before I played with them, I was studying Applied Math and Sociology which were very different fields. But then I switched to Music and GHHP initially because I was curious about the big difference of healthcare systems in the U.S. and Japan. As I took more courses, I built more interests in other areas of global health such as virus research and vaccine developments.

Even though you are furthering your education at Juilliard, you haven’t forgotten your interest in global health. You are currently involved with an organization called GUIDE Africa (http://www.guideafrica.org). Can you tell our readers a little about this organization, how you got involved, and what you are doing for them?

On radio in Oita

On the radio in Oita

I am working with two labs at the Institute of Medical Science at the University of Tokyo, mainly helping fundraising for two projects; one is Ebola virus research in Sierra Leone, the other is a development of rice vaccine in Ghana (you will be able to take vaccines through eating rice!). We are trying to let wider population know about what we do, and how important our research is for the future of humans especially in underserved areas in Africa.

You have also volunteered your time with an education program called Summer in JAPAN (http://www.summerinjapan.com/en) which you founded when a student at Harvard. Can you tell our readers about this program and what encouraged you to develop it?

Teaching at Summer in JAPAN2

Teaching at Summer in JAPAN

I founded this two-week education program in my hometown during my freshman summer at Harvard. The program consists of several workshops such as Writing, Presentation Skills and Computer Science taught in English by selected Harvard students for Japanese kids aged from 6 to 18. As a girl from a small town in Japan, I have been so fortunate to receive the best education in the world in the U.S., but it is still not accessible to most of the kids in Japan. Having impressed by my fellow students at Harvard, I wanted to build a platform where any Japanese children of next generation are able to learn skills necessary for their future. This year was the 5th year of the program and we expanded to two cities in Japan, which went very successfully.

 You write a blog (https://sumirehirotsuru.com/) every day in both English and Japanese and have written articles for Nikkei College Café by Nikkei, the largest business newspaper in Japan. What do you write about?  What made you decide to begin these projects?

I received an offer from Nikkei to contribute articles monthly about my life in the U.S., international relationship and leadership when I was at Harvard. I’ve been writing for them since 2014, but it has been a great tool to let students or young professionals in Japan about my thoughts here. For blog, I just write whatever happens on the day – I made it bilingual so that all of my friends living anywhere in the world can read!

Phew, you are doing so much!!! Do you ever have time to relax?  What do you like to do when you have free time (if such thing exists)?

I do have some free time on weekends! I like hanging out with my quartet and watching Japanese drama when I need to relax. I also love to Skype my middle school/high school friends in Japan so I have some time to use Japanese.

You are the first student from Japan to be interviewed for Eye on Culture. What would you say are some of the greatest similarities and differences between US and Japanese culture (I recognize this is a big question, but a few examples would be great). 

Hanging out with my quartet

Hanging out with the quartet

Japan and the U.S. are quite different and I can list so many things; but the first culture shock I had when I first came to the U.S. for college was j-walking because Japanese people always wait for the lights to change. What I like the most about American culture is that people don’t care what you do (in a good way), so it’s easier to try something that nobody has done before. I feel more support on doing something challenging here in the U.S. more than in Japan.

 Can you tell our readers a little bit about your hometown?

With my high school friends at performance in Tokyo

With high school friends at a performance

My hometown Oita, is on the island in the southern Japan called Kyushu Island. Even though it’s not a big town, Oita has the best fish and the best hot springs in the world. I always miss eating fresh seafood whenever I come back to school. During my summer camp Summer in JAPAN, I always take instructors from Harvard to the hot springs and they all love it. If you are interested in hot springs, message me.

Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?

My string quartet at Juilliard, The Ansonia Quartet, has just finished our first Japan Tour this summer to kick off our 2017/18 season as a part of Honors Chamber Music Program. The tour was fully-funded by the crowdfunding campaign we launched at the end of last spring, and it was a great success. We are excited to perform more in NYC and beyond this year, so please come hear us perform if you get a chance!

TheAnsoniaQuartetJapanTour2

Sumire with her chamber group, The Ansonia Quartet, during their tour in Japan