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November 24, 2018

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Prestigious music school comes to China

RETIRED after 34 years as president of New York’s Juilliard School, Joseph W. Polisi hasn’t abandoned his love of music education.

The 71-year-old bassoonist and music educator is ready to bring the renowned “Juilliard experience” to East Asia.

“Technique is not the goal of studying music, but rather artistry and communication,” said Polisi. “It is important for artistic students to not only excel in their majors, but also to advocate for art in their communities. “

Polisi, who retired last June, was recently appointed chief China officer to supervise development of the Tianjin Julliard School, scheduled to open in the autumn of 2019 in the northern Chinese city. It is being developed in cooperation with the Tianjin Conservatory of Music.

The Tianjin Julliard School, as the first and so-far only branch campus of the Julliard School in the world, will start with a pre-college program in the 2019 fall term, for students aged 8-18. It will be scheduled every Saturday and offers courses such as music theory, instruments and even chorus.

The school will expand in 2020 to include a graduate program offering master’s degree of music in orchestral performance, chamber music performance and collaborative piano.

Tuition, according to the school’s website, will be 87,500 yuan (US$13,060) for the re-college program. Tuition charges for graduate studies will be posted in the near future.

Word of the new school spread quickly. Within 24 hours after Tianjin Juilliard opened its application process last Thursday, the admissions office had received up to 20 inquiries about both the pre-college and graduate programs. So far, about 80 students have submitted preliminary information for applications.

The Tianjin Julliard School is a major component of Juilliard Global Ventures, which Polisi helped found in 2014. It aims to take the successful program of Julliard music education to more students worldwide.

“We are making an investment in China because we believe in it,” he said. “We are here to try to enhance the musical environment. We see ourselves as colleagues, rather than competitors.”

Polisi was recently in Shanghai, sharing some of his plans for the Tianjin Julliard School.

Q: Why did you choose Tianjin for a Juilliard School in China?

A: When we decided to expand our global presence, which was back in around 2008, we looked very carefully all around the world, but focused primarily on East Asia in China, Japan and in South Korea.

Clearly, the partners that we have now in Tianjin were there to provide the resources to make our venture possible, and there were no other potential partnerships that were even close to the expandability that we have in Tianjin in the development area of Binhai in Yujiapu, which is the cultural hub for the entire region. We believe that our school will be a destination, educationally and artistically and architecturally. It’s one of the most innovative and, perhaps, transformative buildings of its type in China for a conservatory of music.

Q: Why did you decide to start with a graduate program before an undergraduate one?

A: We wanted to make sure we provide a program that is, as we call it, the “authentic Juilliard experience.” And we felt that in terms of standards of admission and the curriculum, it would be easier to start with a graduate program where the students are more advanced, and we could make sure that they really became ready for the profession. One of the goals of the program is to establish a presence in China that will help our graduates move into the profession more easily. That was the reasoning, and down the line, in many, many years it might be something that we would consider, but right now, that was the decision.

Q: What kind of students are you specifically looking for?

A: We’re looking for students who aren’t just fantastic musicians but are also curious human beings. People who aren’t just going to perform on the mountain top and expect people to come to them. We want students who have a great interest in going to people and really introducing themselves and their craft. We expected them to really engage with the population and citizens of Tianjin and of China in a very different and special way.

Q: How do you select “curious musicians?”

A: One question we ask often is, “What book are you reading right now?” It tells you a lot.

The tendency of most young musicians is the development of technique and wearing blinders to develop that technique. Understood, you have to spend a lot of hours to get your fingers moving, whether you’re a bassoonist or a violinist. But as I always say, technique is not the goal of studying music. It is artistry and communication. You have to take that bridge.

That’s when each student has to have their own revelation. There’s a term that’s used quite frequently in the United States, it means an “aha” moment. When you say, “Ah! Aha!” That’s what’s going on when you have that revelation, and then the sky opens. You take the blinders off and you really become a thinking musician. A non-thinking musician plays the notes, watches what’s on the score and plays the rhythm right, but that’s not music. That’s not of interest to us.

Q: How do you view Chinese students generally?

A: About a third of the Juilliard School students are international, and the largest number of them come from China. They tend to be very disciplined, hard-working and well-prepared for a Julliard education.

But we don’t look at a Juilliard student, whether in Tianjin or in New York, as coming from China or any other country. We look at that young artist as somebody whom we want to help grow. Every single student brings their own idiosyncrasies and personal experiences to the study of their instrument. I must say, as president for 30, 40 years, that I never felt that there was a specific national personality that came with each student. You could say there are differences between Japanese, South Korean, Chinese, Thai, Australian, British students. There are, to a slight degree, but when it comes to performance, we just treat everybody the same.


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