Last week EMI Classics and The Julliard School announced an innovative approach to the distribution of classical music performances. They announced a new series of digital EP albums featuring the next generation of classical music talent entitled The Julliard Sessions. The inaugural recordings in this series were all recorded at Julliard on August 17 and 18 last year. Two of them feature recent alumni, tenor Paul Appleby (accompanied by Brian Zeger) and violinist Sean Lee (accompanied by Sean Chen). The third features the talents of Conrad Tao as both pianist and composer. Tao is a Pre-College alumnus currently at Columbia University studying in the combined bachelor-masters degree program with Julliard.
What makes this a unique distribution project is that all recordings are currently available exclusively through iTunes. The objective is to provide a way to help these promising students gain exposure and experience by leveraging the advantages of digital technology. All participants will receive hands-on experiences in both recording practices and the techniques for online release.
If these first releases are indicative of things to come, then the students will also develop skills in programming the selections they choose to promote. Thus, Tao’s recording concludes with a set of three songs (without words), which he composed in 2010. These are preceded first by two selections from Claude Debussy’s first book of preludes, followed by Igor Stravinsky’s solo piano arrangement of three movements from his “Petrushka” ballet. This provides the listener with the opportunity to listen to Tao’s recent work in the context of Debussy and Stravinsky, an approach that beneficially orients the ear, even if it does not necessarily reveal direct influence.
The major work on Appleby’s recording, on the other hand, is a significant selection from the twentieth-century tenor repertoire, Benjamin Britten’s Opus 22 settings of seven sonnets by Michelangelo. This cycle is preceded by three songs by Franz Schubert, “Alinde” (D. 904), “Nachtstück” (D. 672), and “Die Taubenpost,” the final song in the D. 957 Schwanengesang set. Because Schubert himself had a tenor voice, these songs provide a knowing introduction to tenor capabilities and thus to Appleby’s command of those capabilities, after which we are ready to take in Britten’s own take on those capabilities.
Lee’s recording is the only one limited to a single composition. He undertook the ambitious three-movement violin sonata by Richard Strauss, Opus 18 in E-flat major. This release is welcome simply as an opportunity to hear a composition that does not receive very much exposure these days. (In contrast, Jascha Heifetz recorded it three times for RCA in 1934, 1954, and 1972. He certainly believed that this sonata deserved exposure!) This new release is also enjoyable for Lee’s ability to balance the technical demands against a clear appreciation of Strauss’ rhetorical strategies.
The Julliard Sessions is part of a larger-scale initiative by EMI Classics called the Digital Debut Series. Currently this features one other institution, The Royal College of Music in London. The long-term goal is to provide an all-embracing digital platform that will provide exposure to talent from conservatories around the world. How the project will fare in the long run remains to be seen; but it has certainly begun as a promising effort to prepare next-generation talent for the world the Internet has made.