Some real innovation for a change

Kudos to the Los Angeles Philharmonic for doing something both important and innovative:

The Los Angeles Philharmonic has seized the initiative in guiding a national teaching program based on El Sistema, the Venezuelan-based movement that weds music teaching and social work. The orchestra announced on Tuesday that it would open an office, host yearly conferences and support a training program to sustain the effort.

Bard College, in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., and the Longy School of Music, in Cambridge, Mass., are joining the orchestra in a partnership to support the movement and will grant master’s degrees in teaching the Sistema method. Bard and Longy are in the process of merging.

The partnership will hire two staff members and serve as a national reference point for Sistema-style “nucleos,” as the individual teaching centers are called, said Deborah Borda, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s president and chief executive officer…

The Philharmonic-Bard program, inspired by El Sistema, will be called Take a Stand. Its first major act will be a conference in Los Angeles from Jan. 30 to Feb. 1, involving participants from around the country. Then, starting in June, a first round of about 15 students will embark on a one-year master’s program, spending much of their time working at the Philharmonic’s Sistema-like project, the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, and at a charter school in Delano, Calif., associated with Bard, said Karen Zorn, Longy’s president. Longy and Bard are developing the curriculum…

The new program fills a void created this year when the New England Conservatory in Boston divorced itself from a nascent effort to organize the loosely related programs around the country called El Sistema U.S.A. That effort grew out of a New England Conservatory program to train 10 fellows a year in El Sistema’s methods. That program is in its third of five years.

The two programs, Ms. Borda said, are not in conflict. The New England Conservatory’s fellows are learning how to administer nucleos, she said, while Take a Stand students will study how to teach in them.

“I think they’re complementary,” she added. “This is different from El Sistema U.S.A., in that it’s three organizations that have very specific resources and will undertake very specific work.”

Ms. Borda said that the program would cost in excess of $1 million a year and that financing for it was being built into the Philharmonic’s regular budget.

It’s the last paragraph that proves that this is a serious effort. In this business, a commitment to spend $1 million annually on a new program is uncommon, to say the least. Obviously it doesn’t hurt that the LA Phil is in an unusually healthy financial state for orchestras these days. But this is a risk that few orchestras would take even if they could. Let’s hope it pays off in the many ways that it could for everyone involved.

About the author

Robert Levine
Robert Levine

Robert Levine has been the Principal Violist of the Milwaukee Symphony since September 1987. Before coming to Milwaukee Mr. Levine had been a member of the Orford String Quartet, Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Toronto, with whom he toured extensively throughout Canada, the United States, and South America. Prior to joining the Orford Quartet, Mr. Levine had served as Principal Violist of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for six years. He has also performed with the San Francisco Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, and the Oklahoma City Symphony, as well as serving as guest principal with the orchestras of Indianapolis and Hong Kong.

He has performed as soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Oklahoma City Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, the Midsummer Mozart Festival (San Francisco), and numerous community orchestras in Northern California and Minnesota. He has also been featured on American Public Radio's nationally broadcast show "St. Paul Sunday Morning" on several occasions.

Mr. Levine has been an active chamber musician, having performed at the Festival Rolandseck in Germany, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Palm Beach Festival, the "Strings in the Mountains" Festival in Colorado, and numerous concerts in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee. He has also been active in the field of new music, having commissioned and premiered works for viola and orchestra from Minnesota composers Janika Vandervelde and Libby Larsen.

Mr. Levine was chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians from 1996 to 2002 and currently serves as President of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, Local 8 of the American Federation of Musicians, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras. He has written extensively about issues concerning orchestra musicians for publications of ICSOM, the AFM, the Symphony Orchestra Institute, and the League of American Orchestras.

Mr. Levine attended Stanford University and the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Switzerland. His primary teachers were Aaron Sten and Pamela Goldsmith. He also studied with Paul Doctor, Walter Trampler, Bruno Giuranna, and David Abel.

He lives with his wife Emily and his son Sam in Glendale.

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