Tag Archives: Curtis Institute of Music

Mimi’s speech at Curtis commencement

Dear friends,

I was very honored to have been invited to speak at commencement at the Curtis Institute of Music on May 12, 2018. Curtis has been my musical home since I first arrived as a student when I was 12 years old, so it was particularly meaningful for me to give the welcome to the new alumni. At Curtis, we share transformative experiences and rich traditions, and come away with a sense of belonging to a community.

I was in august company at graduation, with Joseph Polisi as keynote speaker and George Walker as honoree, in addition to Curtis President Roberto Diaz and Deans Bryan and Grady.

I’m pleased to share my speech below.



Congratulations to you all on your graduation from Curtis. I am honored to have been asked to address you as you join the ranks of Curtis alumni, and it is my privilege to welcome you to the Curtis alumni family.

When I was thinking about what I’d like to say to you today, I decided to share with you something that happened as I was preparing to perform as soloist with an orchestra in North Carolina last weekend. As I reviewed the score for one of the pieces I was going to perform, Charles Tomlinson Griffes’s Poem for Flute and Orchestra, I saw the handwriting of my teacher at Curtis, the legendary flutist Julius Baker. I learned the piece my first year at Curtis when I was 12 (so I’ve had the score a very long time!). Mr. Baker had corrected an accidental in my part, changing a B natural to Bb. In the performance history of this piece that note is actually somewhat controversial, but those of us who are Baker students play Bb there because Baker’s teacher at Curtis, William Kincaid, told him it’s a Bb which he had learned from his teacher Georges Barrère, for whom the piece was written. As I practiced the passage with the Bb, I felt an enormous sense of the significance of this note and what it represents for me – a strong feeling of tradition. The lineage that we feel as Curtis-trained musicians, knowing that we are continuing and adding our voice to rich traditions of interpreting music. I felt a profound sense of loss about my beloved teacher while feeling connected to him through this fond memory.

This one note made me reflect on what tradition means as a Curtis alumna. The tradition we are part of is alive, and is constantly evolving. To graduate from Curtis is a major achievement and a milestone, and you are going on to do great things. This step is an ending and it is also a beginning – a deceptive cadence? – no, more like a phrase that dovetails into the next. With the impeccable training and transformative experiences you’ve had at Curtis, you are poised to forge your own path in music, to hone your craft and pursue your individual artistic vision.

As you well know, being a musician involves intense attention to detail – getting us back to that one note – while never losing sight of the big picture and music’s unique power as a universal form of communication. Thinking about the way I sometimes obsess over the tiniest details of the music I’m playing – I suspect you can relate – I thought of the 17th– and 18th-century Dutch scientist Antoni van Leeuwenhoek. He was one of the earliest developers of the microscope and the first to observe bacteria and other microscopic organisms. It’s hard to imagine the world around us without his discoveries. He wrote of the time he spent in scientific experiment, saying that “on these observations I have spent more time than many will believe, but I have done them with joy.”

Just as Leeuwenhoek is known for illuminating the world contained in a drop of water, you as musicians get to seek the meaning in every note, striving for understanding of the organic whole. As you take this momentous next step in your lives, I encourage you to work tirelessly, to bring your talent, your intellect, your creativity to bear on every note – from the smallest detail to your grandest dream. And to do it with great joy – go forth and make the world a more beautiful and illuminating place! Thank you. – Mimi Stillman


“Syrinx” with Debussy’s “String Quartet”

This afternoon I attended a performance by the Aizuri Quartet at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia as part of the Curtis Institute of Music’s collaboration with the Barnes. The event was offered in tandem with a wonderful exhibition of the art of William Glackens, the American painter and friend of Albert Barnes who selected artworks in Europe for the collection. The quartet premiered a new work, Parallels, by my friend the composer Alyssa Weinberg, which was her reflection on the work of Glackens. In this evocative piece, the four strings were layered upon each other like brushstrokes of differing intensity, with striking lyrical passages emerging from abstract textures. Then the Aizuri gave a beautiful performance of Debussy’s String Quartet in G Minor, movements II and IV. Written in 1893, the modernity of this music is still striking today, and made a great pairing with Alyssa’s new piece as well as a fitting companion to the art of Glackens. Debussy’s quartet fills me with joy, but I so wanted to get into the act that I had to add my Syrinx, which you hear now with the Debussy quartet at the same time (Emerson Quartet recording).


Bonus “Syrinx” #6 – Le clavecin

At rehearsal wth my Dolce Suono Ensemble in a room at the Curtis Institute of Music, I realized my outfit matched the harpsichord. We played Dowland, Rameau, and Handel with harpsichord at our latest program. I was inspired for this Syrinx by Debussy’s admiration for the French Baroque, and especially the way in which he drew upon such composers as Rameau and Couperin in his late, neoclassical period.


Syrinx Journey Day 362: “Syrinx” with strings

This is a double version of Syrinx, featuring one performance with violin improvisations by Nigel Armstrong, and double bass improvisations by Matthew Weber. They are two of the wonderful musicians I am having fun playing with at Lake George Music Festival in New York. Nigel is a fellow Curtis alumnus who also plays jazz, and Matt is a New York-based and plays in several orchestras. These are my first forays into Syrinx with the timbre of string instruments, and I think the contrast of the high and low strings provides an interesting range of sonorities.


Syrinx Journey Day 353: “Syrinx” at Dolce Suono Ensemble Presents “Debussy as Painter of Song”

I gave this performance of Syrinx at my Dolce Suono Ensemble’s closing concert of the 2012-2013 season on May 19, 2013 (but did not have it ready for posting on the actual day). The concert was entitled “Debussy as Painter of Song,” in which I performed with stellar musicians Sarah Shafer, soprano and Natalie Zhu, piano. Our program featured Debussy’s song cycle Ariettes oubliées, songs I arranged for flute and piano, Arabesques for piano, and Syrinx, and the seven winning works from Dolce Suono Ensemble’s first Young Composers Competition. It was a festive afternoon of wonderful and varied music at the lovely Field Concert Hall at Curtis Institute of Music, where all three of us performers studied.


Syrinx Journey Day 335: “Syrinx” at Photo Session with Artist Mary Thumma

Today’s Syrinx took place while artist Mary Thumma took photos of my hands on the flute, for a drawing she will be doing. Her daughter Lillia was a harp student at the Curtis Institute of Music Summerfest’s Young Artist Summer Program, at which I taught  for the past three weeks. Mary is developing a project to benefit her daughter’s orchestra at the Virginia Governor’s School of the Arts designed to help students afford a tour to Japan. She plans to make drawings of musicians’ hands, and I was honored when she asked me to be her first subject. It is lovely Mary is putting her talent at the service of a worthy cause, and I am happy to be part of it.

Syrinx Journey Day 332: “Syrinx” with Angela

My student Angela Choi and I happened upon each other as we each were playing Syrinx and strolling around a practice room at Curtis Institute of Music’s Lenfest Hall. Angela is enrolled in the Young Artist Summer Program at Curtis Summerfest, at which I am teaching. I am enjoying working with Angela and the many other talented young musicians at the program, coaching chamber music, leading wind sectionals and studio classes, and teaching private lessons.

Syrinx Journey Day 319: “Syrinx” with l’orchestre imaginaire and conductor Troy Peters

Troy Peters, composer and conductor, lead the orchestra at Curtis Summerfest’s Young Artist Summer Program for its first week, culminating in a terrific concert this evening. He graduated Curtis in composition shortly before I arrived, and currently conducts the Youth Orchestras of San Antonio. I enjoyed catching up with him, as well as collaborating on today’s Syrinx.

I was dazzled by the timbres produced by l’orchestre imaginaire!


Syrinx Journey Day 318: Pre-concert “Syrinx” at Curtis Summerfest Young Artist Summer Program

In a quiet moment between our sound check and the opening of the house, I played Syrinx, before the faculty concert at Curtis Summerfest’s Young Artist Summer Program (YASP). It was a delight making music with my colleagues – Mozart’s flute quartet in D Major with Hannah Ji, violin, Ren Martin-Doike, viola, and Arlen Hlusko, cello, and Astor Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango with Louis Xavier Barrette, guitar, and hearing other artists perform works by Schumann, Dvorak, and Ravel. Gould Rehearsal Hall was filled with the young musicians in the program, along with many friends who are some of Dolce Suono Ensemble’s most loyal concertgoers.


With all the artists who performed