Sixteen Hotchkiss student musicians made School history when they performed on Jan. 29 at Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall to a nearly full house. The event marked the first time that the music students represented the Hotchkiss community on one of the world's most storied stages. It also signals the beginning of a new chapter in the music department's future.
Fabio Witkowski, head of the visual and performing arts department, said that the Carnegie performance will become an annual tradition for the music department, adding that the opportunity will be extended to students enrolled in the School's Summer Portals piano program.
But on that blustery winter evening in New York City, under the glittering chandeliers and ornate ceiling in the Weill Hall, the spotlight was focused on the 16 young musicians making Hotchkiss history.
As they entered the stage side entrance of Carnegie Hall on the day of the performance, their nervous energy was palpable. "Just think how many times Leonard Bernstein walked in through this very door," said clarinetist Matthew Yao '19.
"Look, there's Mahler," piped up another student as he pointed to a poster of the19th-century Austrian composer and conductor Gustav Mahler, one of many musical greats depicted on the the posters lining the backstage walls.
As students waited their turn to perform, upper mid James Herring III paced the floor of the green room. The evening before the concert, he had practiced meditation to clear his head and resisted the urge to rehearse his piece. To protect her vocal chords, Jailyn Mallard '19 held back screams of excitement while watching the Grammy Awards on TV the night before. "I drank a lot of tea, instead," she said.
For the concert, students performed solos on piano, violin, flute, and cello, tackling challenging pieces by Chopin, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and others. Hannah Liu '19 and Mallard sang Brahms selections in flawless German.
Aside from concentrating on their individual efforts, students focused on working together as a team and supporting each other through rehearsals and the performance, said Gisele Nacif Witkowski, piano instructor. She tried to instill a sense of calm and confidence in her charges. "You'll be fine, don't worry. And remember to smile," she told students.
"They're nervous, of course, but as musicians, we practice for this kind of pressure," she said. "I think every student here has made a special effort for this. Carnegie has such a phenomenal history of great performers, and the students take great pride in being on one of the most prestigious and professional stages."
"Above all," her husband, Fabio Witkowski added, "They are the ambassadors of the School."
Before the start of the concert, Head of School Craig Bradley took the stage to comment on the historic moment and emphasize that "it takes a village to take students to Carnegie Hall."
"We're humbled," he said, "to be here on one of the world's finest stages for what is the first of many future performances by Hotchkiss students."
In addition, in an All-School assembly earlier this month, Head of School Craig Bradley announced a major three-part gift from Barbara Walsh Hostetter '77 and her husband, Amos, to enhance the music and arts program at Hotchkiss. The gifts will enable the School to offer scholarships to talented students in music and visual arts, to bring more professional musicians to campus to work with students in the classroom and in the new Hotchkiss Philharmonic Orchestra, and to establish the Joanne Eastman Sohrweide Chair for the Director of Music Programs at Hotchkiss to recruit and retain top leadership. During the assembly, Witkowski was named the inaugural Chair. Read more in an upcoming story.