NEA Arts Magazine

Setting Themselves Apart

New World Symphony Mentors a New Generation of Leaders


Large projection of John Adams behind the student orchestra performing on stage

During a New World Symphony performance, composer John Adams makes an appearance via Internet2 to discuss the piece. Photo Courtesy of New World Symphony

Twenty-six-year-old Katherine Bormann has been playing violin since age four, but she never dreamed she would one day take lessons with composer John Adams, conductor Emmanuelle Haim, and violinist Christian Tetzlaff. At Miami Beach's New World Symphony (NWS), the country's premier full-time orchestral academy, these once-in-a-lifetime experiences happen all the time. Under Musical Director Michael Tilson Tomas, NWS develops the skills of young musicians to prepare them for positions with the country's top orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony and the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra. Dean of Musicians Michael Linville characterizes the NEA's support for the program as crucial. "In terms of the support we've received since the beginning of the institute, it validates what we do educationally and artistically."

The approximately 1,000 post-baccalaureate musicians hoping to get one of 30 coveted three-year NWS fellowships undergo a rigorous application process, including both a video and live audition. Once selected, fellows receive housing, access to world-class facilities, and the occasional travel grant. In addition to daily rehearsals and weekly performances, New World Symphony also facilitates private lessons, master classes, and dress rehearsals via Internet2, an innovative Web-based program. Internet2 allows students an unprecedented opportunity to study and work with internationally known artists, such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, soprano Renée Fleming, and flautist Paula Robison, via real-time video conferencing. As Borman recalled, "We played the U.S. premiere of a piece by Augusta Read Tomas, The Soul is Light. The piece was so new, and we had questions about pitches and articulations. For somebody like her, being very busy, we wouldn't have been able to meet with her without Internet2."

NWS coaches students in more than just musicianship. The program also helps the fellows to develop their skills as leaders by having almost all of the musicians sit principal chair throughout the fellowship season, taking responsibility for leading their peers through concerts and rehearsals. The NWS fellowship program also includes a mentor program with local junior high schools. Fellows tutor the junior high schoolers one-on-one, helping the youngsters grow as musicians and individuals, while the musician-instructors benefit from the invaluable teaching experience.

Linville explained that "musicians today need to have a wider range of skills than they did 20 or 30 years ago." This new skill set includes entertaining donors, interacting with the media, and presenting themselves on camera as well as live. Added Linville, "[Musicians] have to be ambassadors for the arts, and ensure that the art form can continue. The skills learned at New World Symphony help to make these young performers extremely marketable, which, combined with superior musicianship, sets them apart at auditions and in the public eye."