David Serkin Ludwig

Composer and Dean and Director of the Music Division at The Juilliard School
headshot of a man with glasses.

Photo courtesy of David Ludwig.

Music Credit: “NY” written and performed by Kosta, from the album Soul Sand. Used courtesy of the Free Music Archive.

Jo Reed: From the National Endowment for the Arts, this is Art Works, I’m Josephine Reed.

Today, we’re speaking with award-winning composer and educator David Serkin Ludwig about his work in both fields especially his recent post as Dean and Director of The Juilliard School’s music division. David comes to music “honestly” as he says… his grandfather was pianist Rudolph Serkin, his uncle pianist Peter Serkin, and his great-grandfather pianist Adolf Busch. And David himself has had a rich and successful composing life. He has written orchestral, choral, solo and chamber works—in fact, in 2022, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center awarded him the Stoeger Prize which is given every two years in recognition of significant contributions to the field of chamber music composition. Named by NPR as one of the world’s top composers under 40, David’s work has been performed by acclaimed orchestras internationally.

As an educator, David Serkin Ludwig worked at the Curtis Institute for nearly two decades, where he helped to shape the artistic direction of the school, and its engagement with local and global communities while cultivating a vibrant culture of new music. He is known as a committed advocate for diversity and inclusion in new music and programming, and has actively worked with organizations that create opportunities and encourage a more diverse and equitable music community.

David was appointed Dean and Director of The Juilliard School’s music division in 2021—Juilliard’s music division has about 700 students from 45 countries, a distinguished faculty of some of the country’s finest musicians as well as many performance opportunities for its students. In fact, the school’s new performance season is just underway. But David Serkin Ludwig also came to his position in a remarkably fraught time because of the pandemic and because of the racial reckoning the country was undergoing. And I wondered what he thought his charge was when he took up his post.

David Serkin Ludwig: Well, it's a really good question, and it was a fraught time before and continues to be a fraught time now. You know, something that Juilliard talks about quite a lot is the idea of EDIB, or equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging. For me, the B of belonging is very, very important, and really a kind of goal of the E, the D, and the I, to have a community where everyone feels like they belong. So during COVID, you know, we've all been pulled apart, figuratively and literally, and so part of my charge has been to bring people together to have dialogue, to have conversations, to be vulnerable and feel safe together as artists.

Jo Reed: It's been so difficult for performing artists of all stripes, and musicians of course. I've spoken to violinists in small chamber groups, and you would expect that to be the least stressful because of the size. But, no, they're having to come up with -- the difficulty of reading somebody's face when everybody's wearing a mask, for example, as they're playing together.

David Serkin Ludwig: Right, right. It's true. Well, you know, I had an oratorio performed just a few months ago in Tacoma, Washington, about the saving of this kind of primeval forest, and the choir had to sing with masks on, and little hard to hear the words <laughs> when everyone's singing with masks on. But you know, the playwright Edward Albee said, "We do what we can." And that's kind of how I felt during this period. My wife is a wonderful violinist, a soloist named Bella Hristova, plays all over the world. But during COVID even for very accomplished, successful musicians like Bella, that was it. Everything kind of dried up. So she's been very fortunate that her career has kind of come back together, but I have friends and colleagues, again, very accomplished people who've really been struggling, and it's hard, and like I said, we do what we can, and we're all trying, I think, to help each other come back in some way.

Jo Reed: You were at Curtis before you came to Juilliard, where you had very prominent positions in the music department, and I was wondering both at Curtis and at Juilliard, did online classes even work for musicians? I would imagine that would be really difficult.

David Serkin Ludwig: Yeah, it's challenging. I was at Curtis for about 20 years. I went there, then I came to Juilliard as a student, then got my doctorate at UPenn while I was at Curtis teaching, and I was the head of the composition department, but I also ran the new music ensemble, and really started a lot of initiatives with the help of some great colleagues and students. COVID gave us an opportunity, of course, to try some new things. Teaching lessons over Zoom is very challenging, especially an instrument like the contrabass, the violin, piano, an instrument that makes a lot of sound, or a lot of very low or very high sounds. So I worked very hard with some colleagues on faculty to basically get the best result that we could so that they could at least get halfway there in their teaching. I will say, though, that teaching composition online, that's something I've been doing, I don't know, for a couple of decades, and composition can work pretty well online because you can share media so well. I would markup students' scores right there in front of them, and so, of course, nothing beats being in person, especially when it comes to making art, but we had to keep trying. So that school, Curtis, which is my alma mater and very dear and close to me, had to close down for a year and a half almost. Juilliard has managed amazingly to keep an in-person performance calendar, and we had performances all last year, and we just managed, and had a great team of people to just try to get through the pandemic. We're all very, very hopeful about this upcoming year.

Jo Reed: And as you mentioned, Juilliard has an emphasis on diversity, on inclusion, on belonging, and let's face it, classical music really isn't known for this. But you yourself, you're not new to this work, you've done a great deal of work like with the Primavera Fund, with Sacred Women's Music Project. So, you've been committed to this work for quite some time.

David Serkin Ludwig: I have. It's always been a really important part of my work. I think that artists not only can speak out but should speak out about things that are important for them, and should be able to advocate for people who don't look like them or who come from a different background, beliefs, whatever it is, we all really need to be able to advocate for each other. Classical music is in a very transitional space right now. First of all, we call it classical music. I mean already that's very alienating, and the classical era, that means Mozart and Haydn, and of course we're not just talking about those two people, but also it's a tradition that comes from Europe, and that really grew there, and when we talk about these composers we love, Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, they are from a certain group of people, and we live in a country that is incredibly diverse. And so there is an almost necessary conflict that happens when you take an art form that emerged in a very homogenous European society, and we bring that over to the United States. And I think what we're all discovering, I hope we're all discovering, is that that investment in racial diversity, the investment in gender equity, that some of us are making, and that we're increasingly seeing in programming, is something that pays off over and over again, unquestionably. So, yeah, these organizations you mentioned, there's some others, the Adolf Busch Award, I'm on their board, it's named after my great-grandfather who was a very strong anti-fascist musician that award is named after him, and it's for organizations that believe that a progressive social change can come through the arts. So, yes, I'm involved in a lot of these, and it's just -- it's what I believe in, and I hope other people sign on to that as well.

Jo Reed: And it's just ongoing work.

David Serkin Ludwig: The work is never finished, it's never finished.

Jo Reed: You've just announced the new season at Juilliard, or a reminder that Juilliard offers not just an extraordinary education, but also just fabulous performance opportunities. And before we go through that, I'd like to talk just a little bit more about your job because the music division at Juilliard, I swear David, I read this five times thinking oh my, how do you do this? It's orchestra, vocal art, historical performance, jazz, chamber music, contemporary music, conducting, piano, and composition.

David Serkin Ludwig: Yep.

Jo Reed: How do you keep up with all of these, and what's your role in guiding them?

David Serkin Ludwig: Well, what a privilege it is to be in this position as dean and director of music at Juilliard, and it felt very natural for me to come from Curtis, but Curtis is a very small school with a much more narrow purview, and it does that so well, but there's about 150 students there. Here at Juilliard just in the music division alone there's 650. There's a preparatory division, an extension division for continuing education. Then of course dance and drama divisions as well. For me, what I heard from a lot of people when I took the job was how are you going to keep composing, because I have a very active career as a composer, I’m traveling all the time, I'm writing music all the time, and commissioned for years to come. But part of what makes Juilliard really very special is that it's a community, and it's an incredibly supportive community. So I work with a team of staff that helps me oversee from an artistic point of view, artistic leadership, the entire program. And then in all those programs you mentioned, we have Dr. Aaron Flagg, and someone named Winton Marsalis overseeing the jazz program. I mean, the people that we have in place to work together in this community are all some of the greatest artists and professionals that I've met in my life, and so I feel like this program's in very, very good hands, and it makes it very manageable for me as well. There's less administrative and more room to dream, perhaps, and share vision. So I think this school's in excellent stead.

Jo Reed: Are you still in the classroom? Do you still have students yourself?

David Serkin Ludwig: I have private composition students. I wanted the first year here to be one where I'm just deaning and learning the ropes because I knew that that would be, well, as Aaron Flagg said to me early on, it'll be like sipping from a firehouse. So that was very apt, but, that said, I do have my own private studio of composition students, and I will be teaching a class next year on performing contemporary music. Teaching is just part of who I am and what I do, and it'll never leave me, and my involvement with composition here and in the world will continue.

Jo Reed: Well, that was actually my question too because you are such an acclaimed composer, and I'm wondering what led you to teaching, and whether teaching and composing revitalize one another, or are they very separate spheres for you.

David Serkin Ludwig: Hmm. It's such a good question. I find teaching very energizing, and I feel like it's a way of staying connected to young people, and I have students I've known now for decades, and just seeing them kind of come up and have their own accomplishments and teach themselves, it's very rewarding, that's the word for it. I can't think of a better word, it's incredibly rewarding. So my teaching without question feeds into my composition, and vice-versa. What I'm working on, what I'm discovering, people I'm collaborating with, all of that can certainly influence my role as a teacher, and I would say that the majority of successful composers I know teach. Not all of them, but there's something very, very vital about passing on the information that you've gotten to kind of help a younger person not make the same mistakes <laughs>, and get further as young artists.

Jo Reed: Yeah. You mentioned your great-grandfather, Adolf Busch, and he is not the only musician in your family.

David Serkin Ludwig: That's true, that's true.

Jo Reed: Tell me a little bit about your background.

David Serkin Ludwig: Sure. I'm, I think, seventh generation musician in my family, and it goes far back. I am mostly of Jewish descent, my father was Jewish, and actually he had a lot of musicians in his family. The other side, my mother's side is the Serkin side. So my mother's father was a pianist named Rudolph Serkin. My mother's younger brother who is my uncle, very dear to me uncle, Peter Serkin, he passed away just a few years ago. So Rudolph, my grandfather, married the daughter of Adolf Busch, Adolf Busch was his mentor. So it's kind of like, I don't know, marrying your teacher's daughter and becoming part of the family, that's kind of exactly what happened. And so that kind of extends the generations back even further. I guess the short of it is I come by it honestly. Music was always around me, I grew up with it, I grew up going to my grandfather's concerts and not thinking that it was strange that there's my grandfather playing in the middle of Carnegie Hall, with a line of people afterwards all wanting to speak to him and touch him and connect with him. It just was kind of what I grew up with, and I didn't think any of that was weird. Now that I'm older, it's something I really cherish, that heritage.

Jo Reed: Were you encouraged to pursue music?

David Serkin Ludwig: You know, I kind of was and kind of wasn't, and it's a really interesting question. I think in some families with musicians, that encouragement or discouragement, it's a sticky wicket. It's the idea that if you're a successful musician it's something that you're doing all the time, 24/7, it's always on your mind, it's not like you finish at five and you can go home and let go of it. It's something you are constantly involved with and interacting with, that's hard for people. I don't even know that Peter had all the encouragement. I was very good at art history in high school, and very much encouraged to be an art history major. I went to Oberlin for my undergrad. So I started at Oberlin as an art history major which a lot of people don't know, I don't know why art history is considered a more viable career than being a composer, but that was the encouragement, and I pretty quickly transferred to the conservatory, and just became a composition major. You know, on the other hand it makes it very clear to me and others that this is the thing that I should be doing because I have friends who were playing violin since the age of negative one, and they never really did anything else, and then maybe get into adulthood and say, "Well, what did I miss? What should I have done?" For me, I have all confidence that this is the path that I was meant to choose.

Jo Reed: What instruments did you play when you were young?

David Serkin Ludwig: I play a lot of instruments badly. So I played guitar for many years, classical guitar, I can kind of plunk around a piano, I played a number of wind instruments so I could play in funk bands in college, played in a lot of bands actually. I thought it would help me get a date, it didn't, but it's part of being a composer, I always compare to being a playwright, right? You're creating this script, and you need actors to play it, and they're interpreting, and so if you have a sense of what that character, how they might sound, you're a lot more ahead of the game. So if I can write a piece for bassoon, and I know what bassoon music looks like, you learn how a bassoon speaks, what's in its culture, what's in its language, then that helps me a lot. And so growing up playing many different instruments, albeit badly, has been actually very, very helpful to me as a composer, especially in writing for orchestra and larger ensembles.

Jo Reed: Was music composition always where you were going?

David Serkin Ludwig: Well, I had a lot of different interests, but I started composing when I was 8 years old, and it was always the thing that most drew my attention.

Jo Reed: And do you remember the first time you heard a piece of yours played in public?

David Serkin Ludwig: I do. It was a solo guitar piece that I wrote, and it used Arnold Schoenberg's 12 tone method which on guitar it's kind of curious. I was 16 years old maybe. It was life changing, and still though whenever I hear a piece played and go to that first rehearsal there's always a mix of excitement and fear and energy, and a little self-loathing, and all the different emotions that you kind of have to keep in check to be objective and to really listen to what it is you wrote. I feel like if I ever go into that first rehearsal and I don't feel a lot of emotions about it that it's probably time to hang up the pencil.

Jo Reed: Well, I would imagine the music has to change when you first hear it played out loud by an ensemble, from the little notes on a page, and of course you're hearing it in your head, but suddenly the room's exploding with it.

David Serkin Ludwig: Yeah, you're absolutely right. And that's part of the emotional response that there's this necessary and sometimes difficult transition from the two-dimensional space of your inner ear, and when as a composer when I look at a score and hear it in my head, it's the same voice that reads to you when you read a book, right? So but instead of words being read, I'm hearing music. I guess to continue the playwright analogy, you know, maybe you hear an actor say a line in an unexpected way, maybe they change a word or two and you like it better. So that happens all the time in rehearsals where the clarinetist, violinist, come forward and say, "You know, actually this works a lot better," or they make a mistake, but actually there's a little serendipity there. So that's part of the great fun of being a composer is that very vital interaction with performers, and I've been so lucky to work with such incredible performers.

Jo Reed: How do you begin a piece? What inspires you? Is it a sound, a mood, an idea?

David Serkin Ludwig: Yeah, it's a great question, how do you start a piece? And it's a question a lot of people have, including student composers who are trying to figure out their own answer to that question. I think for me, I'm always thinking about storytelling in my music. Every piece I write has some motivation or idea behind it, sometimes it's political, sometimes it's responding to events, other times it's about other art or, you know, sometimes, I'm a big science fiction guy, I have a number of pieces about outer space, I have music with Hebrew Jewish themes as well, exploring my own identity. So for me it's a journey of storytelling. There are many composers who just kind of write music, you know, string quartet in D major, number one, number two, number three, and that's what it's about. It's just about the music. I'm envious of that, honestly, in a lot of ways of people who have that kind of output. But for me, every piece is a new project, a new sculpture, with its own identity, and the language of the piece will adapt to whatever the demands are of the topic or theme.

Jo Reed: A lot of your work is commissioned. Is that daunting knowing you're going to have to write something by this date --

David Serkin Ludwig: Deliver it, yeah.

Jo Reed: -- and present it, and deliver it.

David Serkin Ludwig: Put the dead in deadlines, right?

Jo Reed: Yeah, exactly.

David Serkin Ludwig: Well, in a way there's nothing more inspiring than a deadline honestly, and I think almost all of my work is on commission. Every now and then….. there's an organization that asked a number of composers years ago to write little pieces for its 25th anniversary, I did one of those. One of my colleagues, Jennifer Coe, asked some more kind of established composers to donate pieces and then help to get commissions for younger composers. So she just won a Grammy for that album, I was very honored to be a part of it. Aside from those kinds of things though, everything's on commission, and one is inspired by, you know, September 1st, you got to finish the piece, and you work toward that. I think it's actually very natural, it's a good thing, deadlines, it's a good thing having limitations because if you didn't, in some ways the piece would be perfect if it's never written, in other ways it'll never be written. So if someone just said, "Write a piece, you can give it to me any time in the next 40 years," I probably would never write it. So it's part of the profession, it's part of being a composer, we are commissioned in the same way a portrait artist might be commissioned. We're commissioned to produce a piece, we're usually given a rough duration, and the ensemble we're writing for, and then that's usually it, you know, so this is a commission from this chamber music society to write a 20-minute piece for this string quartet to be premiered on this day, and that's it. Most organizations don't get involved in what you're going to write, or the tenor or tone of it. Of course, if you're writing a piece to commemorate the opening of a new hall, you're not going to write like a funereal march or something, you know? So but for me it's very, very helpful to be given at least those guidelines to help with the idea of inspiration and discovery.

Jo Reed: Although your choral work, “The New Colossus,” which was performed at the 2013 presidential inauguration, that wasn't commissioned for that, you had written that previously, and it was chosen for that occasion.

David Serkin Ludwig: That's true, and the thing about commissions, you know, for many composers a first performance is not nearly as hard to get as a second performance. You can get a commission, but then getting the piece to have legs and to live on its own and to get performed many other times is a challenge for people. I'm very fortunate with that piece. That piece “The New Colossus,” for those who don't know, that's the poem that's on the Statue of Liberty, and it's a poem that President Obama quoted many times, especially the most famous part, of course, ”give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, your wretched refuse,” basically saying we would like to welcome everyone into this country, the wretched refuse that people who are tempest tossed coming through storms, everyone is welcome here, and that's what the Statue of Liberty, and that ultimately is what our country should be about, about welcoming. And so I wrote it in 2002 as a 9/11 memorial actually, as a way of kind of embodying the things that were important to me as someone from this country, without getting into some of the kind of jingoism we were seeing at the time. Years passed, it was performed many times by many different groups, and it got the attention of the conductor of St. John Lafayette, who he's passed away since, Benjamin Huto and the person who commissioned it, Judith Clurman, who's been a great advocate for my music, she kind of whispered in his ear, and it got programmed, and next thing I knew my piece was being performed for a presidential inauguration as the very first piece that the Obamas and the Bidens heard that morning.

Jo Reed: That had to have been such an honor. I can only imagine.

David Serkin Ludwig: Oh, I about fell over, Jo, and I just kind of, yeah, I thought okay, when I heard that I thought, “okay, I'm done, you know, I'm done, I'm good now, nothing else to prove.” So, yeah, no, it was one of the great, great honors of my life and it really was very meaningful to me.

really pleased about it. Yeah.

Jo Reed: You have so much going on, and so much on your plate, and there is this very ambitious upcoming schedule for Juilliard this season, more than 700 events, not all music obviously, but clearly you all have to be working together, the school wants to present a coherent picture, there's you're working across genres together. So how do you piece a season together, and especially one with student performers?

David Serkin Ludwig: Yeah. Well, as I was saying earlier, Jo, I mean it takes a village, it really does. So we are always having programming discussion, we are always working with the faculty as well, the faculty are really the artistic custodians, or the custodians of their students' artistic lives, and so we are always working together, so it’s really a balancing act where we have to think “and.”. So of course we are going to play the Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Boulanger, Bartok, all the great B's, all the literature, just as if you were a drama major perhaps, you would perform Moliere, and you would perform Shakespeare, but also contemporary works, and also to think in an inclusive way to really broaden our definition of repertoire, and bring many, many more people onto the platform who haven't been represented here before. A lot of that comes with the composers that we’re performing, the students themselves, the faculty, we all work together on that to create programs that are inclusive and contemporary but definitely rooted in this work that we're very passionate about, the kind of core repertoire where a technique, and artistry, is built. With all of this in mind you can then come with really fresh ears to thinking about what will a year of programming look like? So Juilliard… it is a huge a program, there are 650 music students, so we have doctoral students, we have artist diploma, we have jazz, I mean so many different departments, and they all operate independently but there's a lot of advising and consenting as well. So we come together, we have 12 orchestra concerts, the team that's in charge of the orchestra could be a team that worked with any professional orchestra in the country. We together put together a really, really interesting slate of conductors and programs, and the students rotate through this so they all get an experience, to be in Alice Tully Hall, to be at Carnegie Hall performing, and part of that is being in New York, that's a tremendous advantage that we have as a music school, and also just culturally we really feel very fortunate to be in the center of things.

Jo Reed: One thing I'm very much looking forward to is the special concert featuring Winton Marsalis' “A Fiddler's Tale” with Stravinsky's “A Soldier's Tale.” Do you want to talk about that just a little bit, because it's so unusual, and I think it's going to be terrific.

David Serkin Ludwig: It is unusual. So I'm starting a new series at the school which will be, you know, where I'm going to co-curate with guest artists, different programs, and many of them will be cross-disciplinary. So this one is with our extraordinary conductor, one of the great American conductors, David Robertson, who goes all around the world conducting some of the biggest orchestras in the world, and we're very lucky to have him teaching here as well. He'll be leading that concert, and we'll have Winton's “A Fiddler's Tale,” and Stravinsky's “A Soldier's Tale,” which is the Stravinsky is this kind of morality play, he wrote it in 1918 right after World War I. He was writing, these gigantic ballets before, he had to cut way back and write for a septet. And there's a story that goes with it, and it's kind of the soldier gets tricked into selling his soul to the devil, and the soul is in his violin, and then he gets the violin back, yada, yada. Winton's piece is a commentary on the devil as a kind of aspect of commercial, corporate culture which is really, really fascinating, and of course it's Winton Marsalis, so the music is amazing. We'll be presenting both of those, they both have narrators, so we'll ask our drama department -- division I should say, we'll have dancers with costumes. It's going to be an incredible double bill, those two pieces, and that's an example of something we can do at Juilliard that would be kind of impossible to do just about anywhere else.

Jo Reed: You can't go into everything, but obviously you're going to be there at the opening of the David Geffen Hall, which is a huge, big deal. And then there's Chamber Fest, a three-day festival which I think also is probably marked on music lovers' calendars in New York.

David Serkin Ludwig: Mm-hmm. Yeah, well, the opening of Geffen Hall is very significant for us. It's of course even more significant for the New York Philharmonic, but they're adding new venues in there. It's actually right across from my office so I'm looking at it right now and seeing workers in there, getting the thing together. It's going to be really transformative, an incredible addition to Lincoln Center. W e're already finding ways to work closely with the New York Phil, and hopefully do things in their venue. We're helping to open the joint by having a side by side with them as well. So many members of the New York Phil are connected to Juilliard, either as alumni or teachers. They're right across the street, so it's very natural partnership. The other thing you mentioned, Chamber Fest, every year our students find time before the school year restarts after winter break, they come early just to spend a week to just really be invested and committed to playing chamber music and studying chamber music, and that's core activity. If you want to learn how to communicate with people, and to express yourself, and leadership, and all of these real fundamental skills play in a string quartet. For me that's chamber music and lessons, ensemble playing, that's really core to what every conservatory student should be doing.

Jo Reed: And I think it's important to just note that many of these events are free or at a very reduced rate.

David Serkin Ludwig: Yeah, that's right. I think Juilliard's pretty much the best deal in town, and people can come here and really hear the future, and really the present of music. I mean all of our students have at least one foot in the world as professionals, and they are learning and developing. Our orchestra's I think the best young orchestra on the planet, and so coming to those concerts, the excitement and energy is just unparalleled.

Jo Reed: And there's also a lesson learned from the pandemic that streaming on-demand programming opens doors for people who might not otherwise have access. So you're really also offering on-demand programming with “Juilliard Live.”

David Serkin Ludwig: Yeah, that word you use is so important, access, because having streaming, being able to use technology to leverage sharing our music with the world, that's so important. In some ways it's very locally important that a student can play a recital and their parents in Korea or Thailand or Spain can hear them, can tune in and actually watch them in real time, that their own communities can be connected. But for us an institution, it's a way of really broadening out our community so that you don't have to go to Juilliard as a student to be let inside of some of the teaching, and all of the incredible performances happening here. I think technology is something that it's just a tool, it's not good or bad, and when used for good to share art, I think it's an incredibly powerful tool.

Jo Reed: When you're thinking ahead, say the next five years, what's your vision for Juilliard over that time?

David Serkin Ludwig: Well, a lot of it is to continue doing what we're doing, with even more commitment, with even more ardor. So really the three values, the core values of this school, EDIB, thinking about who is here, who is teaching here, what our community looks like and the diversity of that community. Thinking about creative enterprise as we call it, this kind of intellectual and artistic curiosity, how can we respond to what's happening in the world in an inventive, imaginative way, And then excellence, and excellence is a very hard word to define, it's a little bit I know it when I hear it, but just continuing our commitment to a very rigorous, very serious music education for our students so that they have time in the practice room. Their excellence as artists is going to be their vehicle to their careers. So you need to have something to say, and you need to have the technique to say it, and we're committed to all of that. In terms of five years in the future, the technology that we use to share the work is something that we're going to have to grow with, and we're going to have to push ourselves to keep up with and, in fact, get ahead of, and establish ourselves as leaders. To think really globally about where are people making music in the world, and how can we come to them is very, very important. And then to continue our commitment to new music and contemporary music because this is a living artform, and if we want to think more inclusively we need to think about living composers, and American music as well, and maybe kind of curb some of the Europhilia that we've had in classical music to be much more inclusive, and expand that base.

Jo Reed: And what about for your own musical composition? What's coming up for you? As you said, you have commissions for years. What's ahead?

David Serkin Ludwig: Oh, I'm so fortunate in that area, Jo. So I just finished recently a piece for the Pittsburgh Symphony. Coming up will be a piece for a violin and wind ensemble, for University of Kansas City, Missouri, wonderful violinist there named Benny Kim. I'm writing a piece for the Imani Wind Quintet and Orchestra, it's actually the Curtis orchestra, they are the best and I kind of came up with them.

Jo Reed: They're lovely.

David Serkin Ludwig: They're amazing, just amazing. So a lot of really fun and interesting challenges, and several others. Those are upcoming ones that are on my mind and all kind of burning on the -- hopefully not burning too much, but being heated up on the stove.

Jo Reed: Well, and I hope sleep somehow is a part of your life in this because I --

David Serkin Ludwig: Sleep, what was that for?

Jo Reed: I have no idea how you do it, David. I swear to God I don't, but my hat's off to you. And thank you, thank you so much. Thank you for the work you're doing at Juilliard, and thank you for your own musical compositions. They've been a real gift.

David Serkin Ludwig: Oh, thank you so much, and thank you for that kindness, Jo. It's the opportunity to speak about this is very, very special to me, and I have a wonderful life, I'm very grateful for it.

Jo Reed: That was composer David Serkin Ludwig. He is also Dean and Director of The Juilliard School’s music division. You can keep up with David’s composing life at Davidludwigmusic.com. You can find out more the Julliard School at Juilliard.edu where you can also see a full calendar of the school’s performance schedule. You’ve been listening to Art Works produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. Follow us wherever you get your podcasts and leave us a rating on Apple. It helps people to find us. I’d love to know your thoughts about the podcast—just email us at artworkspod@arts.gov. We’ll have a link in the show notes. For the National Endowment for the Arts, I’m Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening.


Composer David Serkin Ludwig, dean and director of the Music Division at the Juilliard School, talks about the opportunities at and the challenges for the Juilliard School, with its 850-plus students in music, drama, and dance. He discusses issues of equity and diversity at the school and in “classical” music as well as his longstanding commitment to a more inclusive music community and the importance of creating a vibrant culture of new music.

We also talk about his own musical lineage, which goes back seven generations and includes his grandfather Rudolph Serkin and his uncle Peter Serkin—both extraordinary pianists. We discuss his composing—what inspires him, how he works—his teaching, and how each energizes the other. We chat about the upcoming season at Juilliard (some 700 events—most free or at a reduced rate) and his vision for the school five years down the road.

We’d love to know your thoughts--email us at artworkspod@arts.gov. And follow us on Apple Podcasts!