In the short history of That Girl At The Party, I can honestly say that I have never had a more perfect evening than I did at the Juilliard Gala celebrating the school’s sixth and current president Dr. Joseph W. Polisi. The evening brought together such luminary Juilliard grads, as Renee Fleming, Laura Linney, Christine Baranski, and Boyd Gaines, and featured performances from each of the divisions of the school. The Chairs for the Evening were Juilliard Board Chairman Bruce Kovner and his wife Suzie. Bradley H. Jack and Lara Cairns; June Noble Larkin; Cynthia and Dan Lufkin; Nancy A. Marks; Stephanie and Carter McClelland; Dinny and Lester S. Morse, Jr.; Susan and Elihu Rose; and Lisa and Charles Simonyi served as Gala Vice Chairs and the Associate Chairs were Beth and Christopher Kojima.
The man of the hour, Joseph Polisi is another of the great individuals that I feel honored to have met this year. To say that Dr. Polisi has transformed the school during his 25 year tenure would be a massive understatement! His achievements are vast. In 1985, within his first months as President, Juilliard performed in their the first ever live from Lincoln Center broadcast. Two years later, in 1987, the Juilliard Orchestra became the very first conservatory orchestra to perform in China after the Cultural Revolution. The completion of the school’s first residence hall and expansion and renovation of Juilliard’s facility, an increase in scholarship assistance, the establishment of new student services, a revised curriculum, the establishment of a jazz program – the Institute for Jazz Studies (a collaboration of The Juilliard School and Jazz at Lincoln Center) – which began in September 2001), enhanced student and faculty financial support; the creation of an exchange program with Columbia University and Barnard College, creation of CD-ROM software to teach music to children, an upcoming joint vocal training program with the Metropolitan Opera, and a school-wide initiative to develop interdisciplinary programs involving actors, dancers, and musicians have all also occurred under his stewardship. In addition, he has initiated and fostered a multitude of community programs, including the Music Advancement Program and the student founded, ARTreach program, which sends students to do charity work in Katrina torn areas of New Orleans and provides music education for underserved communities and students all over the world.
During Dr. Polisi’s tenure, the Juilliard Orchestra has performed in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, France, and Bermuda, and participated, in 1992, as the Evian Festival’s resident ensemble. In addition, Dr. Polisi has led the process of developing a comprehensive long-range plan for the School that has resulted in a $300 million capital campaign dedicated to enhancing student financial aid and faculty compensation, as well as the development of schoolwide programs that will prepare Juilliard students for the demands of the 21st century.
Simply adored by current students, alumni, and his family, Dr. Polisi is a one in a billion administrator, a helluva guy, a real mensch, and one of my new heroes.
Following a cocktail reception, guests were treated to a performance displaying the vast talents of the students from the multiple Juilliard departments . The program commenced with a duet for violin and cello from Handel- Halvorsen performed by Sirena Huang and Sarina Zhang, who were adorned in a lovely shade of matching red. The program continued with selections from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro from the Vocal Arts department accompanied by the Juilliard Orchestra and conducted by Keri-Lynn Wilson. The World Premiere of Juilliard alumni Adam Hougland’s ballet “Six for Five”, set to the Brahms String Sextet No 1. In B-Flat major and performed by the Dance department, followed. The selections from Julliard Drama included scenes from Shakespeare’s Henry V, August Wilson’s Seven Guitars and Fences, and Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. (Although she was awesome, I wish that the young sista didn’t have to play an angry scene out. Black gals always play angry and/or bitter thus stereotyping us in real Life! I would’ve loved to seen her portray something less expected.) The program concluded with an extraordinary performance of the Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No 3. In D minor by student Conrad Tao and the Julliard Orchestra conducted by George Stelutto. Conrad was so amazing I was literally speechless at the end of his performance. Throughout the performances, we were treated to short video clips chronicling the history of Juilliard and the legacy of Dr. Polisi. The filmed portion also included tributes from alumni and friends, with a particularly hilarious schtick from alum Robin Williams.
Due to the torrential rain, guests were spirited to the dinner by coach for a dinner created by Restaurant Associates, that was both delicious and light. I had the great fortune of being seated next to Mary Lou Falcone and her hilariously entertaining hubby, Nicholas Zann. Mary Lou is Renee Fleming’s publicist and teaches a life skills class to the vocal students at Juilliard while her husband had a hit back in the day with the rockabilly song “Southern Belle” and today is an accomplished artist. Nicholas regaled us with wonderful stories of his rock and roll days and Life! At times, he literally had me in fits of laughter! There is a definite, very funny and poignant one man show in him! After dinner, the guests tripped the light fantastic to the sounds of the legendary bandleader, Peter Duchin before heading home from a truly, all around, swell evening.