|Osmo Vänskä conducts the Symphony Orchestra of the Curtis Institute of Music|
|Matthew Rose, photo: Lena Kern|
Founded by Mary Louise Curtis Bok in 1924, on the advice of Leopold Stokowski, Curtis was formed to train the exceptional, exceptionally. A music school of 170 students, only enough instrumentalists for a full seating of a Symphony Orchestra, 25 singers, undergraduate and graduate, who train and perform 5 fully staged operas a year and a handful of pianists, composers, organists and conductors. A place where tuition is aimed at people reaching their own (world leading) potential in technical ability through the best teaching and then having the chance to utilize that in limitless performance opportunities, be it individually, orchestrally with the world's best conductors or in chamber music and opera.
So one might ask "why have I never heard of this Curtis then?" Rose adds "Curtis has existed only to train the exceptional exceptionally and hasn't had, until recently, an agenda to do anything else but that. A recent gift of $55 million from out-going chairman of the board Nina Von Maltzahn to specifically spread the word of Curtis and allow tours like this present one to happen has changed that". Curtis was initially housed in adjoining mansions on Rittenhouse Square, the sparkling jewel of Philadelphia's urban spaces. In 2011 a new Lenfest Hall more than doubled the footprint of the school, housing a world class orchestral rehearsal space, teaching rooms and all the amenities needed for youngsters embarking on the most demanding of professions.
"It is a remarkable place", says Rose, with enthusiasm. "I had the extreme fortune of attending Curtis from 1998 until 2003. I arrived as a complete novice with barely the ability to sing an octave and left experienced enough to join the Young Artists Programme at The Royal Opera, feeling completely ready, through my amazing education, to at least stand in the shadows of the world's great singers on that most amazing stage. My education was as thorough and comprehensive as I could ever imagine; singing lessons every week in New York with the best teacher I could choose (no faculty for voice, just limitless options), language and musical coaching with top professionals on a daily basis, singing roles in 21 operas, weekly visits to the Met, Carnegie Hall, and best of all, a free ticket to hear the fabulous Philadelphia Orchestra every Saturday evening. I went from someone who had barely been to a symphony orchestra concert, to someone ready to sing with those orchestras in five years. I feel so privileged to have had all this, and do you know what, it was all for free. Mrs Curtis Bok's initial endowment has grown and been supplemented by time, enthusiasm and massively generous and deserving support and philanthropy"
What a recommendation. For a very special experience, try and get to the Cadogan Hall, London on Friday this week. On stage will be 100 of the finest musicians you will ever hear, and the average age will probably be 20. 20 year olds playing with ability and commitment rarely heard. "Curtis really is amazing", says Rose, who knows what he's talking about !