On April 7, the audience in the Mannes Concert Hall at 150 W. 85th St. sat in a stunned silence. On the stage before them in a blue gown sat Mannes student Desiree Abbey with her cello. Eyes closed, body swaying to the music, her facial expression matching each song’s tone, she played a series of pieces that earned her a standing ovation. Abbey’s performance was just one of the many upcoming student recitals at Mannes.
Unlike other New School divisions, there is currently no assigned graduation project for the undergrad program at Mannes. Many, however, chose to have solo recitals this spring. Of the 33 seniors, about half are performing solo recitals says Erik Bestmann, director of concert operations at Mannes.
Starting this fall, solo recitals will be a graduation requirement for undergrads; they are already a requirement for all master’s students.
Abbey, who is graduating in May, sees the new requirement as a learning experience. “Performing has always been a battle for me,” she said. “You learn how you react to high-pressure situations.”
To have a recital, students must go to the concert office in September and book a performance date. They then spend the school year studying music and planning it with their professor.
Most students perform their core repertoire classical music, says Bestmann. Some practice newer music, but many stick to pieces by Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and the like.
Abbey decided to challenge herself by tackling Elliott Carter’s “Figment No. 1.” “I had no idea if I was really going to be able to pull it off,” she said. “It’s such an amazing work. It’s like walking through a maze of different worlds of color.”
Abbey added some variety to her program by playing a piece composed by friend Evan Fein. The piece “For Desi and Frances” is a present to celebrate Abbey and her mother’s birthdays, which were on April 8 and 7, respectively.
In the piece, Fein made a musical motif out of their names: D-E flat-F-R (which is D)-A. The tune of “Happy Birthday” is also hidden in the song. Abbey’s bright eyes were on her mother while she performed the short, joyful piece with a wide grin.
Other students, like flute player Emily Schneck, chose not to perform solo. In her April 11 recital, she played upbeat, playful pieces by Pierre Sancan and Alfredo Casella, filled with high notes and trills that Martha Locker’s piano accompaniment complemented perfectly.
This article appeared in the April 19, 2010 issue of The New School Free Press. Photo by Caleb Ferguson.