Phillip Golub ‘16, a resident of Dunster House concentrating in English and enrolled in the Harvard/New England Conservatory five-year joint AB/MM program, was awarded an Office for the Arts/Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Artist Development Fellowship to pursue studies in music composition and conducting this summer at the FUBiS program at Freie Universität Berlin under the tutelage of Juilliard professor and renowned composer Samuel Adler. Phillip has participated in the Los Angeles Philharmonic Composer Fellowship Program and the Young Artists Program of the Yellow Barn Music. A member of the Harvard Composers Association, his work has been performed by Harvard’s Brattle Street Chamber Players. He hopes to pursue a career as a professional musician and composer.
I have been in Berlin for six weeks now. The first large-scale arc of my summer just wrapped up, and I am now writing from Paris, where I am spending my week-long break between my composition program and my German language program.
The program has been amazing. I had twelve private lessons with Samuel Adler, roughly the equivalent of a semester of study with him, but condensed into half the length. We were given a lot of time to write so that we could bring material to our lessons. We also wrote one song very quickly, in the first two weeks of the program, that was performed in the last week by very, very skilled players and singers from Berlin. Adler is famous for his teaching, and I now know why. He is both brutally honest, always precise and clear with his comments, and also very encouraging. He will frequently say something as direct as, “I don’t like this B flat here, you should change it. How about a G instead, or an A?” It can even border on being absurd, compared to the much, much more abstract comments one usually gets from composition teachers, but it is so much more valuable. It was particularly exciting to work with him on setting a poem (by Charles Simic) because he challenged me to have a clear reading of the poem—pushing me to explain my interpretation of the poem—before writing the song.
However, I learned much more from Adler than where to change B flats into Gs and As. I found a lot of confidence in my own work over the course of the six weeks. In talking with him about music tastes, about his own life escaping Nazi Germany and later being in the U.S. Army, and about teaching for 30 years at Eastman School of Music and 18 years at the Juilliard School while being a participant in the harshest and most divisive ideological debates the music world has ever seen, I have found a lot of affirmation in that our views and approaches to thinking about both musical-political and geo-political issues seem to be quite aligned. Having your own opinions affirmed by someone of his stature really allows you to hold your own views more strongly, and be more confident in acting on them—using those views, so to speak.
Related to this is the remarkable way in which Adler is an “American.” There are sadly too many American musicians in the last century who imitated European ways, not feeling comfortable otherwise. Adler has never felt this sort of shame or smallness of not belonging to the “greater” German or French musical traditions, and has been a steadfast supporter of American classical music his whole life, and continues to be. I was particularly moved when I presented a piece to the class and he called the harmony “very American,” which to me was surprising to hear because it hadn’t quite occurred to me that there really was a tradition of approaches to harmony that were truly unique and American in the 20th century. But sure enough, in our next lesson he demonstrated to me the basis of the theory behind these approaches. All very excitng for me, for it seems rather often in the classical music world that we are constantly told that there is nothing truly originally American, and that we are only imitators.
Lastly, confronting the sorts of issues I just expressed was especially exciting to do from the heart of European classical music. On the first day Adler said, “The reason I hold this program in Berlin is very simple. Berlin is the best city in the world right now for classical music, and I want you all to experience that.” For young people, classical music in Berlin is almost ridiculously inexpensive and accessible. There are seven orchestras and three opera companies, all with frequent performances. It is absolutely unbelievable. I went to nearly 20 concerts in six weeks, spending less than 10 euros for every single one. Being in a city and country that values classical music this much is not only a wonderful feeling, but it shows how much work can be done on our side of the Atlantic.