Summer 2002 (10.2)
Life at Juilliard
by Sabina Rakcheyeva
Other articles about Sabina
Sabina Rakcheyeva - Youth
at Work - Sabina Goes to Julliard - Autumn 1999 (7.3)
and her Violin (AI 8.3, Autumn 2000)
Listen to samples of Sabina
playing the Violin
In the fall of 1999, violin virtuoso
Sabina Rakcheyeva (1976- ) became the first musician from Azerbaijan
to be enrolled in the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in
New York. Since then, she has performed throughout Europe and
the Americas with the school and the UBS Verbier Festival Youth
Her stops have included Switzerland, Italy, Spain, England, France,
Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina. Since Sabina is most likely
the one Azerbaijani student who has had the most exposure to
so many other countries, we asked her to reflect on her experiences
of studying and touring abroad these past three years.
Performing in New York is something
incredible, something unforgettable. Knowing that such a broad
spectrum of people are so intent to listen has given me freedom
to express myself as never before.
-Sabina Rakcheyeva, violinist
It's very difficult to explain in a few words what it's been
like to be away from my country, my family and friends and the
people who know me. It takes time to understand these transitions
and to appreciate the advantages and disadvantages.
I found the educational process to be
very different at Juilliard as compared to what I was used to
back home in Baku.
Right: One of Azerbaijan's most promising
violinists, Sabina Rakcheyeva, just completed her Master's degree
at Juilliard School of Music in New York City. Here she performs
at Carnegie Hall.
The first year was difficult - I'll have to admit. Of course,
I had read about Juilliard and knew that some of the greatest
musicians of our time had graduated from there. I associated
Juilliard with Van Cliburn, who had won the first International
Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958 and who is still remembered
for his concerts in Baku in 1960. But I had no idea how the school
was structured. I thought it would just be a performing experience
for me. It surprised me to learn that Juilliard is quite like
regular academic institutions, with a strict grading system and
Believe it or not, it was a
big surprise for me to find out that attending classes would
be necessary for fulfilling all of my requirements. I was shocked
to learn that I would have to get special permission from the
Dean in order to miss classes, even when I was involved in an
important performance. Surprisingly, some of my friends had to
forego some competitions because they didn't dare miss class.
It's been hard learning how to establish my own network of friends
and colleagues. New York is extremely competitive. In fact, even
now, after three years, I find this to be one of the most difficult
aspects about being here.
"Where Are You From?"
One of the most disappointing experiences for me in the United
States (until I got used to it) was being asked, "Where
are you from?" It's the first question people tend to ask
if you live in New York City, since it is one of the most international
cities in the world. I didn't mind telling people that I was
from Azerbaijan; it was their reaction that bothered me.
You can't believe where people thought Azerbaijan was located
- Western Europe, Asia, Siberia and even Africa! I often wondered
what my sister who teaches geography at Baku State University
would have thought if she had heard their answers. I found it
very humiliating. By the end of the first semester, my patience
had worn thin, and I found myself reacting in such a strange
way. I wouldn't wait for people to guess where Azerbaijan was.
I would interrupt them, and then I found myself apologizing:
"Oh, I'm so sorry, here in the U.S., people don't know much
when it comes to geography!"
I don't know why I became so defensive. Maybe on a certain level,
I was trying to vouch for my own existence. Even though Azerbaijan's
culture goes back several thousand years, so many people have
never heard of it.
But they did seem to know our closest neighbors - Georgia and
Armenia. Maybe it has to do with religion, or maybe it's because
Azerbaijan lacks a strong and influential lobby here in the States.
My mom and I have had long conversations about this. She never
tires of repeating, "Azerbaijan's strong and powerful lobby
starts with each one of us trying to do something and not waiting
for a miracle."
Once I got used to life at Juilliard, I realized there were so
many positive aspects to education here. For example, graduate
students get to choose their courses, which makes students' lives
much more interesting. It also strengthens the relationship between
students and teachers, making it more congenial. Of course, selecting
your own courses is the norm here in the States, but in Baku
it hasn't happened yet in the Music Academy.
Juilliard also offers important classes to build one's musical
career, such as "Career Skills Seminar" and "The
Business of Music." These days you have to be more than
a good musician to be successful. You must create your own network,
find connections, speak in public, book concerts and know how
to write a resume. We're missing these very important practical
aspects of training in Azerbaijani universities.
Here there's such a great respect for chamber music. In fact,
I've discovered that in the United States and Europe, chamber
music is one of the most popular forms of classical music. Here
at Juilliard, at the beginning of the school year, students get
together just to sight - read chamber music and form groups.
As the year progresses, students get a chance to work with members
of the Juilliard String Quartet and the distinguished musicians
who perform as Juilliard's guests.
Performing in New York is something incredible, something unforgettable.
Knowing that such a broad spectrum of people are so intent to
listen has given me freedom to express myself as never before.
At Juilliard I participated in numerous student events, including
cultural presentations, musical performances and cultural awareness
programs. Each year we have an International Festival, which
is an amazing feast of world cultures joined together in an extravagant
evening of performances and great food, with representation from
each participating country.
There are at least 20 to 30 countries represented here among
the student body of Juilliard. There's an especially large Asian
"lobby" at school - in fact, there seem to be more
Korean, Chinese and Japanese students enrolled at Juilliard than
there are Americans. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union,
more students are coming from Eastern Europe. I'm the first -
but hopefully not the last - student accepted from Azerbaijan.
I'm trying to introduce and represent our country as best as
I can. I'm amazed at the response when I play mugham arrangements
for violin or other classical pieces by composers such as Gara
Garayev, Fikrat Amirov and Musa Mirzayev. I didn't expect that
audiences really would "get" Azerbaijani music, since
it's quite unfamiliar. But especially here in New York, audiences
are accustomed to hearing completely different styles and approaches.
I've found them to be very open to new and unknown music. The
language of music, indeed, does transcend time and place, regardless
of distance, and somehow it has the ability to awaken genuine
interest in people's hearts towards unknown cultures.
I've been so fortunate to be able to see so many countries because
of my musical experiences. I've played with the Verbier Festival
Youth Orchestra, three years in succession - 2000, 2001, 2002.
Verbier is considered the most prestigious youth orchestra in
the world. It is supported by the United Bank of Switzerland
(UBS) and takes place annually in a tiny town in the Alps. It's
great to be among some of the world's best musicians and conductors
in a beautiful natural environment. Last year the orchestra was
made up of 110 musicians who came from more than 30 countries
in Western and Eastern Europe, Asia, North and South America,
Australia, New Zealand and the post-Soviet countries. They're
mostly students, all between the ages of 17-29. This year we'll
be performing June 24-August 8 in Switzerland and then November
7-29 in Europe. The November concerts will be conducted by James
Levine and Mstislav Rostropovich, the world-renowned cellist,
who happens to be a native of Baku. See www.verbierorchestra.com
for more concert details.
Verbier gave me the chance to work with world-class musicians
like pianist Martha Argerich, violinist Vadim Repin and top conductors
like James Levine, Zubin Mehta, Yuri Temirkanov and Wolfgang
Sawallisch. And then we had the chance to travel to countries
like Switzerland, Italy, Spain, England, France, Canada, Mexico,
Brazil and Argentina. Performing in New York's Carnegie Hall,
Berlin's Philharmonica and Buenos Aires' Theatre de Colon is
something I'll never forget.
Recently, I collaborated with a well-known Chinese-American composer
named Bright Cheng. I performed his piece for violin solo called
"Stream Flows", which is based on a typical Oriental
tune. I was surprised to discover that he had some knowledge
about Azerbaijani music and composers; he even asked me to play
some mugham. The concert was featured on Voice of America (VOA)
radio and U.S. Government TV and will be released as a documentary.
Another experience that I'm quite excited about is my first-ever
jazz concert! I've always wanted to try this ever since I came
to the States. Thanks to Juilliard, I was able to take Jazz History
and Practicum classes at school. I love jazz. I'd love to do
more jazz in the future.
Such opportunities would never have come my way if I hadn't studied
at Juilliard. Back home, the network is still quite limited.
In Azerbaijan, we don't have access to many of these possibilities.
Even though there are many gifted young people in Azerbaijan,
they need opportunities to share their talents internationally.
Not long ago, I went to Barbados. I must have been the first
Azerbaijani musician ever to perform there. People were so fascinated
by me. It seems there's a famous disco there called "Baku".
The owners came up with that name because the people of Barbados
call themselves "Bajan", which is very close to Azer-Baijan!!!
This past May, I graduated from Juilliard with my Master's degree.
It marked a milestone for me and the beginning of new choices
in my life and career. I hope to be able to pass along some of
what I've learned to young musicians in my country. The development
of our nation depends upon young people having opportunities
to learn and achieve. In the meantime, I want to express my deepest
gratitude to all of the people who have helped me: my parents,
teachers, friends, members of the international business and
diplomatic community back in Baku and everyone who has believed
in me and supported me. (It would take a whole page to name all
of them!) Thank you very much.
Violinist Sabina Rakcheyeva
graduated from Juilliard with a Master's degree in Music in May
2002. To learn more about Sabina, see "Youth
at Work: Sabina Rakcheyeva" in AI 7.3 (Autumn 1999)
and Her Violin" in AI 8.3 (Summer 2000). SEARCH at AZER.com.
Listen to samples of her violin at MUSIC. Sabina may be contacted
Back to Index
AI 10.2 (Summer 2002)
| AI Store | Contact us
Other Web sites
created by Azerbaijan International
AZgallery.org | AZERI.org | HAJIBEYOV.com