Alison Wahl began taking singing lessons as a hobby when she was an undergraduate at Amherst College. She applied to Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music because she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do after graduation. Now a Bienen graduate student studying music performance, Wahl is one of five Northwestern students who have been chosen to perform at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on April 25.
“It’s an honor to be able to perform on one of the country’s finest stages,” Wahl said. “I feel very honored to also be representing Northwestern University. This will be my biggest performance yet.”
The students’ performance at the Kennedy Center is part of the Conservatory Project, an initiative designed to present the best young musical artists from the nation’s leading conservatories and universities. Each university is given an hour to perform to an audience of around 500 people.
“I put together a program that makes sense and is fun,” said Richard Van Kleeck, Bienen’s director of concert activities. “We do different instruments to make sure they aren’t the same each year. Every one has been represented.”
While Bienen has been sending five of its top music students since 2005, the university wasn’t invited to participate when the program began in 2004. Van Kleeck said that Bienen Dean Toni-Marie Montgomery contacted the Center and said the music school should be a part of the project and would like to be invited in future years.
“We were invited the second year,” Kleeck said. “They don’t normally review [the performances] in the Washington Post, but the first year we performed there was a headline that said ‘Northwestern’s A+ Recital at Kennedy Center.’ We woke up to that headline.”
Students are chosen based on recommendations from the faculty. Bassoonist Dana Jackson said that when she learned she had been selected to perform, she felt honored that both the faculty and dean wanted her to participate.
“I am really excited and thrilled for the opportunity to go to D.C. to represent Northwestern to a larger audience,” Jackson said.
The students have been rehearsing since early March and had the opportunity to travel to an alumni event in Naples, Fla. for a practice performance, which also helped them bond.
“I’m looking forward to hearing [the other students] at the performance,” Wahl said. “The time in Florida really helped us get to know each other better. To have dinner with them and bond was great.”
Baritone David Govertsen, a graduate student at Bienen, wasn’t able to attend the Florida concert but feels confident about the upcoming performance. Govertsen did minimal preparation for the concert, because he chose songs he is comfortable performing.
“Although this is a big honor, I can’t say that this is my biggest performance,” he says. “I made my solo debut at Carnegie Hall with the Chicago Symphony, so that was a big deal, even though I didn’t have much to sing.”
Pianist Eugenia Jeong, who has also performed at Carnegie Hall, said she is nervous for the performance and still has some work to do.
“I’ve never been to the Kennedy Center, but I’ve heard a lot about it,” says Jeong. “I’m excited that Northwestern is a part of the Conservatory Project.”
Not only will the students be representing Northwestern, but the performance will be streamed live on the Kennedy Center’s website and archived for future viewing.
“It’s a huge honor [to be chosen to perform],” Van Kleeck said. “We have 600 students [in Bienen]. We have so many good students. It’s something to be chosen just from, say, the bassoon section. You are not only chosen to represent yourself, but Bienen and NU. We want to be demonstrative of the quality here.”
This year’s performance will be streaming live on April 25 at 5 p.m.