Top Five Classical Commencement Speakers

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Now is the time of caps and gowns, Pomp and Circumstance and more than a few speeches offering worldly advice to this year’s crop of college graduates. While leading politicians from President Obama to his opponent Mitt Romney are lining up to proffer career and life tips, more than a few people attending commencements can hear wise words from elite musicians and composers, including the five we’ve listed here.

1. Lang Lang

On May 11, Chinese pianist Lang Lang addressed the Manhattan School of Music’s graduating class, telling the young musicians, "In the end, your goal is to communicate with your audience. Touch their hearts with your fingers.” He was joined in the ceremony by New York Philharmonic booster (and sometime WQXR host), Alec Baldwin. Both received honorary doctorates.

2. Alex Ross

Critics rarely count the subjects of their critiques among their admirers, so it seems with great honor the Curtis Institute invited author and New Yorker scribe Alex Ross to impart advice to future performers, and confer him with an honorary doctorate. The message seemed to be absorbed by the small graduating class with one notable exception: violinist Nikki Choi, couldn’t make the ceremony because he was competing in the Queen Elizabeth Competition.

3. Laurie Anderson

Avant-garde musician and artist Laurie Anderson addressed graduates of the School of Visual Arts at its ceremony at Radio City Music Hall on May 10 (the day before the opening of an exhibition of her visual work that SVA helped coordinate). The entire ceremony was Webcast live (archived here). Anderson herself graduated from Barnard College from which she also received an honorary degree.

4. Morten Lauridsen

Rider University in New Jersey tapped the composer Morten Lauridsen to speak at the May 12 ceremony for its Westminster Choir College. Lauridsen is a University of Southern California professor and the best composer you’ve never heard of according to the Wall Street Journal’s Terry Teachout  The 2007 National Medal of Arts is a fitting choice; he’s best known for his choral music such as Lux Aeterna and O Magnum Mysterium.

5. A.R. Rahman

A.R. Rahman, who won a pair of Academy Awards for his score to Slumdog Millionaire, provided the culmination of Miami University of Ohio’s Year of the Arts with his address on May 5. The Indian composer and musician had a relationship with the institution through Raman’s connection with Srini, an alumnus and the founder of the school’s Global Rhythms ensemble. Rahman also walked away with his fourth honorary doctorate.

Weigh in: Who would - or wouldn't - you want to hear speak at a commencement?

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Comments [4]

Stacey Wilner from Maryville, TN

Please add to the list--Mezzo-Soprano Delores Ziegler gave the commencement address at Maryville College in Maryville, TN. It was one of the finest, most inspiring speeches that I have heard in my 30 years of teaching.

Jun. 16 2012 10:00 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

PRACTICALITY SHOULD REIGN SUPREME. PICK SOMEONE TO ADDRESS THE COMMENCEMENT OF ANY UNIVERSITY OR COLLEGE WHO HAS ACTUALLY ACHIEVED HIS/'HER SUCCESS BECAUSE OF THAT INSTITUTION'S COURSES OF STUDY. If Verdi had concurred with the critique of the Conservatory in Rome where he auditioned/was interviewed and was told definitively "You have no talent" he would never have composed and 50 per cent of today's operas performed most would never have been penned. Conservatories of music and drama schools for the most part turn out more teachers than performers because the performers facing stiff competition in the real world, succumb to the realization that teaching is their more practical resort. In Germany, Austria and the Scandinavian countries there are many more opportunities for the tyro to get a foot in the door. I am a Wagnerian heldentenor, opera composer: "Shakespeare" & "The Political Shakespeare" & the director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, where professional actors are trained for the Shakespeare roles and big-voiced singers are coached in the Wagner roles and voice production and dramaturgy techniques. I may be reached by phone at the Institute. My next concert in New York will be on Saturday, June 9th at the YOGA EXPO at the SOHO venue at the New Yorker Hotel. The title of the concert is BRING HIM HOME, with that song from the musical LES MISERABLES, encouraging the return of our armed forces and inspiring hope and love of country with This Land is Your Land, The House I Live In, You'll Never Walk Alone, Climb Ev'ry Mountain, Billy Bigelow's Soliloquy from Carousel, Granada, The House I Live In, Wien, Wien, nur du Allein, The Impossible Dream [The Quest], Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, Do You Hear the People Sing?, When Johnny Comes Marching Home, Kumbaya, Earth Anthem and eight other selections.

May. 20 2012 10:50 PM
Bernie from UWS

I'd be eager to hear from Daniel Barenboim, who has real knowledge of the world, or Nigel Kennedy, who is all about living life crazily. The problem with Mr. Lang is it sets up artificial expectations that graduates can have a career like his. Not so likely.

May. 16 2012 08:50 PM
danfling from Mississippi

I like Sylvia McNair or Andre Previn!

May. 16 2012 07:46 PM

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