Steamboat Springs At 18 years old, Joshua Cullen-Carrozza is the youngest student graduating with a master's degree from the Juilliard School of Music this spring. Cullen-Carrozza made his concert debut at age 9 with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra. He is performing at the Strings in the Mountains annual Gala Holiday Concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort Grand Ballroom. Cullen-Carrozza responded to a few questions from the Steamboat Pilot & Today.
People are calling you a phenom, as far as being so young and such an accomplished musician, academically and musically speaking. How do you feel about being in this position?
That's a complicated question. Everyone is a phenom to some extent -- some are more "impressive" than others.
I mean, having music degrees from Juilliard is more impressive than having music degrees from the University of Michigan, but that doesn't mean that one is a better musician than the other. (I can say that because I have degrees from both!) In fact, in my eyes it is more impressive to be an educated musician than a virtuoso musician, simply because one is more easily appreciated than the other, and I mean this seriously. Nobody really likes virtuosos, and they never have. People like musicians they can connect with, and that's what's most important -- one who expresses the music and communicates with the audience.
I'm somewhat accomplished as a musician but not so much accomplished as an
18-year-old. I resent having neglected my general education. Next year I'm going to SUNY-Stony Brook to enroll as a liberal arts undergraduate. I plan to major in linguistics or Japanese literature but I'm undecided as of yet.
I'm going to continue studying piano privately by commuting to New York City every week. When I'm finished with my second bachelor's degree I'll have a better idea of whether I want to go for the music doctorate, enter the competition circuit or try my luck as a freelance musician.
Having a good general education is important for musicians because composers use their experience with poetry, painting and other forms of art in composing their music. Having this knowledge enables us to be able to understand and interpret this aspect of music. For a child prodigy or even a "teen-age phenom," it's OK to be ignorant, but for a serious musician, it's not.
So in this sense I don't like being called a teen-age phenom -- for me it has negative connotations. It's fun to be called a phenom, though. You get a lot of attention and admiration from some people, and you get jealously dismissed by other musicians. Everything's a double-edged sword, so to speak.
But most importantly, I love performing. It's the only reason to be a musician. I really love getting on stage and playing. And for that I'm willing to pay the price of being called a virtuoso.
What was it like being a young student at Juilliard?
We younger students are usually more closed-minded than the older ones, because for most of us, the move to Juilliard is one that introduces us to all kinds of music we hadn't heard before. For me I was constantly amazed at how liberal and open-minded the older students were and I began to realize how shallow my understanding of the music scene had been. If you're wondering what it's like being one of the youngest, well, it's sort of an annoying experience. You have to put up with lots of people saying, "Wow, you're only 18 and you're a master's student?"
The only reasonable answer is "yes," which only leads to people saying more embarrassing things, like "Do you ever wish you had gone to high school?" and of course the answer is "Yes, I do."
How often are you playing for the public? Do you have a demanding schedule?
I don't play for the public that often. I play about seven or eight recitals each year. My schedule at school keeps me busy enough.
When did you start playing piano? Is there a defining moment in your life that led you to this profession?
I started playing the piano when I was 5, and there wasn't really a defining moment when I decided to become a pianist. I was telling people that I would be a concert pianist before I even knew what those words meant.
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
That's a difficult question for me to answer, especially considering I'm only 18. I might be working on a doctorate in music, or maybe ethnomusicology, or maybe literature, or history, or linguistics. I don't really know. I might be in the U.S. or I might be in Japan, or I might be in Europe. Whatever it is, I'll probably still be in school or just finishing school when I'm 28.
How about 20?
That would be when I'm about 40 years old. I have no idea what I'll be doing when I'm 40. Maybe I'll be having a midlife crisis like everyone else. I don't see myself having a single career. I once heard someone say that in today's society it is predicted that everyone will switch careers five or six times. I guess that must have been a sociologist. Maybe I'll be a sociologist. I don't know what I'll be doing for a living, but if I have any control over my future, I'd make sure that I'm part of the music scene somehow, creating music, organizing concerts and eventually teaching music.
Are you going to go skiing in Steamboat?
I'm going skiing the day after my concert. They have me signed up for a "never ever" class or something like that. I've never been skiing before. This is one of the perks of being a performer -- free skiing lessons for a day.