Sir Jonathan Mills to host public lectures at Yale

Sir Jonathan Mills. Photo by Seamus McGarvey

Sir Jonathan Mills, Trumbull Fellow, will present a series of four public lectures that will collectively address issues related to “Culture, Creativity, and Community.” Mills, who is known for his directorship, from 2006 until 2014, of the internationally celebrated Edinburgh International Festival, has also led prestigious festivals in his native Australia and is recognized around the world for his thought-provoking compositions. Mills holds a bachelor of music degree in composition from the University of Sydney and a master of architecture from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. He was appointed Officer of the Order of Australia in 2011 and knighted in 2013. All lectures are free and open to the public.

Tuesday, September 26
“A Potted History of Festivals and Festival Making”
4:30 p.m., Sudler Recital Hall, William L. Harkness Hall

As you read this brief description, chances are several new festivals will have been inaugurated, somewhere in the world. But are such events genuine? Do they achieve that special mixture of substance and serendipity, so essential to the intriguing, immersive idea of a festival? What do we even mean when we use the word? Using the festival as a model for social and artistic engagement, Jonathan Mills explores aspects of the complex relationships between ritual and place, habit and space, that throughout history have come to define an illusive, fragile, universal though diverse phenomenon – a festival.

Thursday, October 5
“A State of the Arts”
The case for cosmopolitanism – putting culture at the center of multiculturalism
5 p.m., Whitney Humanities Center, Auditorium

We live in a world that faces huge challenges: exploding population growth, diminishing natural resources, vanishing indigenous cultures, increasing tribalism and bitter localized feuds, human dislocation of unprecedented dimensions, large-scale suffering from easily preventable or treatable diseases. It is increasingly evident that we will not be able to rationalize or legislate, let alone engineer, our way beyond our current predicaments. Culture is a prism through which to perceive the equilibrium of any society. The value of the arts has an inestimable impact on not only the vibrancy of the world we create, but also on the ways in which such challenges might be addressed.  Jonathan Mills explores ways in which one might conceive of a central role for an engagement with culture as an essential element of understanding, imagining, and realizing our social and economic well-being.

Monday, October 9
“Artists and Communities – Performing the City”
6:30 p.m., Paul Rudolph Hall, Yale School of Architecture, Hastings Hall (basement level) 

“Just as places are sensed, senses are placed” – Maurice Merleau Ponty

How do we respond to the intimate details of our surroundings? Our homes, or streets? Our neighborhoods and offices? Our urban, or, decreasingly, our rural environments? Driving through a city, a town, a neighborhood, even within speed limits, how much do we really notice? Are the textures and assemblages of buildings and streetscapes, landmarks and landscapes, ever more than fleeting glances? Are we doing anything other than passing through? Do we truly inhabit or celebrate the places in which we work, love, or play? What kind of sensory relationships exist within these familiar places? Do we perform, through ritual or reverie, consciously or intuitively, simple acts of recognition to reflect upon and evoke the places in which we live  and how those places and spaces transform over time? Jonathan Mills explores the idea of performance as a way in which we might want to inhabit and reimagine our place in the world.

Tuesday, October 24
Improvisation and Leadership”
5 p.m., Evans Hall, Yale School of Management, Room 4410

How stable or predictable is our world? Can we truly know what the future holds for any of us? Are we in control of our lives or livelihoods? Or is life nothing more than a great big improvisation? The very word “improvisation” conjures images of mellow musicians spontaneously sparking off one another in remarkable and ingenious ways.  The idea of improvisation is much more than a musical phenomenon. In so many ways, and in a wide variety of professional circumstances, at some stage in our careers, we are all called upon to improvise. How we choose to respond to such moments can define our personal, professional, and ethical achievements. Drawing on a range of personal experiences, Jonathan Mills proposes to develop a repertoire of improvisational scenarios and link them to the insights of leadership.

Published September 15, 2017
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YSM now accepting applications for fall 2018 enrollment

Violinist Wynton Grant ’17MM. Photo by Matt Fried

The School of Music is now accepting applications for enrollment in fall 2018. “We have openings in all areas, including the tuba and harpsichord studios and the orchestral conducting program,” Donna Yoo, YSM’s director of admissions and alumni affairs, said. “It is unusual for us to have available spaces across all programs, and we are looking forward to welcoming new students to all areas of study.”

The Admissions Office anticipates interest in the School’s revamped B.A./M.M. program, which is now open to applications from high-school seniors. The program, Yoo said, “should appeal to students who are interested in pursuing both academic and musical excellence at an Ivy League institution.”

The School will announce available fellowship opportunities in December. These would include openings in the string quartet fellowship program and the recently launched collaborative piano program. Applications for the Morse Postgraduate Teaching Artist Fellowship will also be accepted starting in December.

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Published September 15, 2017
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Convocation 2017 defines YSM as place for “Music Among Friends”

School of Music Dean Robert Blocker often describes music as “the currency of hope” and has long championed the School’s commitment to inclusivity and diversity. That commitment was reiterated emphatically on Thursday night in his 2017 Convocation speech, “Music Among Friends,” in which he celebrated “courage, inclusivity and diversity, connectedness, tolerance and respect, and compassion.” Upon its founding, he said, “the School of Music opened wide its doors and heart to all those who brought their gifts of talent and intellectual curiosity to campus.” Today, Blocker pointed out, the School stands in solidarity with those whose place in our community hangs in the balance.

“All of us bring anxieties, concerns, and even fears about the human condition to this room tonight,” he told new and returning students, faculty, staff, alumni, and guests, “for we live in a time in which human dignity and indeed humanity are being assaulted throughout the world. Nothing, I think, is as incomprehensible and unimaginable as the vengeful rescindment of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, known as DACA. Now, these young people we call Dreamers live with fear rather than hope. This action touches our community profoundly because we are witnesses to the deep grief and stressful uncertainty these Dreamers and their families suddenly face. I do believe reasonable and compassionate leaders among us hear and feel the anguished cries of Dreamers and that they, with our encouragement and support, will find a way to keep their American dream alive.”

Connecting YSM’s values to its mission, Blocker said, “music teaches us that every voice is distinct and important, that each is necessary for harmony, and that is precisely why we know that our combined voices will help repair our troubled world.”

Following University Provost Benjamin Polak’s installation of the incoming class, whose members come from five continents, 25 countries, 26 states, and 58 institutions, Convocation attendees sang Schubert’s An die Musik (with Franz von Schober’s text, as translated by YSM faculty bass-baritone Richard Cross), as is School tradition. Blocker then delivered his remarks before introducing the faculty, alumni, and current students who performed as part of the ceremony.

Violinist Daniel S. Lee ’06MM ’08AD, a newly appointed faculty member in early music whose ensemble, The Sebastians, is in residence at the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments, performed Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s Sonata No. 3 in F major, C. 140 (from Sonatae, violino solo) with faculty harpsichordist Arthur Haas. Bass-baritone Dashon Burton ’11MM sang “Grosser Herr, o starker König,” from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248, and “Mache dich, mein Herze rein,” from the St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244, with pianist David Fung ’11MM ’13MMA ’17DMA. And violinist Sirena Huang ’19AD performed Tchaikovsky’s Valse-Scherzo, Op. 34, with pianist Lam Wong ’18MM.

The performances added punctuation to Blocker’s remarks, which concluded with him telling members of the incoming class that “here at YSM, you will experience fully the gift that is ‘Music Among Friends,’ and encouraging all in attendance, referencing a favorite story about Robert Louis Stevenson, to “take hope, and make holes in the dark with the beauty and light of your music.”

Photos by Harold Shapiro

Published September 8, 2017
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Yale Philharmonia principal conductor Peter Oundjian on “The Rite of Spring”

Peter Oundjian. Photo by Sian Richards

On Friday, September 15, the Yale Philharmonia will perform Stravinsky’s revolutionary Rite of Spring, which was written for the Ballets Russes and whose 1913 premiere in Paris sparked protests. We spoke to principal conductor Peter Oundjian about the piece, its place in history, and what the audience can expect to experience.

Q: How have stories and reports of the audience’s reaction to the premiere of The Rite of Spring framed the work’s place in the repertoire? And what should today’s audiences understand and take away from that reaction?

A: The “riot” which occurred is one of the reasons the piece achieved such prominence. If anything, it had more to do with Vaslav Nijinsky’s choreography than the music, as far as we can tell. Just imagine this first audience witnessing dancers stomping their feet for long durations, strange costumes … it was just bizarre! Stravinsky was unhappy about it; however, the events of that night stimulated him to promote the piece and make sure its excellence was appreciated.

Q: In what ways, musically, does The Rite of Spring represent a watershed moment in music history?

A: The piece is the antithesis of 300 years of development of Western art music. Everything that had come before was relatively uniform. Style and musical forms had been created. What Stravinsky did with this symphonic arch was annihilated by his new concepts. We should also remember that Czech composer Leoš Janáček’s music was radical, as well, and he was Stravinsky’s contemporary. The Rite of Spring was completely fresh and new. Harmonically, is it polytonal … it was all quite dissonant. Rhythmically, it was quite a departure from the musical norms of the day.

Q: What are your reasons for programming The Rite of Spring as part of the Yale Philharmonia’s season? In what ways and to what degree is the piece a unique teaching tool?

A: I am sure some of our students have played it before. It is, after all, one of the most important pieces in the repertoire. It is not only for the students in the orchestra, but also for our audience, who are bound to be curious to hear and witness a live performance of such a masterpiece.

Q: How do you approach the work each time you conduct the piece?

A: I think I approach it as though the pagan ritual were occurring before my eyes, and the sacrificial virgin is about to dance herself to death. It’s a new girl each time.

Q: What if anything is lost (or gained) by performing The Rite of Spring as a concert work as opposed to a fully produced ballet?

A: There is not a performance of this piece that is not ballet, in some aspects. If you come, you’ll see some sense of spectacle. The omission of the visual aspect allows people to focus on the inventiveness of the music and the power and drama behind it.

Q: Besides the obvious, what can audiences experience through a live performance of the piece that they can’t by listening to a recording?

A: To see all these musicians playing off the beat of the conductor, from an audience perspective, it’s alarming to see this being reproduced in front of your eyes. It is an extraordinary experience!

The September 15 Yale Philharmonia program includes Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, as well as Mozart’s Symphony No. 40, Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, and Tallis’ “Why Fum’th in Fight,” performed by the Yale Voxtet. Learn more and purchase tickets.

Published September 8, 2017
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