Guest post: baritone Zachary Johnson ’17MM ’18MMA, on performing Opera Scenes

Baritone Zachary Johnson

On a chilly day in February 2015, I walked into Doris Yarick-Cross’ office for my audition interview. Nervous, and very excited, I answered a series of well-thought-out questions about my education, musicianship, and hopes for the future. I remember the interview well, but there will always be one question that sticks out to me: “Can you learn and memorize music quickly?” I answered, sang my audition, and later accepted my position and moved to New Haven the following September. Within the first week of school I was given a large envelope of music for my first production at Yale: Opera Scenes. I was to perform four different roles, in four different opera scenes — two in Italian, one in German, and one in English. I had just over a month to learn the repertoire, work with coaches, and sing the music from memory. I had my work cut out for me, but I thought back to that interview question and knew that this is what is expected from a singer in this program, and I was not going back down.

“Così fan tutte,” 2017

Opera scenes are an incredibly useful venture for singers, especially young singers intending to pursue a career in opera. While teaching us how to learn multiple styles of music in multiple languages at once, they also help us develop the skill of switching gears emotionally, mentally, and physically as we jump from character to character. I can remember transforming from an eccentric, dancing butler to a slow, dim-witted carpenter all in one night. What is unique about the Yale Opera is that the scenes programs are fully costumed and staged, so each snippet of these incredible operas can stand alone and tell their own stories. We get to work with incredibly talented vocal coaches that help us achieve a deeper understanding of the music and text so we are fully prepared to step on stage and bring these stories to life. Strengthening the ability to jump from character to character and language to language is an extremely useful skill for all opera singers, and Opera Scenes is one of the best programs for that. Following our scenes program in the fall, we perform a complete, fully staged production at the Shubert Theatre. The work chosen is usually one we performed a scene from the previous semester, which is an incredibly useful feature of the Yale Opera program. While developing the skill of balancing multiple roles is important, diving into an entire role and being able to understand the growth and trajectory of a single character is equally as vital for a young singer. the Yale Opera provides its singers with opportunities for both, and you will finish this program with a quicker mind, a thicker resume, and the skills you will absolutely need to balance the multifaceted workload of a professional opera singer.

“Don Quichotte,” 2016

In my third year here at the Yale School of Music, I still think back to that interview. I think back to that question. I will admit, in February 2015, that my answer lacked confidence. I was unsure if I possessed what it takes to be an opera singer. If you were to ask me the same question today, another chilly day, in November 2017, I would smile, think back on the incredible amount of opportunities I have been given in this program to develop as a singer, a musician, and a human being, and give you the most confident “Yes.”

LEARN MORE ABOUT THE NOV. 3 & 4 FALL OPERA SCENES PROGRAMS

Published November 2, 2017
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Argus Quartet, pianist Dominic Cheli share first prize at Concert Artists Guild competition

The Argus Quartet (photo by Ben Gibbs) and Dominic Cheli (photo by Gallia Kastler)

The Argus Quartet, the ensemble that served from 2015 to 2017 as YSM’s fellowship quartet-in-residence, and pianist Dominic Cheli ’16MM, have been named joint first-prize winners of the annual Concert Artists Guild Victor Elmaleh Competition. The quartet and Cheli will each receive a $5,000 cash prize and a management contract and will be presented in recital at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, in addition to other opportunities.

The final round of the competition took place on October 17 at Merkin Concert Hall at the Kaufman Music Center in New York City and was judged by a nine-person jury. Two YSM students won prizes at last year’s Concert Artist Guild competition. Guitarist Jiyeon “Jiji” Kim ’17MM won the top prize, and double bassist Samuel Suggs ’14MM ’20DMA was named the organization’s New Music/New Places Fellow.

The Argus Quartet, which was founded in Los Angeles in 2013, was named the first-place winner in the Senior Strings division of the University of Michigan’s M-Prize Chamber Arts Competition in May, which earned the group a $20,000 cash award and a residency at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance during the 2017-2018 academic year. At YSM, the Argus Quartet was the first ensemble to be mentored by the School’s ensemble-in-residence, the Brentano String Quartet. The Argus Quartet is currently the graduate quartet-in-residence at The Juilliard School.

Cheli, who studied at the Yale School of Music under the tutelage of pianist Peter Frankl, has performed at such venues as Carnegie Hall, Le Poisson Rouge, and Sheldon Concert Hall in his hometown, St. Louis. He is currently an artist diploma candidate at the Colburn Conservatory of Music, where he studies with Fabio Bidini. Cheli recently recorded a CD of music by Muzio Clementi at the Yale School of Music for an album that was released on the Naxos label.

ARGUS QUARTET

DOMINIC CHELI

Published October 19, 2017
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Pianist Szymon Nehring ’19AD wins Polish Music Coryphaeus award

Szymon Nehring

Pianist Szymon Nehring ’19AD has been named the Personality of the Year as part of the 2017 Polish Music Coryphaeus Awards. He was honored alongside other award recipients earlier this month in Warsaw, Poland.

“I consider this award the most important Polish music award,” Nehring, a native of Poland, said, honored to be in the company of composer Krzysztof Penderecki, whose receipt of a 2017 Grammy Award was named the Event of the Year, and composer, conductor, and pianist Jerzy Maksymiuk, who was given an Honorary Award. Flutist Marianna Żołnacz was recognized as having made the Debut of the Year.

Nehring began his studies this fall in the Artist Diploma program at YSM under the tutelage of Prof. Boris Berman, having won the prestigious Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv, Israel, in May. In addition to earning the Gold Medal at the competition, Nehring won the Best Performer of a Chopin Piece, Advanced Studies, and Junior Jury prizes, as well as the Audience Favorite in the Periphery prizes for Or Yehuda and Jezrael Valley. He’s scheduled to perform a recital on October 26 in Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall as part of a concert tour organized by the Arthur Rubinstein International Music Society, which administers the competition.

The Yale School of Music’s Artist Diploma program, Nehring said, “gives me the important opportunity to sometimes be away from the University and concertize. This way, I can combain both playing and studying, and I think it will be a perfect solution for me these next two years.”

Nehring, who previously studied with Stefan Wojtas at the Academy of Music in Bydgoszcz, Poland, said, “I consider American and Russian music schools the best in the world, and studying here at Yale with Professor Boris Berman gives me a combination of those. That is why I chose the Yale School of Music. I have been here for a short amount of time, so I cannot say much, but what I definitely observe is that I can peacefully work on my new repertoire and be inspired by musicians who teach or study at the University. I think at my age it is important to still study, to not be overwhelmed by the concert life, and more importantly (to) develop as a person and musician.”

SZYMON NEHRING

Published October 13, 2017
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Violinist Ariel Horowitz ’19MM, on broadening her horizons and playing “Ein Heldenleben”

Ariel Horowitz

Violinist Ariel Horowitz’s first performance at the School of Music was the Yale Philharmonia’s season-opening concert, which included a performance of Stravinsky’s revolutionary Rite of Spring. “It was really an amazing experience,” she said. “The second I sat down, I felt like a professional. I felt like I needed to bring my best artistry, because my colleagues were bringing theirs.”

Horowitz ’19MM, who was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Bloomington, Indiana, earned a bachelor of music degree from The Juilliard School, where she studied with Itzhak Perlman and Catherine Cho, before enrolling at YSM. Here, Horowitz studies with Ani Kavafian while exploring what Yale University has to offer.

Studying at YSM, she said, was an “opportunity to … develop myself as a person and an intellectual and an artist.”

In addition to playing the violin, Horowitz’s artistic practice includes composition. Her Juilliard recital featured a performance of Woman, a performance “collage” she created that includes music, dance, and the recorded voices of various women in her life. For Horowitz, art is a vehicle through which she contributes to the needs of several communities. She’s a co-founder of The Heartbeat Project, which provides music training for Navajo schoolchildren in Crownpoint, New Mexico.

Horowitz hopes that being a student at Yale will “contribute to my understanding of global politics and global affairs.”

“To just be around people who are scholars, I think, is just going to be such a unique and different experience for me,” she said.

Still, she’s here at YSM to play and study the violin. And that includes playing in the Yale Philharmonia. When the orchestra performs Strauss’ tone poem Ein Heldenleben on Friday, Oct. 13, under the direction of guest conductor David Robertson, she’ll be the concertmaster, playing the solo part.

“I have never played it in context,” Horowitz said.

Talking about Strauss’ storytelling, she said, “I almost feel like Heldenleben is more of a dramatic work” than a piece of music. The violin solo “is a depiction of [Strauss’] wife, Pauline.” Having studied and read about the piece, Horowitz said, “I feel like I have a lot of insight into how Pauline was actually feeling,” and that the composer, “whether he intended to or not, shows how much power Pauline has.”

The solo part is challenging, particularly in terms of having “enough variation in my sound to be able to express the depths of Pauline’s character. Those character changes are so important to bring that story out.”

Practicing the part, Horowitz said, “really feels like learning lines to a play. I don’t want to be Ariel when I’m playing,” she said. “I want to be Pauline.”

DETAILS AND TICKETS

Published October 5, 2017
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Vijay Gupta ’07MM, on music as a vehicle for social justice

Vijay Gupta

Violinist and YSM alum Vijay Gupta ’07MM is a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the founder and artistic director of Street Symphony, an organization that “serves to foster a dialogue which tells the unheard stories of the most marginalized communities in Los Angeles through the power of musical expression,” according to language on its website. We spoke with Vijay about the artist’s role in society.

Q: What experiences at Yale and the Yale School of Music, and in New Haven, inform the work you’re doing now with Street Symphony and in terms of how the arts can be a vehicle for social justice in a larger sense?

A: Well, it was two classes in particular. One was my Hearing class with Joan Panetti, which totally transformed the way that I teach and perform and collaborate. I was actually Dr. Panetti’s TA for my second whole year at YSM, so that was really, really special for me. And it’s kind of amazing, I kind of feel Dr. Panetti coming up in my voice and in my steps when I teach, so that’s very cool. The second class was a survey of late Beethoven by Markus Rathey, and he went through, I think, from Op. 90 until the end of Beethoven. And just being able to present in his class, and being able to look at the composers for who they were as people and not just as these marble busts of dead white guys, really, really changed the way that I approach playing. And it’s a direct correlation to the way that I lead programs when I play Beethoven or Schumann in a county jail, because our audiences are not interested in how well we play, they’re interested in the stories. They’re, in a sense, interested in the humanity of the composers. So those are two things that I got from those two classes. And of course I have to give credit to my amazing teacher, who was Ani Kavafian. She was just so wonderful and kind and got me to think about different aspects of my playing that I hadn’t even thought about before, but she also cared about me as a person, which was kind of new for me having come from the conservatory system. Oftentimes in those situations my personhood didn’t count as much as how well I played my etudes. But I played a lot of Baroque violin at school with ISM; I was playing with Robert Mealy and that was an extension of what I was getting from Markus Rathey’s class and from Joan Panetti’s class. It was a very natural extension of what was going on in the life of these composers as they were composing. And one direct example of how that’s showed up for me in my organization is in our Messiah project. We do a yearly sing-along of Handel’s Messiah in Skid Row at a homeless shelter. And we’ve actually now started placing formerly homeless Desert Storm combat veterans as our soloists, and we give them lessons all year long. And when you look at the situation in which Handel performed his Messiah, it wasn’t in a concert hall, it was in an orphan’s hospital, and the first concert released 142 men from debtor’s prison. So if we’re really doing authentic performance practice, if we’re really going to put our mouth where our money is with regard to what these composers were actually dreaming and thinking as they composed, then we also have to have the same kind of social understanding of what kind of music our community needs. It became very clear to me at school that these composers were writing for their communities. I’m sorry to go on a little bit here, but Bach’s passions would have been called engagement sing-along concerts today, because everybody in the audience knew those chorales and they stood up and sang them. So what’s our modern day Messiah? That’s the kind of question that I’m asking in my head right now as I lead my life and do my stuff.

MORE

Published August 29, 2017
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Paolo Bortolameolli named assistant conductor at LA Phil

Paolo Bortolameolli

Conductor Paolo Bortolameolli ’13MM has been appointed an assistant conductor to Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel at the Los Angeles Philharmonic for the upcoming season. Bortolameolli previously served as a Dudamel Fellow, an initiative, Dudamel said in a press release, that “continues the LA Phil’s commitment to supporting and training the next generation of exceptional conductors.”

While at YSM, Bortolameolli was an assistant conductor of the Yale Philharmonia. He has served as a cover conductor for Marin Alsop at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and led the New Haven Chamber Orchestra during his final year at Yale.

A native of Chile, Bortolameolli has worked with the top ensembles in that country including Orquesta Filarmónica de Santiago, Orquesta Sinfónica de Chile, Orquesta de la Universidad de Concepción, Orquesta USACH, Orquesta de Cámara de Chile, and Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional Juvenil.

PRESS RELEASE
PAOLO BORTOLAMEOLLI

Published August 1, 2017
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Hilary Purrington receives American Composers Orchestra commission

Hilary Purrington

Composer Hilary Purrington ’17MMA has been awarded the American Composers Orchestra’s 2017 Underwood Emerging Composer Commission, “bringing her a $15,000 commission for a work to be premiered by ACO in a future season,” according to a press release issued by the organization. Purrington was one of six finalists to participate, in late June, in the ACO’s Underwood New Music Readings, during which the orchestra played her 2016 piece Likely Pictures in a Haphazard Sky. More than 250 composers submitted work to the annual program.

Derek Bermel, the ACO’s artistic director, was quoted in the press release as saying, “Hilary Purrington’s music spoke in a highly personal voice … Her work unfolded assuredly, revealing an orchestral palette at once austere and lyrical.”

“The Underwood New Music Readings were beyond anything I expected or anticipated,” Purrington was quoted as saying. “I learned so much from our mentor composers, conductor George Manahan, and the extraordinary musicians of the American Composers Orchestra. I’m honored and thrilled to receive the Underwood Commission, and I’m very excited to compose for these incredible and fearless musicians!”

The mentor composers who participated are Libby Larsen, David Rakowski, and Trevor Weston.

“Founded in 1977,” the press release reads, “American Composers Orchestra is the only orchestra in the world dedicated to the creation, performance, preservation, and promulgation of music by American composers. ACO makes the creation of new opportunities for American composers and new American orchestral music its central purpose.”

School of Music alumnus Andy Akiho ’11MM was awarded the ACO’s 2014 Underwood Commission.

PRESS RELEASE
HILARY PURRINGTON

Published July 11, 2017
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Rachel Cheung ’13MM reaches finals, wins Audience Award at Van Cliburn Competition

Rachel Cheung performs with Leonard Slatkin and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra in the final round of the Van Cliburn Competition. Photo by Ralph Lauer/The Cliburn

School of Music alumna Rachel Cheung ’13MM was one of six finalists at the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, which took place May 25 through June 10 in Fort Worth, Texas. She took home $12,500 in cash prizes — $10,000 for reaching the final round and $2,500 for earning the Audience Award. As a finalist, Cheung also received a promotional package, which includes photos, additional marketing materials, and media training.

In the course of the competition in Fort Worth, Cheung, who studied at YSM with Peter Frankl, performed three different recital programs, a piano quintet with the Brentano String Quartet — YSM’s quartet-in-residence — and two concerti.

YSM alumna Sun-A Park ’16AD ’17MMA, who studied at YSM with Boris Berman, also participated in the prestigious competition, performing a recital in the preliminary round and taking home a $1,000 cash prize.

Of the 290 pianists who applied, 140 were selected for live auditions. Cheung auditioned in Seoul, in January, and Park auditioned in New York, in February. Only 30 pianists, including Cheung and Park, were invited to compete in Fort Worth.

Sun-A Park performs during the preliminary round of the Van Cliburn Competition. Photo by Ralph Lauer/The Cliburn

According to its website, the Van Cliburn Competition, which is held every four years, is widely recognized as “one of the world’s highest-visibility classical-music contests” and has been responsible for launching the careers of some of the world’s most prominent pianists.

Related:
PIANISTS SUN-A PARK AND RACHEL CHEUNG TO PARTICIPATE IN VAN CLIBURN COMPETITION

Published June 12, 2017
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YSM welcomes two artist diploma candidates to prestigious program

Sirena Huang, left, and Szymon Nehring

In the fall, the Yale School of Music will welcome two new artist diploma candidates to the program. Violinist Sirena Huang, who is currently enrolled in YSM’s master of music program, will now pursue an artist diploma. Pianist Szymon Nehring will enter the AD program having previously studied at the Academy of Music in Bydgoszcz, Poland. Huang and Nehring will join pianist Vyacheslav Gryaznov in the program, whose curriculum was revised in 2014 to serve instrumentalists and vocalists who are on the cusp of major international solo careers.

“The artist diploma is our highest performance degree,” YSM Deputy Dean Melvin Chen said. “The two entering the program in the fall exemplify the type of artist diploma candidate we are looking for — bright, inquisitive, and unique artists who are gaining recognition through top prizes in major international competitions.”

Huang, who studies with Hyo Kang, recently won the New York Concert Artists Worldwide Debut Audition for Violinists and the inaugural Elmar Oliveira International Violin Competition. Earlier this month, Nehring won the 15th Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition. He will study with Boris Berman at YSM. MORE

Published May 17, 2017
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Szymon Nehring wins Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition

Szymon Nehring. Photo by Piotr Markowski

Incoming YSM artist diploma candidate Szymon Nehring was named the first prize-winner of the 15th Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv, Israel. In addition to winning the Arthur Rubinstein Award (Gold Medal), Nehring won the Best Performer of a Chopin Piece, Advanced Studies, and Junior Jury prizes, as well as the Audience Favorite in the Periphery prizes for Or Yehuda and Jezrael Valley. In addition to earning $49,000 in cash awards, Nehring will perform numerous recitals as part of a concert tour organized by the Arthur Rubinstein International Music Society, which administers the competition. One of those performances, on October 26, will take place in Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. MORE

Published May 16, 2017
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