Willie Ruff awarded honorary doctorate

Willie Ruff receives an honorary doctorate from University President Salovey. Photo by Michael Marsland

As part of Yale’s 317th Commencement, which took place on May 21, the University awarded honorary degrees to “10 individuals who have received distinction in their respective fields.” Among the recipients was Willie Ruff ’53BM ’54MM, who retired in May 2017 having spent 46 years on the School of Music faculty.

Presenting Ruff with an honorary doctor of music degree, University President Peter Salovey said, “You have shared the wonders of music with the world. Introducing new audiences to the transcendent power of jazz; you discovered the echoes of distant times and faraway places in this quintessential American art form. In your ‘conservatory without walls,’ generations of young people have been inspired by jazz legends. Scholar, storyteller, and musician, in gratitude for your creativity and charisma, we are privileged to present your third Yale degree, Doctor of Music.”

The “conservatory without walls” to which Salovey referred is the “‘invisible institution’ through which African American music has been nurtured and developed over time,” explained Lucile Bruce in the Spring 2017 issue of Music at Yale. In 1972, a year after joining the faculty at his alma mater, Ruff brought 40 jazz legends to Yale — among them Duke Ellington, Marian Anderson, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charles Mingus — and launched the Duke Ellington Fellowship and the Ellington Jazz Series.

Throughout his extraordinary career, Ruff has introduced audiences around the world to jazz. With pianist Dwike Mitchell, Ruff — a horn and bass player — brought the art form to the Soviet Union in 1959 and to China in 1981.

Ruff’s scholarship has yielded remarkable insight into musical connections, and his eagerness to share his experiences and knowledge has enlightened many. His 1991 memoir, A Call to Assembly: The Autobiography of a Musical Storyteller, earned him an ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for Music Writing.

At the School of Music’s 2017 Honors Banquet, Ruff was given Yale University’s Nathan Hale Award. “He’s changed all our lives,” YSM Dean Robert Blocker said.

Ruff came to the Yale School of Music to study with Paul Hindemith — because he had read that Charlie Parker would have done the same. More than half century later, the School and the University continue to recognize and appreciate his remarkable legacy.

READ THE MUSIC AT YALE FEATURE
WATCH A VIDEO ABOUT WILLIE RUFF

Published May 23, 2018
Share This Comments

YSM Alumni News | May 2018

Pianist Tanya Bannister CERT was named president of the Concert Artists Guild. She succeeds Richard S. Weinert, who plans to retire in June after 18 years at the organization.

Violinist Qi Cao ’10MM won a position with the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra and will join the ensemble in September 2018. Cao has been a member of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra for five years.

The Jasper String Quartet. Photo by Dario Acosta

The Jasper String Quartet, which includes violinists John Freivogel ’10AD and Sae Chonabayashi, violist Sam Quintal ’10AD, and cellist Rachel Henderson Freivogel ’10AD, had their album Unbound named one of The New York Times’ “Top 25 Classical Albums of 2017.” The recording includes works by YSM alumni Judd Greenstein ’04MM, Caroline Shaw ’07MM, Missy Mazzoli ’06MM, Ted Hearne ’08MM ’09MMA ’14DMA, and David Lang ’83MMA ’89DMA and was released on the Sono Luminus and New Amsterdam labels.

Composers Michael Gilbertson ’13MM ’21DMA and Ted Hearne ’08MM ’09MMA ’14DMA were named co-finalists for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Music. Gilbertson was nominated for his work Quartet, which was commissioned by the Verona Quartet, Concert Artists Guild, and BMI Foundation, and Hearne was nominated for his work Sound from the Bench, which was commissioned by Volti and The Crossing.

Darren Hicks

Darren Hicks ’14MM was appointed associate principal bassoonist of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Hicks has been a fellow at the New World Symphony, in Miami Beach, Fla., for the past three years.

Alumna Molly Joyce ’17MM and incoming students Alexis C. Lamb ’20MM and Peter Shin ’20MMA received ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) Foundation Morton Gould Young Composer Awards.

Violinist Dennis Kim ’98MM was named concertmaster of the Pacific Symphony in Orange County, Calif. Kim has served as concertmaster of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra since 2015.

Composers Yoshiaki Onishi ’07MM ’08AD and Carl Schimmel ’99MM were awarded Guggenheim Fellowships for music composition.

Two alumni received awards from the Richard Tucker Music Foundation. Bass-baritone Christian Van Horn ’02MM ’03AD received the Richard Tucker Award, and bass David Leigh ’14MM received a Sara Tucker Study Grant.

Published May 9, 2018
Share This Comments

Concert to showcase former students of Boris Berman

Boris Berman

On Wednesday, April 4, several former students of faculty pianist and Horowitz Piano Series Artistic Director Boris Berman will perform a concert that celebrates his 70th birthday, which takes place the day before, and the work Berman has done at YSM since joining the School’s faculty in 1984.

“We have so many wonderful alums among the graduates of the piano department,” Berman said. The challenge in putting this concert together was identifying which alumni would perform. He decided to build a program around recent graduates who have had success at international competitions.

The program will feature sisters Esther Park ’12AD ’13MMA ’17DMA and Sun-A Park ’16AD ’17MMA, performing together as Duo Amadeae; Ronaldo Rolim ’20DMA; Henry Kramer ’13AD ’19DMA; and Larry Weng ’14MMA ’19DMA and Yevgeny Yontov ’14MM ’20DMA, performing as part of the icarus Quartet, which also includes percussionists Jeff Stern ’16AD and Matthew Keown ’16MM ’20DMA. Berman asked each pianist to propose several pieces of repertoire, then “tried to make a varied program of different styles.” The program will feature works by Schubert, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Albéniz, Ravel, and Bartók.

Duo Amadeae won first prize at the Chicago International Duo Piano Competition in 2016. Rolim won Astral Artists’ 2017 national auditions. Kramer earned second prize at the 2016 Queen Elisabeth Competition, of which Weng was named a laureate. And Yontov was a finalist at the 15th Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition.

While the April 4 program showcases Berman’s students, he is quick to celebrate the collaborative nature of YSM’s piano department. When pianists arrive at YSM to study, they can expect to cross paths with all piano faculty members. “We have a department in which we truly enjoy being together,” Berman said. “Very often, I send my students to play for my colleagues.” Two of those colleagues, Wei-Yi Yang and Deputy Dean Melvin Chen, are Berman’s former students. The primary criteria Berman and his piano faculty colleagues use in selecting pianists for admission is artistic individuality. “We are in the position to select people who are both very engaged intellectually and also wonderful artists,” he said of the students who enroll at the School of Music. “It is not by accident that every year we have applicants from the best schools.”

Esther Park enrolled at YSM and joined Berman’s studio after earning an undergraduate and graduate degree from The Juilliard School and then studying at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hannover. “He respected the background that I came from,” she said. “He knew exactly what I needed.” Talking with Berman about music, Park said, is “like speaking with Yoda.”

The piano department at YSM is unique, Park said, because of the faculty members’ relationships. When she was working on music by Schubert or Schumann, Berman would encourage Park to play for Peter Frankl. In turn, pianists from other faculty members’ studios play certain repertoire — Prokofiev, for example — for Berman. Park takes that approach at East Tennessee State University, where she is an assistant professor of piano.

Kramer, who is an assistant teaching professor at the University of Missouri–Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance, also spoke about the collaborative environment at YSM. “We all would play for each other and help disseminate ideas that had come to us through Prof. Berman,” Kramer said. “The overall environment at YSM is very intense and expecting the highest caliber of music-making, but at the same time you feel that the fabric of the faculty, students, and administration weaves together to create this wonderful network of support propelling you to achieve your own personal best results. I am honored to have the opportunity to celebrate my school and my professor during this concert.”

Berman points out that he, in turn, learns plenty from his students. Sometimes a student’s performance will remain “a reference for me,” he said, explaining that he will find himself “convinced,” after hearing a particular interpretation.

“It’s a fascinating field,” he said, “and it is a great privilege to work with so many talented people.”

On Wednesday, April 4, alumni who studied with faculty pianist and Horowitz Piano Series Artistic Director Boris Berman return from international successes to perform at the School of Music.

PROGRAM DETAILS & TICKETS

Published April 2, 2018
Share This Comments

Robert van Sice to perform with current YPG members and alumni

Robert van Sice

Yale Percussion Group Director Robert van Sice recently said that Garth Neustadter’s Seaborne “is the best piece anyone’s written for me since [James Wood’s] Spirit Festival with Lamentations.” Neustadter’s piece, which will be premiered on Saturday, March 3, as part of a concert billed as Robert van Sice & Friends, was commissioned to be a sort of companion piece to Steve Reich’s Sextet.

The March 3 program is built around Seaborne, which is fitting given that Neustadter ’12MM is a YSM alum and the concert will feature current YPG members and a host of alumni. In addition to Seaborne, which includes a film component created by van Sice’s son, Kjell van Sice, the program includes Thierry De Mey’s Musique de tables, “Story” from John Cage’s Living Room Music, and Reich’s Sextet.

Current YPG member YoungKyoung Lee ’18MM said the concert “represents the most important part of Bob’s teaching, which is learning from your peers and having the community together.” Percussionists are told when they arrive at YSM, “You will learn more from the other five students here than you will learn from me,” van Sice said. During the March 3 concert, several generations of YSM-trained percussionists will share the Morse Recital Hall stage, introducing the audience to some of the students who have passed through the School since van Sice joined the faculty in 1997.

While he’s looking forward to celebrating his time on the YSM faculty, van Sice is quick to recognize those who were here before him: Fred Hinger and Gordon Gottlieb. “These are really significant people who I have the privilege of succeeding,” van Sice said.

The March 3 concert, van Sice said, is “going to look way more like a party than a concert.”

DETAILS

Published February 28, 2018
Share This Comments

YSM alumni take home Grammy Awards

The National’s “Sleep Well Beast”

Several Yale School of Music alumni won Grammy Awards on Sunday, Jan. 28. Please join us in congratulating the following musicians on this exciting accomplishment.

Guitarist Bryce Dessner ’99MM won as a member of The National, whose album Sleep Well Beast won in the “Best Alternative Music Album” category.

Saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom ’77MM earned an award as a surround producer in the “Best Surround Sound Album” category for her Early Americans.

Violinists Irene Cheng ’94MM and Louis Lev ’90MM and trombonist Rebecca Cherian ’81MM won as members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in the “Best Orchestral Performance” category for the ensemble’s recording of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 and Barber’s Adagio for Strings. For that recording, which was engineered by Mark Donahue, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra also won in the “Best Engineered Album, Classical” category.

Violinists Maureen Nelson ’00MM and Kayla Moffett ’13MM and cellist Joshua Koestenbaum ’80MM won as members of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra in the “Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance” category for the ensemble’s Death and the Maiden album, which features music by Dowland, Gesualdo, Kurtág, Normiger, and Schubert.

Published January 29, 2018
Share This Comments

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
Share This Comments

This young rising star from Philly just got the call-up of a lifetime

Kensho Watanabe

The Philadelphia Inquirer | By David Patrick Stearns

Kensho Watanabe can barely fathom the turn of events that found him on stage leading the Philadelphia Orchestra last weekend — with three hours’ notice.

 “I know what happened,” Watanabe said in an interview this week. “But my brain is still processing it.”

Surreal is one word that comes to mind, he said. Watanabe was notified at 5 p.m. Saturday that music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin had come down with a virus and could not conduct the 8 p.m. program at the Kimmel Center.

READ FULL ARTICLE

Published June 29, 2017
Share This Comments

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
Share This Comments

Achievements celebrated at annual Honors Dinner

Carol Colburn Grigor, recipient of the Samuel Simons Sanford Award

Left to right: Benjamin Polak, Peter Salovey, Samuel Simons Sanford Award winner Carol Colburn Grigor, and Robert Blocker

The Yale School of Music held its annual Honors Dinner on Sunday, May 7, welcoming students and alumni, faculty and staff, and distinguished guests to the Yale Commons for an evening of celebration. After thanking recently retired staff members for their service and acknowledging the University officers who were in attendance, YSM Dean Robert Blocker presented Carol Colburn Grigor ’69MMA CBE with the School’s highest honor, the Samuel Simons Sanford Award. Grigor, Blocker, said, “is one of America’s most generous … most thoughtful philanthropists.” Composer and former Edinburgh International Festival director Jonathan Mills congratulated Grigor via video.

Willie Ruff, recipient of the Nathan Hale Award

Left to right: Benjamin Polak, Peter Salovey, Nathan Hale Award recipient Willie Ruff, and Robert Blocker

Dean Blocker, with University President Peter Salovey and Yale Provost Benjamin Polak at his side, presented longtime YSM professor Willie Ruff ’53BM ’54MM, who will retire at the end of the semester, with the University’s prestigious Nathan Hale Award. “He’s changed all our lives,” Blocker said, before attendees were shown a video tribute to Ruff’s life and work. In a nod to the man who indirectly inspired him decades ago to study at YSM, Ruff said, “I thank, most of all, Charlie Parker.” The jazz office in the Yale School of Music’s Adams Center for Musical Arts was recently named in Ruff’s honor.

Left to right: Benjamin Polak, Peter Salovey, Ian Mininberg Distinguished Service Award winner Warren Lee, and Robert Blocker

Blocker presented the Ian Mininberg Distinguished Service Award to pianist Warren Lee ’00MM and the Cultural Leadership Citation to retiring Yale Collection of Musical Instruments curator William Nicholas Renouf ’71MMA. The Collection’s director, William Purvis, accepted the Citation on behalf of Renouf, who was unable to attend the Honors Dinner. Before presenting student prizes, Blocker referenced an impressive number of awards and successes earned and realized this year by students, faculty, and staff. He recognized longtime YSM faculty pianist Peter Frankl, who plans to retire in the fall, for his dedication to the School community.

At the end of the evening, Blocker told the students in attendance, “Claim the future. It belongs to you. You will make us better.” What follows is a list of the student prizes awarded during YSM’s 2017 Honors Dinner. MORE

Published May 9, 2017
Share This Comments

Willie Ruff retires having given “conservatory without walls” a home at Yale

By Lucile Bruce

Willie Ruff

Willie Ruff was born in 1931 in Sheffield, Alabama, a rural town on the south side of the Tennessee River. As a child, he showed an aptitude for music and immersed himself in the musical resources of his community. A neighborhood boy shared his drum set with young Willie and they became lifelong friends. The pianist at church became his piano teacher. But the best music he heard was the drumming in the African Pentecostal church half a block from his house. “We would sit on the ground outside the church and listen to the people playing those drums,” Ruff recalled. “It was the most exciting, the most moving music. I heard them in my sleep.”

Across the river from Sheffield stands Florence, the hometown of W.C. Handy, the “Father of the Blues.” Handy visited Ruff ’s elementary school classroom, played for the children, and accompanied their singing. “W.C. Handy was a big presence in my world,” Ruff recounted. “When I saw him on stage in my school, talking about the importance of our musical heritage, I said, ‘I want to do that.’ I think I have.” MORE

Published May 1, 2017
Share This Comments