Guest conductor David Robertson, on leading the Yale Philharmonia

David Robertson. Photo by Jay Fram

On Friday, October 13, guest conductor David Robertson, music director of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, will lead the Yale Philharmonia and violinist Laura Park in performances of William Walton’s Violin Concerto, Christopher Rouse’s Rapture, and Richard Strauss’ breathtaking tone poem Ein Heldenleben. We recently reached Mr. Robertson in St. Louis and asked him about championing American music and working with ascendant artists.

Q: You’ve conducted a lot of Christopher Rouse’s music. Would you talk about the importance of programming Rapture (and Rouse’s work) and bringing it to our audience here in New Haven?

A: I think that Chris’ music is really unique in the way that he has taken his experience of popular music culture, which is inescapable in the United States … I think it’s universal now. But it was possible to hold it at arm’s length in certain cultures that maintain the sort of strong roots of classical music in Europe – whereas in the United States, there’s never been this strict dividing line that the Germans have, say, between ernste Musik and Unterhaltungsmusik or serious music and entertainment music, translated loosely. So the interesting thing is that each American composer from Ives on out has really had to deal with How do they feel about this? How does it influence them? And the fascinating thing with Rouse is that it has allowed him to gain a certain amount of energy from the current and popular music, and at the same time keep all of the refinements that we know from sophisticated forms of music. And so the result is really a personal amount of or fusion of these things at a far deeper level that you can really point to and say, “Oh, well, you see this is the popular influence,” which you might be able to do, say, in a composer like Copland or possibly Virgil Thomson. With Rouse, they are fused in the same way that they are fused with Steve Reich or with John Adams. And I find that his particular take on the almost naïve emotional content that one often associates with the American experience, naïve in the best sense of the word – in the sense of pure, and unadulterated – is something that he brings out. And in Rapture it is the constant exploration of that sort of feeling of joy and autonomous peace. And the sort of feedback loop that this gives within the work. And so it’s this extraordinary build, which I don’t know that you could do in quite the same way and not have it be allied say as Ravel does with Bolero, with an actual dance form. He manages to make this cumulative in a number of remarkable ways. And so it felt like it was a great way to start a program that contains the other two works, both of which being emotional expression and storytelling in their own way. MORE

Published October 4, 2017
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Faculty composers Aaron Jay Kernis and Christopher Theofanidis, on New Music New Haven

Aaron Jay Kernis, left, and Christopher Theofanidis

The New Music New Haven series kicks off on Thursday, Sept. 28, with a program that features violinist Chee-Yun and music by faculty composers Aaron Jay Kernis and Christopher Theofanidis and graduate-student composers. We spoke recently with Kernis and Theofanidis about their work, and about the series and its value to audiences and to the School’s composition program.  

Q (for AJK): First Club Date is a new piece. What was its genesis and/or inspiration and what are you exploring in the work?

AJK: My son Jonah is a young (14-year-old) cellist and loves jazz. There so little jazz or jazz-influenced repertoire for cello that I wanted to fill that gap a bit, so this piece runs the gamut of inspiration from ragtime to funk and Jonah’s favorite new band, Snarky Puppy.

Q (for AJK): Three of the work’s five movements will be performed on Thursday, Sept. 28. How does hearing a new piece typically inform further work on that music?

AJK: From the first rehearsal before the August premiere, I was collaborating with my son and Matt Haimovitz (who performed the premiere), tightening it, tweaking the cello part, and coaching him to be funky. I keep on at that until I feel the music is completely right – then I can let it go and move on.

Q (for CT) Flow, my tears was composed 20 years ago in memory of Jacob Druckman. Do you let a work live on its own or do you revisit it as it’s performed anew by different players?

CT: It’s one of the great joys of composing – coming back to an older work and hearing it performed by different artists of different ages, sensibilities, metabolisms, and life experiences. They each bring their own take and timing to it, and sometimes it is really amazing to me that music can stretch as much as it does in these differing interpretations. Although I usually am done writing and reworking the actual notes of pieces by the premiere (or shortly thereafter, if I make minor adjustments), I often do change my ideas about the pacing of the work based on later performances. In this case, apart from the scores of performances it has already had, it has also been performed on different instruments – the violin, viola, cello, and guitar, and even each of those instruments has its own way of breathing and its own logic, which affects the work and my own sense of what works best.

Q (for CT): The Violin Fantasy is a reframing of the second movement of your Violin Concerto. How does the solo part differ, if at all, from the original, and what persuaded you to present the piece as a stand-alone work?

CT: The solo part is exactly the same, but the orchestral part is a reduction into a piano part, so it is quite a bit different than the original version. It was fun finding a way to make 85 instruments work in just the piano, though! The violinist for whom it was written, Sarah Chang, wanted to do the second movement on a 30-city tour as part of a concert recital, but it had to be just for violin and piano. Thirty cities was an offer I couldn’t refuse! The piece was played in Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow, in Thailand, in Japan, in South America – and all over the world.

Q (for both): How does teaching inform your work and vice versa?

AJK: I learn so much from my students, and their interests sometimes lead me into places and music I hadn’t know about. Also, they’re so good, how can one help but be inspired by their talent and inventiveness?

CT: One of the most important qualities in being a composer is being a good “editor” of yourself and your materials. I think teaching helps you become better at recognizing things that are happening in music and what is ultimately of value – your editorial sense kicks in when looking at other people’s music often more quickly than when looking at your own. I am much better now after so many years of teaching at stepping outside myself and looking objectively at what I am doing in my own music.

I think the decades of practical experience and the great journey in the arts that one lives are the most useful elements in teaching students. You see just how many ways things can work and be said musically, and it gives you a lot of ideas of how to help people who are just starting on their journey. Also, we all benefit from being truly who we are – not trying to be someone else- living what is most important to us – and I think that is maybe the most important thing we can pass on to a student as a model.

Q (for both): What opportunities does the New Music New Haven series afford students, particularly in terms of hearing works by their peers and receiving feedback? What does it mean to YSM’s composition students to have their work performed by peers and alongside music by their teachers? And what should audiences know, in general, about YSM’s composition department and students and the work that’s being produced here?

AJK: New Music New Haven is vital to bring student composers together with their performer colleagues (sometimes bringing about life-long collaborations), then getting critiques from composer peers and faculty. It’s one of the most important and vital elements of their education at YSM. Listeners should know that YSM has hosted and produced a few score of brilliant young composers over the years who have gone on to splendid careers out in the world. These concerts also give a window into the work of some of the most interesting established composers in the world (including the faculty), so these presentations are a spirited way to experience beautiful, fascinating music right here in New Haven (and via streaming).

CT: The students have works scheduled, rehearsed, coached by faculty, performed, and recorded (both audio and video) in our program – and then afterward, we all talk about the piece together as a group in the subsequent weeks, which helps everyone learn from the process. It is a rich experience from beginning to end and is kind of an idealized working situation for students to create; it is protective but realistic.

We try to foster a real sense of community in the greater program because these 12-15 composers will be running into one another for the rest of their lives and need one another; we choose people of an enormously broad stylistic variety and way of thinking and then try to cultivate respect and support between each of the composers.

The first New Music New Haven concert of the season takes place on Thursday, Sept. 28, at 7:30 pm, in Morse Recital Hall. Learn more about the program, which is free and open to the public, and the series.

Published September 27, 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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New oratorio by Martin Bresnick to be premiered at International Festival of Arts & Ideas

Martin Bresnick. Photo by Nina Roberts

A new oratorio by School of Music faculty composer Martin Bresnick will be premiered at Yale on June 20 as part of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, which commissioned the piece. The oratorio, Whitman, Melville, Dickinson — Passions of Bloom, will be performed again on June 21 at the Yale Summer School of Music/Norfolk Chamber Music Festival. The oratorio, which celebrates the work of its namesakes — Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, and distinguished literary critic Harold Bloom, the Sterling Professor of the Humanities and English at Yale — will be performed by the Yale Choral Artists and members of the Yale Philharmonia. Vocal soloists include YSM faculty tenor James Taylor, who’ll sing Bloom’s words. The oratorio is modeled on Bach’s St. John Passion. Bresnick assembled the libretto using poems by Whitman, Melville, and Dickinson and excerpts from Bloom’s The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime.

Talking about the poetry of the 19th century writers he’s celebrating, Bresnick said, “These particular works have been part of my mental universe since I was a young student. Still others I only recently got more closely acquainted with.” He’s been familiar with Bloom’s work for many years. In the mid-1980s, Bresnick composed music for the PBS series Voices & Visions, which, through interviews with such experts as Bloom, explored the lives of American poets. At that moment, Bresnick said, he felt that Bloom, who earned his Ph.D. from Yale in 1956, had established himself as a kind of Marlon Brando of critics, inasmuch as the “degree of passion and devotion he brought to his explanations” was “almost poetic.” It was while working on For the Sexes: The Gates of Paradise, based on the William Blake poem, that Bresnick got to know Bloom and appreciate the shared “commonalities in our origins and points of departure.” In incorporating excerpts from The Daemon Knows into his oratorio, Bresnick had permission from Bloom to use “anything I wanted.”

Modeling the oratorio on Bach’s St. John Passion was a logical step considering that Bloom’s voice in the piece is not unlike that of the Evangelist — the narrator — in Bach’s passions. And Taylor, Bresnick pointed out, is a “well-known Evangelist in the world of the two Bach passions.” In addition to Taylor, Bresnick said, “I needed some very special singers.” Enter the Yale Choral Artists.

“Several of the soloists for this performance also happen to be YSM alumni, from both the Institute of Sacred Music’s voice program and from Yale Opera, including two former students of Jimmy’s — Paul Tipton and Sherezade Panthaki,” YCA founding director and YSM professor of choral conducting, Jeffrey Douma, said. School of Music alumni who’ll be performing include mezzo-soprano Katherine Maroney ’06MM, soprano Megan Chartrand ’13MM, soprano Sarah Yanovitch ’15MM, tenor Colin Britt ’10MM, tenor Gene Stenger ’15MM, and tenor Steven Soph ’12MM. Bass-baritone Tipton ’10MM will sing Melville’s words, while Maroney and soprano Panthaki ’11AD will sing text by Dickinson. Additional vocal soloists include tenor Brian Giebler, who’ll sing words by Whitman, bass Glenn Miller, who’ll sing the words of Captain Ahab, from Melville’s Moby-Dick, and baritone Thomas McCargar, who’ll sing the words of Melville’s Ishmael.

“During his composition process,” Douma said, “Martin often showed me excerpts of the solo writing he was developing, and would describe the kinds of voices he was hearing. This helped me choose singers from within the ranks of the Choral Artists best suited to each role.”

Bresnick’s oratorio, Douma said, “references not only Bach but also Brahms and other composers. People who know the St. John Passion will hear distinct echoes of its opening chorus (“Herr, unser Herrscher”) in Martin’s opening chorus (“Shine! Shine! Shine!”). For me as conductor, knowing that Bach was a starting point for Martin has influenced my thinking about the melodic writing in the piece and its relationship to the text. Martin may not be quoting Bach, but his careful attention to the natural rise and fall of the language and his singularly expressive way of emphasizing particular words reminds me very much of Bach’s use of melody, especially in the extended recitatives we hear in his passions. It has reinforced how important it will be for the audience to connect with the language in a very direct way.”

Of the literary works that inspired the oratorio, Douma said, “I love all three of the writers who inhabit this piece, but I will admit that my understanding of each of them — especially Melville — has been enriched greatly by the process of preparing this music.”

Originally, Bresnick said, he conceived a piece that would celebrate Bloom’s writings on Whitman. “I found that that wasn’t congenial for me,” he said. “That wasn’t enough.” The piece “needed more contrast.”

Bloom, Bresnick said, is “very shy about the fact that this whole thing, in some ways, is about him.”

Whitman, Melville, Dickinson — Passions of Bloom will receive its world-premiere performance, as part of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, on Tuesday, June 20, at 8 pm, in Morse Recital Hall at the Yale School of Music. The oratorio will be performed again on Wednesday, June 21, at 7:30 pm, at the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival.

INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ARTS & IDEAS PERFORMANCE
NORFOLK PERFORMANCE

Published June 15, 2017
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Yaffe receives sustainability award, Purrington debuts “A Clarion Call”

YSM Associate Dean Michael Yaffe

Yale School of Music Associate Dean Michael Yaffe received a Certificate of Outstanding Recognition on Friday, April 21, from Yale University’s Office of Sustainability. Yaffe was recognized at the 2017 “State of Sustainability” Breakfast for his dedication to championing “inclusion and justice” at YSM, in the local community, and beyond.

“Michael Yaffe has worked to enrich the New Haven schools through the Music in Schools Initiative,” Office of Sustainability Director Ginger Chapman said.

According to language on its website, the Office of Sustainability’s mission “is to advance sustainability within the Yale community by acting as a catalyst for information exchange and facilitating capacity building, innovation, streamlined operations, and preparation of tomorrow’s sustainability leaders.”

“A city that provides families with active music-making is a more cohesive city,” Yaffe said. “Music is an emotional language that gives meaning to society and has the potential to bring confidence and commitment” to conversations such as those about health, equity, and future generations. MORE

Published April 21, 2017
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Katherine Balch named composer-in-residence at California Symphony

Composer Katherine Balch ’16MM was recently named the California Symphony’s Young American Composer-in-Residence. Over the course of a three-year residency, which begins in August, Balch will work closely with the ensemble and its music director, Donato Cabrera, to premiere and record three new large-scale orchestral works.

“My residency with the California Symphony will entail both the commissioned new works and outreach,” Balch said. “I’ll be writing three pieces for the orchestra of increasing size and scope over the course of three seasons. The first season, I will write a concert opener for the season finale concert in May. The second season, I’m hoping to write a concerto for a longtime collaborator and friend, and we are dreaming big for the third season.”

Balch, whose orchestral works have been performed by such prestigious ensembles as the Minnesota Orchestra and American Composers Orchestra, described her approach to writing for orchestra. MORE

Published April 20, 2017
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Acclaimed chamber ensembles A Far Cry and Roomful of Teeth to perform works by Caroline Shaw and Ted Hearne

Caroline Shaw ’07MM

The Michigan Daily | Dayton Hare

At its heart, public music making is about the way in which we exist in the same time and place as other people. It’s about how we communicate with and relate to one another. The playing of music is a conversation of sorts, an interaction undertaken between the musicians and the listeners, each member of the dialogue giving something and taking something away. It’s not a coincidence, then, that some of the most interesting and engaging music composed both throughout history and today comes from a wellspring of mutually supportive and inspiring relationships between musicians. On Wednesday night, concert goers at Rackham Auditorium will have the chance to witness the fruits of some of these relationships in a joint concert by the contemporary music ensembles A Far Cry and Roomful of Teeth.

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Published April 11, 2017
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YSM composers win American Academy of Arts and Letters awards

Hilary Purrington

Three YSM alumni composers and one current student have received awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the organization announced last month. Awardees were selected by a committee of Academy members including Yehudi Wyner ’50BA ’52BM ’53MM, Martin Boykan ’53MM, YSM faculty composer Aaron Jay Kernis, Samuel Adler, Sebastian Currier, Stephen Jaffe, Tobias Picker, and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. Sixteen composers in all received awards this year from the Academy.

Carl Schimmel ’99MM earned a Goddard Lieberson Fellowship, which is awarded to two composers each year. The fellowship, which comes with a $15,000 prize, was created in 1978 with an endowment from the CBS Foundation in memory the former Columbia Records president, who had died a year earlier.

Andrew Norman ’09AD received a $10,000 Arts and Letters Award in Music, which honors outstanding artistic achievement. The Academy established the award in 1941 to encourage creative work in the arts. Each year, five artists, eight authors, four composers, and four architects receive the prize. Composers receive an additional $10,000 to facilitate a recording of their work.

Katherine Balch ’16MM and current YSM student Hilary Purrington ’17MMA each received a $7,500 Charles Ives Scholarship, which is given to composition students of “great promise.” The scholarship was created when Ives’ widow, Harmony Ives, bequeathed the royalties from her husband’s music to the Academy of Arts and Letters. Two fellowships of $15,000 and six scholarships of $7,500 are awarded each year to composers.

The American Academy of Arts and Letters was founded in 1898 to “foster, assist, and sustain an interest in literature, music, and the fine arts,” according to language on the organization’s website. Each year, the Academy honors more than 50 composers, artists, architects, and writers with cash awards ranging from $5,000 to $100,000. The Academy also presents exhibitions of art, architecture, and manuscripts and organizes readings of new musicals.

CARL SCHIMMEL
ANDREW NORMAN
KATHERINE BALCH
HILARY PURRINGTON
AMERICAN ACADEMY OF ARTS AND LETTERS

Published April 6, 2017
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Inside YSM: Krists Auznieks, composer

Krists Auznieks

Meet composer and DMA candidate Krists Auznieks ’16MM, who spoke to us recently about what drew him to the Yale School of Music.

“I wanted to study at YSM firstly because of the faculty,” he said. “I highly value their diversity, and the prospect of being able to study with all of them was one of my main motivations. The relatively small size of the composition department means that it really is a community. We know one another’s music and we get to hear it at various points in its development. It is absolutely fascinating to see your peers grow and develop. It teaches one not only about musical development within a single piece of music, it reveals larger patterns behind the path of a young composer. It helps to see how regardless of the variety of aesthetic camps present on a single campus there are fundamental commonalties that our paths share, both humanly and musically. The composition department is a miracle within a miracle. The sheer talent that I am surrounded by is truly humbling. We see one another in the composition seminar every Thursday but you read about all of them in The New York Times or see them on TV over the weekend. That’s how high Yale composers’ presence is in the ‘real world.’ This is not an isolated department. Rather, it is constantly engaged with the world, with other spheres of human activity, with other arts and artists.”

Auznieks has also tapped into the vast resources the wider University has to offer.

“My opera ‘NeoArctic,’ which was premiered couple of months ago at the Royal Danish Theatre in Copenhagen, talks about the Anthropocene and climate change, and I would not have been able to go into such depth if I did not have the resources that Yale could provide: countless talks given on the campus on the topic, availability of the specialists in the field — these were the resources that allowed me to attain the depth of knowledge that was necessary for the production of such a complex work,” Auznieks said. “Another work that grew directly out of my studies at Yale is the project that I am currently doing with the Contemporaneous ensemble in New York. It involves texts from philosophy and East Asian religions that tackle concepts of the self and nothingness and these ideas grew directly out of the corresponding courses that I took at Yale.”

Auznieks’ “Light Stills” will be performed on an April 13 New Music New Haven concert featuring music by YSM faculty composer David Lang and graduate-student composers.

(Photo by Girts Ragelis)

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Published March 24, 2017
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A Chelsea Manning-WikiLeaks Opera, Seen in a New Light

Ted Hearne

Ted Hearne

The New York Times | By Zachary Woolfe

When you make art about current events, there’s a catch: Events change.

The SourceTed Hearne’s slippery, stunning opera about Chelsea Manning and WikiLeaks, had its premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2014. The year before, Ms. Manning had been sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking secret material on the Iraq war and other American military and diplomatic activities. Many on the left viewed WikiLeaks with wary sympathy for publishing her revelations.

Since then, of course, WikiLeaks has become a liberal pariah for publishing hacked emails belonging to Hillary Clinton’s political advisers. And Ms. Manning, who transitioned from male to female in prison, will be freed in May since her sentence was commuted by President Obama just before he left office.

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Published February 22, 2017
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