Yale International Choral Festival explores, connects cultures

Young People’s Chorus of New York City. Photo by Stephanie Berger

For the third year, the Yale International Choral Festival (June 12-16) will feature performances by vocal ensembles from around the world and lectures designed to add context to those programs.

Hosted by the Yale Glee Club and organized with the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, Yale School of Music, and Yale Alumni Chorus, the Choral Festival will welcome to New Haven ensemble cantissimo, a group of German and Swiss vocalists; the Muslim Choral Ensemble, a Sri Lankan group that was established in 2017; the Young People’s Chorus of New York City; Staccato, a group from the National Autonomous University of Mexico; the Yale Choral Artists; and the Yale Alumni Chorus.

Jeffrey Douma, director of the Yale Glee Club, founding director of the Yale Choral Artists, and artistic director of the Choral Festival, had tried to bring the Tehran Vocal Ensemble to New Haven but could not make that work. Still, members of that group will participate via live stream in Nahid Siamdoust’s June 14 lecture “Islam & Music: The Case of Iran,” which is informed by Siamdoust’s book Soundtrack of the Revolution: The Politics of Music in Iran. Siamdoust is a postdoctoral associate in the Yale Program in Iranian Studies at the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies. While the Tehran Vocal Ensemble, Douma said, is largely a secular choir, the nascent Muslim Choral Ensemble is “the first ensemble devoted exclusively to Muslim choral music in South Asia, if not in the world.”

The Young People’s Chorus of New York City is no newcomer to the choral scene. Established 30 years ago with a mission “to provide children of all cultural and economic backgrounds with a unique program of music education and choral performance that seeks to fulfill each child’s potential,” the ensemble will perform the premiere of Paola Prestini’s The Glass Box alongside the Yale Choral Artists. In doing so, members of the Young People’s Chorus will sing about peers in terrible circumstances.

Prestini’s The Glass Box was inspired by Rachel Aviv’s April 2017 New Yorker piece “The Trauma of Facing Deportation” and the “resignation syndrome” described therein that has afflicted refugees in Sweden. The performance will include projections by Kevork Mourad, a New York-based Syrian artist of Armenian heritage. The Young People’s Chorus-Yale Choral Artists performance will be repeated in New York City on a program that will also include YSM faculty composer David Lang’s the national anthems, a piece that points to the violent themes that mark most national anthems.

The Choral Festival fits perfectly into the Arts & Ideas Festival, presenting compelling performances and talks aimed at connecting local audiences to the wider world through the human voice. “It is our hope,” language on the Choral Festival website reads,” that this year’s festival will be a concrete and vital demonstration of the ways in which the arts in general and choral singing in particular can help create understanding between people in a world that too often feels increasingly divided.”

YALE INTERNATIONAL CHORAL FESTIVAL

INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ARTS & IDEAS

Published June 7, 2018
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Ascendant composers prepare new works for Yale Philharmonia performance

Left to right: Alishan Gezgin, Krists Auznieks, Eli Greenhoe, Fjola Evans, Liliya Ugay

On Thursday, Dec. 7, conducting fellow David Yi will lead the Yale Philharmonia in a program of new orchestral works by several of YSM’s graduate-student composers. We spoke recently with composers Alishan Gezgin (The Passage), Krists Auznieks (Grace), Eli Greenhoe (Wrest), Fjola Evans (Lung), and Liliya Ugay (To the Lost World) about composing and preparing their pieces for performance.

Q: What does it mean to you that the orchestra performing your piece is an ensemble of your peers? 

Gezgin: For me, being a composer is most meaningful when I can connect sounds and ideas to real human beings I know and care about. It’s a gift, how deeply embedded this piece feels in the Yale community. Everything in the piece emerges from my time here, the conversations and experiences I’ve shared with friends and teachers, and the countless new ideas those exchanges have brought me.

Auznieks: It is always a pleasure working with people who share your life experience; they are the ones who are most likely to understand the cultural context of where the piece is coming from, and in that sense they are also the best judges of the music.

Greenhoe: I already feel so lucky to have the opportunity to attend YSM and study among friends and colleagues who are some of the finest musicians I know of. To have the opportunity to write a piece specifically for them to play, and knowing the profound depth of musicality among the student body here, is a rare opportunity and (to borrow a cliché) a total dream-come-true.

Evans: I’m really excited to have written this piece for an orchestra of my classmates. Getting to attend the Yale Philharmonia concerts in Woolsey Hall while writing my piece was great. It’s rare that you get to see the ensemble you are writing for perform in the same hall your piece will be premiered — being there helped me to viscerally imagine what I wanted my piece to sound and feel like.

Ugay: It means that the musicians of the orchestra are able to connect to my music in a personal way, as many of them know me as a person and/or have already worked with me/played my music before. It deepens the mutual understanding and eases communication between the orchestra and the composer, something a composer can (usually) achieve only by working with one orchestra for years. MORE

Published November 30, 2017
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Faculty composer Hannah Lash, on YSM’s annual New Music for Orchestra program

Hannah Lash

On Dec. 7, conducting fellow David Yi will lead the Yale Philharmonia in a program of new orchestral works by the School of Music’s graduate-student composers. The annual New Music for Orchestra program is part concert and, to the composers whose music is performed, part workshop.

“The only way to learn orchestration is to hear your own work,” faculty composer and New Music New Haven Artistic Director Hannah Lash said. “You can study scores all you want, but there’s nothing like having that hands-on experience.” Part of that experience is hearing, in person and in context, what works and what may not. “There’s nothing like learning from your own mistakes.”

For Lash and her faculty colleagues in YSM’s composition program, the annual program reflects the work students have done throughout the semester and in some cases before that. It’s also a snapshot of work that will continue. The School’s faculty composers mentor students in conceptual and practical areas. “We feel really compelled to share our experience,” Lash said.

And while the graduate-student composers are the beneficiaries of that wisdom, members of the Yale Philharmonia become ambassadors of the music that’s being composed today. “For any player who has any anticipation of potentially playing in an orchestra,” Lash said, “it’s really, really important that they have a first-hand experience (with music) that has been written by their contemporaries” — in part to help dispel the notion that orchestras are simply vehicles for music of the past. “They, too, are benefiting from this,” Lash said of the instrumentalists, “not just their composer peers.”

The New Music for Orchestra program presents an opportunity for audience members, too. Each year, Lash sits among them without identifying herself. “Optimistically,” she said, “the response has been positive. They’re curious and sort of don’t know what to make of (watching) the next generation of composers find their legs a little bit.”

On Dec. 7, that next generation of composers will add new music to the orchestral repertoire.

Stay tuned for interviews with the graduate-student composers whose work will be performed as part of the Dec. 7 New Music for Orchestra program.

DETAILS & TICKETS

Published November 29, 2017
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Inside YSM: Matthew Keown, percussion

Matthew Keown, percussion

We asked percussionist and current DMA candidate Matthew Keown ’16MM to share his thoughts about the new Adams Center for Musical Arts.

“As a percussionist at YSM, I am lucky enough to have my studio located in the heart of the new building,” he said. “The door to our foyer leads directly to the new student lounge, our beloved watering (coffee) hole. The quality of a practice space affects musicians more than one might imagine. The natural light let in through large windows in our practice rooms energizes the musician and helps foster a greater sense of focus. The sound of our new rooms varies with the shape of the space to provide diverse, quality sonic experiences.”

The new spaces also serve the logistical needs of the YSM percussion studio.

“As percussionists,” Matt said, “we are constantly moving equipment from one space to another, and the generosity with which the new building was designed, in respect to this need, is greatly appreciated. Each door in our percussion suite was specially designed to comfortably fit five-octave marimbas and 32” timpani. The percussionist’s favorite part of the new building, though, is the elevator. On any given day in the old Hendrie Hall, I am told, you could spot percussionists carrying timpani upstairs. I think I speak for all current and future percussionists (sorry those of past generations) when I say thank you for this convenience!”

Matt’s performance of YSM faculty composer David Lang’s “the anvil chorus” was recently featured in a video of the Adams Center’s name being carved into the face of the new complex.

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Published March 24, 2017
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NYT: Yale Composers Showcase Their Works at New Music New Haven

Ani Kavafian, Lisa Morre, and David Shifrin | Photo by Chris Lee

Ani Kavafian, Lisa Moore, and David Shifrin | Photo by Chris Lee

The New York Times | By Vivien Schweitzer

It’s rarely a compliment to describe a composer as “academic”: the word is usually applied to those perceived as being sequestered on campus creating esoteric, dreary works. Conversely, being too “accessible” (i.e., not challenging enough) has also been deemed a negative. But there’s nothing pejoratively “academic” or “accessible” about any of the Yale faculty composers featured during a concert on Wednesday at WQXR’s Greene Space in SoHo.

David Lang, Hannah Lash, Christopher Theofanidis, Aaron Jay Kernis and Martin Bresnick represent an accessible aesthetic that draws on multiple stylistic influences. Some of their music has been championed by Bang on a Can, the lively genre-bending collective whose three founders, all Yale alumni, include Mr. Lang. The vocalist Helga Davis hosted Wednesday’s event, part of the NY Phil Biennial, and interviewed each composer and Alan Gilbert, the Philharmonic’s music director, onstage. MORE

Published May 26, 2016
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[ faculty ]

David Lang receives two David di Donatello Awards

Lang-by-David-Serling-web

David Lang

Faculty member and alumnus David Lang ’83 MMA, ’89 DMA was recently recognized at Italy’s David di Donatello Awards, receiving accolades for Best Score and Best Original Song for his soundtrack to Paolo Sorrentino’s film, Youth.

Lang also received Oscar and Golden Globe nominations in the category of Best Original Song for “Simple Song No. 3” from the movie. The song, which was written as part of the score to the film “Youth,” was nominated among several trendy, chart-topping titles, including One Kind of Love, from Love and Mercy; See You Again, fromFurious 7; and Writing’s on the Wall from Spectre. Lang wrote both the lyrics and the music to the song.

Youth stars Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel, and is the story of a retired composer and conductor who, while on holiday with his best friend in the Swiss Alps, receives an invitation from Queen Elizabeth II to perform for Prince Philip’s birthday. The film has been described as exploring the eternal struggle of age and youth, the past and future, and life and death, as Caine and Keitel reflect on their lives.

Published April 30, 2016
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[ concerts ]

New Music New Haven features Kernis and Lang

LangKernis

David Lang, Aaron Jay Kernis

The New Music New Haven concert series at the Yale School of Music continues on Thursday, April 14 at 7:30pm, with the music of faculty members Aaron Jay Kernis and David Lang, along with new works by graduate student composers. MORE

Published April 6, 2016
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[ students & alumni ]

Faculty, Alumni, and Students Receive NEA Grants

The National Endowment for the Arts recently announced the recipients of their Art Works Grants for 2016, and several faculty, alumni, and student composers are among the awardees. The organization awarded $27 million for arts projects across the United States, and the first round of FY 2016 funding inaugurates the next 50 Years of National Endowment for the Arts Support.

The NEA defines “Art Works” as referring to three things: the works of art themselves, the ways art works on audiences, and the fact that art is work for the artists and arts professionals who make up the field. The NEA recognizes these catalytic effects of excellent art, and the key role that arts and design organizations play in revitalizing them. MORE

Published March 1, 2016
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[ in the press ]

The New Yorker: Fish Out of Water

Lang-by-David-Serling-webThe New Yorker | By Alex Ross

On the day of the Golden Globe Awards, in January, the composer David Lang, who teaches at the Yale School of Music and won a Pulitzer Prize for his radiant choral work “The Little Match Girl Passion,” found himself in a Chevy Suburban on a side street in Beverly Hills, creeping toward the Beverly Hilton. He had been nominated, in the Best Original Song category, for a piece called “Simple Song #3,” which appears in Paolo Sorrentino’s film “Youth.” His competitors were Sam Smith, Brian Wilson, Wiz Khalifa, and a team led by Max Martin. Lang was at a far remove from the Manhattan new-music world where he has long been a fixture, notably as a co-founder of the Bang on a Can collective.

Lang, who is fifty-nine and has a droll, sanguine manner, was with his wife, the artist Suzanne Bocanegra. “This tux belonged to my dad,” he said. With his shaved head and his round architect-style glasses, he could be mistaken for a studio big shot. “But, more often, people ask me to park their cars,” he said. He grew up in Los Angeles, the son of a doctor and a librarian, but in his youth he had only glancing contact with movie culture. As a teen-ager, in the nineteen-seventies, he worked as an usher at a theatre in Westwood; one of his duties was to attend to patrons who had thrown up during “The Exorcist.”

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Published February 26, 2016
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[ faculty + alumni ]

David Lang, Thomas Newman receive Oscar nominations

David Lang, composer

David Lang, composer

Two composers who studied at YSM are among the nominees for the 2016 Academy Awards: David Lang ’83 MMA, ’89 DMA, a member of the Yale composition faculty, and Thomas Newman ’77 BA, ’78 MM, a widely respected film composer.

David Lang ’83 MMA, ’89 DMA, a member of the composition faculty, was nominated in the category of Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song) for the “Simple Song No. 3” from the movie Youth. Lang wrote the music and lyrics; during the lead-up to the Golden Globes (for which he was also nominated), he spoke to The Atlantic about his “unusual text-assembly method” — using Google searches to suggest phrases. MORE

Published January 21, 2016
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