Faculty pianist Wei-Yi Yang discusses his Nov. 29 Horowitz Piano Series recital program

Wei-Yi Yang

On Nov. 29, faculty pianist Wei-Yi Yang will perform a Horowitz Piano Series recital featuring Schubert’s demanding and lively “Gasteiner” Sonata. The program will also showcase music by Bach and two composers whose work he inspired, Schumann and Liszt.

Talking about the pieces that will begin the concert — Liszt’s Prelude after J.S. Bach, Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, and selections from Schumann’s Four Fugues, Op. 72 — Yang said, “These two important composers of the Romantic period followed in Bach’s footsteps in the works selected here. Although some might associate Bach’s works and methods with precise craftsmanship and mathematical intrigue, here the two Romantics inherited the Baroque master’s obsession and passion in developing motifs and subjects, and grew the smallest musical seedlings into magnificent forests.

“It is striking to hear how two of the greatest Romantic composers used chromaticism and harmonic turns in the mid-1800s, lush and wayward they may be, which at times seem perfectly aligned with Baroque sensibilities,” Yang said. Their work in these pieces, he said, “encapsulates the timelessness of Bach’s vision and influence.”

Yang further explained that “Bach at his core is about the elements of song, dance, and, most of the time, a combination of both. The partitas are cosmopolitan collections of different dance movements that go straight to the heart of Baroque style in elegance and eloquence. Schubert is also always about the song (Lieder) and the dance, although in dance he is singularly obsessed with the Ländler style, which can be felt in the center movements of the D-major Sonata.”

The “Gasteiner,” Yang said, “is unusually sunny and optimistic for Schubert, although it is not without nostalgia and tenderness, while the composer spins out an unusual, virtuosic keyboard style combined with orchestral and quartet sonority and the omnipresent singing lyricism that is deeply embedded in his DNA.”

Asked about the significance of the program being centered on the key of D, Yang said, “I must confess that hearing a tonal thread is very important to me when I listen to and conceive the details of a program.”

 What’s important to him in the end is that “the audience will see and hear the prismatic aspects in music that I strive to unlock, whether it’s about tonal relationships, stylistic influences, or genre crossing.”

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Published November 21, 2017
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Boris Berman’s “Notes from the Pianist’s Bench” enhanced with multimedia elements

Fifteen years after its initial publication, faculty pianist Boris Berman’s Notes from the Pianist’s Bench (Yale University Press, 2002) has been enhanced to include audio and video clips that support the written content, which has also been updated.

“I expanded it in terms of the content,” Berman said, “but also, I added the visual and audio components.” A decade and a half after writing the book, Berman considered various pieces of feedback, and, “in some cases,” he said, “I changed my view on certain subjects.”

The “YUP approached Boris with the idea of adding audio and video components to the book,” Yale University Press publicist Alden Ferro said in an email. “Accompanying both the print and ebook versions is access to multimedia components: 20 video examples and 25 audio examples. In the multimedia edition, clicking the links takes you directly to the audio and video examples. In the print book, audio and video symbols throughout cue the reader when and which example to watch or listen to online. If a reader buys the print edition, they can gain access to the audio and video components by going to www.yalebooks.com/berman and registering for an account on the companion website.”

Ferro noted that “as in the original edition, Berman gives tips on everything from the practical matters in piano playing— sound and touch, technique, pedaling, and articulation — to how to emotionally prepare for a performance.”

Of Berman’s Notes from the Pianist’s Bench, the late Claude Frank, who taught piano alongside Berman at the Yale School of Music, said, “Whether the subject is rubato in Mozart and Chopin, pedaling in Bach, or merely the position of the thumb on the keyboard, Boris Berman deals with it comprehensively but concisely, imaginatively and realistically. The book is neither too elementary nor too advanced for any pianist, piano teacher or piano lover. It is informative, inspiring and entertaining.”

Acclaimed pianist Emanuel Ax offered, “What makes Mr. Berman’s book so persuasive and enlightening is his understanding that there is no one ‘method’ of teaching music — each relationship with a student is a process of discovery for teacher and student both.”

Learn more about the new edition of Boris Berman’s Notes from the Pianist’s Bench on the Yale University Press website.

Published November 15, 2017
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Yale Percussion Group to perform music by Matt Keown and recent graduates

Left to right: YoungKyoung Lee, Matt Keown, and Sam Um

In early November, six members of the Yale Percussion Group arranged themselves in a line and rehearsed a snare-drum piece by current DMA candidate Matt Keown, who guided his colleagues, measure by measure, through the rudimental-style drumming that he grew up with. “My first instrument was a drum pad,” Keown ’16MM said, explaining that he followed his father, Alan Keown, into the practice of percussion — specifically, marching percussion, a world that for most is far-removed from the styles and techniques that Matt and his colleagues are studying with YPG Director Robert van Sice at YSM.

In composing Mélange, so named because it commemorates his time at YSM, Keown said, “I was really worried about it,” because “there’s still this stigma that marching percussion is ‘less than’ art music.” Keown also said he “had to be really careful about how difficult to make it,” given that his colleagues didn’t grow up with the style. While “it’s technically really challenging,” he said, “if they didn’t like it, they wouldn’t work on it.” In addition to the music in Mélange, there is a theatrical element, based on the visual aspects of drum-corps performances.

If Keown was worried about his colleagues warming to his piece, van Sice was not. “They’re all over it,” the YPG director said.

On Sunday, Nov. 12, van Sice will lead the YPG in a program that’s rich in music by YSM alumni — including percussionist Leonardo Gorosito ’11MM ’12AD and composer Andy Akiho ’11MM — in addition to works by Philippe Manoury and Alejandro Viñao.

The program begins with Seeds, a piece by Gorosito and Rafael Alberto for various shakers that’ll be played by Keown and Yale College student Adrian Lin, whom van Sice called the “adopted younger brother of the YPG.” The first half also includes Akiho’s Pillar IV, which van Sice described as “groove music,” Manoury’s Le livre des claviers (II. Duo de marimbas), and Keown’s Mélange. The second half of the program features Viñao’s Water.

During rehearsals for the performance, van Sice talked about the approach he’s taken, over the past 20 years, in developing artists who think, always, like the most musically selfless of chamber-music practitioners. Playing chamber music, van Sice has said, is like “group parachuting.”

“Music and the art of playing music is something that is larger than we are,” he said, explaining, proudly, that the members of the YPG “know how to musically interact with other people.” And while that might seem like a no-brainer, it’s not necessarily the case elsewhere. Flowery talk is common in chamber-music circles, van Sice said, “but we really do try to walk that walk.”

The professionalism on display during YPG rehearsals is its own reward. As much as he gives them direction, van Sice said, “they inspire me back. They’re an inspiring group to work with.”

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Published November 8, 2017
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YSM faculty mezzo-soprano Janna Baty, on collaborating with faculty pianist Peter Frankl

Janna Baty

On Wednesday, Nov. 8, YSM faculty pianist Peter Frankl will give one of his last performances at Yale before retiring at the end of the semester. He’ll be joined for an all-Schumann program by faculty mezzo-soprano Janna Baty and baritone Randall Scarlata. We asked Prof. Baty about collaborating with Prof. Frankl, and about her colleague’s contributions to the Yale community and beyond.

Q: What about working with Peter Frankl is inspiring and artistically nourishing?

JB: He is utterly engaged and dedicated to getting the music right. He is exacting in his own work, which inspires me in mine. He is also deeply in love with vocal literature, which (alas!) cannot be said of all pianists, and understands its conventions and techniques. He has a Geiger counter-like sensitivity to the placement of consonants and an in-depth knowledge of every inch of the poetry, which means he colors his accompaniments perfectly. Schumann is especially good with Peter, as the singer and pianist are effectively two sides of the character’s brain. It’s an immersive and even overwhelming experience to work with him, one for which I’m enormously grateful.

Q: What are your conversations about music like?

JB: They range from matter-of-fact (tempi, rubati, choices of repertoire) to gossipy! We both adore opera and spend a disproportionate amount of time talking about this production and that, this singer and that. It’s always so much fun. Our musical conversations — meaning, poetry — are mostly just that, expressed in the music. When you get it, you get it.

Q: What do you learn — and what have you learned — about music and your own artistry from working with Peter? (In a sense, what kind of teacher is he?)

JB: My first collaboration was with Peter and Claude Frank singing Brahms’ Liebeslieder-Walzer as a graduate student (calling it a collaboration is a stretch … it was a public recital at the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, but for us singers it was a master class!) and, more than 25 years later, this recital is the most recent. I’ve learned that sincerity, dedication, honesty, and passion onstage are all that matter. The other junk — egos, publicity, the public reaction — just doesn’t matter. When you are completely committed onstage, the audience comes with you.

Q: What do you hope audiences take away from the concerts you perform with Peter Frankl?

JB: That vocal chamber music is every bit as viable an art form as any other type of piano repertoire. It is, in so many ways, the most important form of chamber music of all, because it includes words. Peter treats collaborations with singers no differently than he treats collaborations with other artists, which is validating to singers like myself and so important for the public to see. I wish all pianists had this dedication to and skill with the repertoire!

Q: How would you describe Peter’s artistic contribution to the YSM community and beyond?

JB: Immeasurable. He is a treasure and will be missed profoundly. But I have a feeling we’ll see him around here again someday! Are you listening, Peter?

Peter Frankl will perform a Horowitz Piano Series recital on Wednesday, Nov. 8, at 7:30 pm, in Morse Recital Hall. He’ll be joined by faculty mezzo-soprano Janna Baty and baritone Randall Scarlata in an all-Schumann program. Learn more and buy tickets.

Published November 7, 2017
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YSM faculty pianist Peter Frankl to retire after 30 years, having inspired generations

Peter Frankl

By Lucile Bruce

Peter Frankl will retire at the end of this semester, concluding his remarkable 30 year career at the Yale School of Music, where he has touched the minds — and more important, the hearts — of hundreds of students.A virtuoso performer and beloved teacher, Frankl was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1935, into a musical family. His parents were semi-professional musicians who played piano at home. They took their son to many concerts and he remembers hearing “many great artists like Klemperer, Bernstein, and my idol, the pianist Annie Fischer.”

Frankl began playing the piano at age 5. “It has been my passion in life ever since,” he said.

He made his London debut in 1962 and his New York debut with the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell in 1967. Since then, he has played on the world’s top stages with the most celebrated orchestras and eminent conductors, including Abbado, Boulez, Davis, Haitink, Maazel, Masur, Muti, and Solti. His world tours have taken him to Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. He has appeared more than 20 times at London’s BBC Proms and at many major festivals. Inspired as a young musician by the legendary Leó Weiner, his chamber music teacher, Frankl is also a well- known chamber music performer. For years, the Frankl-Pauk- Kirshbaum Trio traveled the world, and Frankl’s many chamber music partners include the world’s most renowned artists.

It was Boris Berman, professor of piano and coordinator of the piano department at YSM, who invited Frankl to come to Yale, first in 1987 as a visiting teaching artist.

Until that time, Frankl’s occupation was mainly concertizing; he rarely taught, even master classes. “It never occurred to me to teach on a regular basis,” he said. “However, Yale’s reputation attracted me greatly and I decided to give it a try.”

He harbored a deeper reason, however, for teaching. “By then I was 52 years old,” he explained. “I had the impression that the young generation of pianists were more interested in reaching technical perfection than in involving themselves in the emotional and spiritual meaning of what each composer wanted to express in their works.

“Somehow I started feeling responsible towards the future of music-making,” he continued. “Instead of grumbling about this, I wanted to do something positive.”

He thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere at YSM, including the School’s “relatively intimate size.” As two esteemed piano faculty members were approaching retirement, Yale offered to extend Frankl’s appointment. He gladly accepted.  MORE

Published November 6, 2017
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Yale Opera prepares for Fall Opera Scenes programs

Richard Cross, left, and Doris Yarick-Cross

Shortly after arriving at the Yale School of Music to study in the Yale Opera program, ascendant vocalists are handed an envelope containing the repertoire they’re expected to learn and memorize for the Fall Opera Scenes performances. This year, those concerts take place on November 3 and November 4 and feature excerpts from classic and contemporary operas.

The repertoire is chosen by faculty soprano and Yale Opera Artistic Director Doris Yarick-Cross and YSM faculty bass-baritone Richard Cross with each student’s development in mind. That approach, Yarick-Cross said, is “how we can best get them ready for their future. We choose the roles that we feel will give them the best opportunity to progress.

“What we try to do is give them the tools to be professionals,” Yarick-Cross said. “Our students get hired because they’re prepared.”

And that means going beyond the vocal parts, “to break through inhibitions,” Cross said. “To become a convincing character on stage” isn’t just about singing and acting, he said. “It’s also internalizing the repertoire” — “to get them into the habit of meeting the demands” that will be placed on them throughout their careers, Yarick-Cross added.

As much as the repertoire for the Fall Opera Scenes programs is chosen with pedagogy in mind, the Yale Opera audience is also part of the programming equation. While “La Bohème is perfect for young singers,” Cross said, pointing out that the characters in that opera are themselves young, it’s long been an audience favorite, too.

Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, based on Sister Helen Prejean’s 1993 book of the same title, has been appreciated by audiences since its premiere in 2000 at the San Francisco Opera. The New Haven audience, Yarick-Cross said, will be “overwhelmed by the Heggie.” Likewise, she said, the first act of Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos will appeal to local concertgoers. “I think they will really like it,” Yarick-Cross said. “It will be new to most of them. There’s a lot going on” and “There is some wonderful singing.”

On Friday and Saturday, November 3 and November 4, the Yale Opera presents performances of scenes from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte and Don Giovanni, Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, Massenet’s Cendrillon, Puccini’s La Bohème, Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel, Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia, and Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos

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Published October 26, 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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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
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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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Paul Hawkshaw awarded Fulbright for Bruckner research, residency in Vienna

Paul Hawkshaw

Professor of Musicology Paul Hawkshaw will be a Fulbright Visiting Scholar in Vienna in the spring of 2018. During his residency, he will teach classes at the University of Vienna’s Institute of Musicology and at the city’s University of Music and Performing Arts, in addition working at the Austrian National Library on a project titled A Bequest and a Complex Legacy: Untangling Anton Bruckner’s Revisions in Later Times, which aims to sort out the many different revisions of Bruckner’s music that have resulted from, in Hawkshaw’s words, “unauthorized tampering in Bruckner’s scores by well-meaning students and friends of his.”

According to Hawkshaw, the International Bruckner Society recently began a new Collected Works Edition under the auspices of the Austrian National Library and the Vienna Philharmonic. The New Anton Bruckner Collected Edition will eventually include new definitive scores of Bruckner’s complete works. Hawkshaw, who serves on the society’s editorial board, will work on three of the symphonies: numbers Seven, Eight, and Nine.

“In some cases,” Hawkshaw said, “previous editions had errors as a result of misreading the sources. For others, new, more reliable manuscript sources have surfaced since the older printed scores appeared.” MORE

Published April 5, 2017
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