Yale Philharmonia Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian on Mahler’s Ninth Symphony

Peter Oundjian. Photo by Sian Richards

On Friday, April 6, the Yale Philharmonia will perform Mahler’s Ninth Symphony in Woolsey Hall. We spoke with Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian about the piece and the context in which it was composed.

Q: What is worth thinking about as an audience member listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony?

A: One thing that is pretty clear is that it has so much finality in it. Maybe we can even think of it as the final statement in what we might call the traditional language of classical music. This idea that it’s almost a prophecy of what’s to come is I think essential to understanding and listening to the Ninth Symphony of Mahler. He’s (also) taking you on a journey of contradiction, which is so important to Mahler’s whole world, because he had so many areas in which he was conflicted. Is he a conductor? Is he a composer? Is he cosmopolitan? Is he provincial? All these things tore him apart his whole life. His religion and hiding the fact that he was Jewish — so many things created this feeling of enormous conflict inside him. And so I think that in some ways the Ninth Symphony doesn’t need so much explaining, because it’s so accessible at the beginning and you realize that you are in between a kind of sense of fear and terror and great tenderness, and that it is a struggle to understand the meaning of life and the meaning of love, particularly.

Q: What is the story of this piece?

A: There’s a lot of death that is referred to in this music, and there’s very good reason for that. In his own personal situation, the fact that he’d just lost his daughter. The fact that he had this heart arrhythmia — there’s kind of a description of that uneven heartbeat at the opening. So there’s all of that, but there is also this death that a lot of people talk about, which is that tonality was ending and Mahler knew it.

Q: To what degree do you work with the members of the Philharmonia to get on the same page about the history and background of the work? 

A: I approach this a little bit like a director approaches a play. I think that they should come with some understanding of their role and certainly with the ability to play it. Part of what I enjoy (about) working with these wonderfully talented students is to engage them in discussion (about) the concepts and the philosophies behind it and the history and particularly that moment in Mahler’s life and how special it was.

Q: What are the challenges that an ensemble faces with this piece?

A: What we have to do is apply an incredible discipline to be able to play together while also allowing ourselves to have extremely spontaneous energy. That’s one of the things I value most about being on stage, that this is the moment and we’re going to lay it all out there. It doesn’t mean we lose discipline, but we take an enormous amount of risk. And that can be risk of great virtuosity and the risk of making yourself extremely open and vulnerable to very profound and tragic kind of feelings, which will only be projected into the concert hall and shared with our public if we all are in touch with those feelings.

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Published March 28, 2018
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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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Yale Philharmonia principal conductor Peter Oundjian on “The Rite of Spring”

Peter Oundjian. Photo by Sian Richards

On Friday, September 15, the Yale Philharmonia will perform Stravinsky’s revolutionary Rite of Spring, which was written for the Ballets Russes and whose 1913 premiere in Paris sparked protests. We spoke to principal conductor Peter Oundjian about the piece, its place in history, and what the audience can expect to experience.

Q: How have stories and reports of the audience’s reaction to the premiere of The Rite of Spring framed the work’s place in the repertoire? And what should today’s audiences understand and take away from that reaction?

A: The “riot” which occurred is one of the reasons the piece achieved such prominence. If anything, it had more to do with Vaslav Nijinsky’s choreography than the music, as far as we can tell. Just imagine this first audience witnessing dancers stomping their feet for long durations, strange costumes … it was just bizarre! Stravinsky was unhappy about it; however, the events of that night stimulated him to promote the piece and make sure its excellence was appreciated.

Q: In what ways, musically, does The Rite of Spring represent a watershed moment in music history?

A: The piece is the antithesis of 300 years of development of Western art music. Everything that had come before was relatively uniform. Style and musical forms had been created. What Stravinsky did with this symphonic arch was annihilated by his new concepts. We should also remember that Czech composer Leoš Janáček’s music was radical, as well, and he was Stravinsky’s contemporary. The Rite of Spring was completely fresh and new. Harmonically, is it polytonal … it was all quite dissonant. Rhythmically, it was quite a departure from the musical norms of the day.

Q: What are your reasons for programming The Rite of Spring as part of the Yale Philharmonia’s season? In what ways and to what degree is the piece a unique teaching tool?

A: I am sure some of our students have played it before. It is, after all, one of the most important pieces in the repertoire. It is not only for the students in the orchestra, but also for our audience, who are bound to be curious to hear and witness a live performance of such a masterpiece.

Q: How do you approach the work each time you conduct the piece?

A: I think I approach it as though the pagan ritual were occurring before my eyes, and the sacrificial virgin is about to dance herself to death. It’s a new girl each time.

Q: What if anything is lost (or gained) by performing The Rite of Spring as a concert work as opposed to a fully produced ballet?

A: There is not a performance of this piece that is not ballet, in some aspects. If you come, you’ll see some sense of spectacle. The omission of the visual aspect allows people to focus on the inventiveness of the music and the power and drama behind it.

Q: Besides the obvious, what can audiences experience through a live performance of the piece that they can’t by listening to a recording?

A: To see all these musicians playing off the beat of the conductor, from an audience perspective, it’s alarming to see this being reproduced in front of your eyes. It is an extraordinary experience!

The September 15 Yale Philharmonia program includes Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, as well as Mozart’s Symphony No. 40, Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, and Tallis’ “Why Fum’th in Fight,” performed by the Yale Voxtet. Learn more and purchase tickets.

Published September 8, 2017
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Joseph Guimaraes ’18MM receives Soros Fellowship

Tubist Joseph Guimaraes ’18MM has received one of 30 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans. Each year, the program, according to language on the organization’s website, “supports thirty New Americans, immigrants or the children of immigrants, who are pursuing graduate school in the United States.”

“Selected from 1,775 applicants, each of the recipients was chosen for their potential to make significant contributions to U.S. society, culture, or their academic fields,” the Soros Fellowships website indicates. Each awardee receives up to $90,000 to help with costs associated with graduate school.

“I am both hopeful and confident that this lifelong platform will afford me the network needed to achieve my goal of national music-education reform in the United States,” Guimaraes said. “Music is so much more than an auditory art form; it can be seen and felt as a working construct of the human condition. Through music, we can learn to listen, instruct, be instructed, be critiqued, work as​ ​a team, lead, follow, and so much more. These are skills that go far beyond the realm of just music-making, skills that should not be seen as extra-curricular or secondary, but rather as the fundamental building blocks of society. If we​ ​allow every child the opportunity to learn these skills in the proven model of a functional music ensemble, we will instill a greater sense of self, community, and a place in the world. I hope that myself, alongside the greater community of ​Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows, will be able to reach far and wide to the towns, cities, states, and eventually the federal government to … give every child​ the ability to be stronger members of society through music.”

A native of Recife, Brazil, Guimaraes is currently pursuing his master of music degree at the Yale School of Music, where he studies with Carol Jantsch. He has served as principal tubist at the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo, Japan, and of the Chautauqua Institution’s Music School Festival Orchestra in New York and the AIMS Festival Orchestra in Graz, Austria. Guimaraes is the founder of The Valve Beanie and the Mouthpieces for All Initiative, whose mission, according to his website, is “to furnish musical tools and services to underserved community members with which they may develop a sense of hope, empowerment and self-worth through engagement in the performing arts.”

JOSEPH GUIMARAES

YALE NEWS

Published April 24, 2017
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Peter Oundjian conducts the Yale Philharmonia Oct. 16

Peter OundjianThe Yale School of Music presents the Yale Philharmonia with principal conductor Peter Oundjian and violinist Adelya Nartadjieva in a concert on Friday, October 16 at 7:30 pm. Oundjian will lead the orchestra in an evening of music by Bartók, Tchaikovsky, and Berlioz.

The program will open with Bartók‘s Divertimento for String Orchestra. Written in 1939 but interweaving elements of Baroque styles, the three-movement work features contrasts of both texture and dynamics.

Adelya Nartadjieva, a second-year violin student at YSM, will be the featured soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major. Nartadjieva, a winner of the 2015 Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition, is the first of the three winners to perform with the Yale Philharmonia this year. MORE

Published October 2, 2015
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Wai Lau ’12AD wins position with Hong Kong Philharmonic

Clarinetist Wai Lau ’12AD was recently appointed to a position with the Hong Kong Philharmonic. She will play bass clarinet with the orchestra.lau_wai

Wai Lau, clarinet (Beijing, China), has appeared in concerts at the Bari International Music Festival, Festival of the Sound, Banff Centre, Norfolk Music Festival, and Lachine Music Festival, collaborating with Russell Braun, James Campbell, Ettore Causa, Mark Fewer, Marc Johnson, Joel Quarrington, David Shifrin, James Sommerville, and Stephen Taylor, among others. She has performed throughout the United States, Canada, China, Germany, Italy, Poland, and South Africa. MORE

Published August 2, 2013
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Alumna Yoobin Son wins position with New York Philharmonic

Yoobin Son ’09MM will soon join the New York Philharmonic as second flute.

Currently a fellow in The Academy/Ensemble ACJW, Yoobin Son teaches at PS 207K in Brooklyn. Yoobin Son earned her Master of Music degree from the Yale School of Music, where she studied with Ransom Wilson. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the Curtis Institute of Music, where she studied with Jeffrey Khaner, and received the Artist Diploma from the Manhattan School of Music. She is a native of Seoul, Korea.

Yoobin Son was principal flutist of the 2010 Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra and served as acting principal flutist of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra. Yoobin participated in Japan’s Pacific Music Festival, led by Maestro Valery Gergiev. In addition to recitals in the U.S. and in Korea, Yoobin has performed as a soloist with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Florida Orchestra, Orchestra at William Paterson University, and Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra. She is a winner of the Olga Koussevitzky International Winds Competition, National Flute Association Soloist Competition, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra Young Artist Auditions, and the Florida Orchestra Concerto Competition.

Published November 15, 2012
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Two conductors, two Beethoven symphonies

The Yale Philharmonia returns to Sprague Hall April 15

The Yale School of Music presents the Philharmonia Orchestra of Yale with its assistant conductors, Adrian Slywotzky (pictured at right) and Yang Jiao (pictured below) on Friday, April 15, 2011 at 5 pm. While the Yale Philharmonia usually performs in Woolsey Hall, this performance will take place in the more intimate space of Morse Recital Hall (located in Sprague Hall at 470 College Street).

The conductors will lead the orchestra in two Beethoven symphonies. Yang Jiao will conduct the iconic Symphony No. 5 in C minor, and Adrian Slywotzky will lead the Symphony No. 6, “Pastoral,” in F major. Both Jiao and Slywotzky are studying orchestral conducting with Shinik Hahm at the Yale School of Music.

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Published March 24, 2011
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Peter Oundjian guest conducts the Yale Philharmonia in Mahler’s Fifth Symphony and more April 1

Bass-baritone Tyler Simpson, winner of the Woolsey Competition, sings Strauss

Tyler Simpson, bass-baritone

The Yale School of Music presents the Philharmonia Orchestra of Yale and guest conductor Peter Oundjian on Friday, April 1, 2011 at 8 pm in Woolsey Hall (500 College Street at Grove Street, New Haven). The concert will feature Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony as well as music of Bedřich Smetana and Richard Strauss. Oundjian, a longtime faculty member at the Yale School of Music, was recently appointed the music director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

The program opens with Smetana’s Šárka, one of the six tone poems from the series Má Vlast (“Homeland”). It is named for the female warrior Šárka, a fierce figure in the Czech legend of the Maidens’ War. Bass-baritone Tyler Simpson, a graduate of the Yale Opera program and a winner of the Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition, will sing Notturno, a song by Strauss on a text by Richard Dehmel. Dehmel’s poem tells the story of an encounter with Death in a dark, snow-covered landscape. Holly Piccoli will play the solo violin line, which depicts the moment that Death plays a violin.

Mahler’s epic Fifth Symphony will constitute the second half of the concert. The conductor Herbert von Karajan once said that when listening to the work, “you forget that time has passed. A great performance of the Fifth is a transforming experience.”

This performance is free and open to the public. MORE

Published March 4, 2011
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Peter Oundjian to be music director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Peter Oundjian – a longtime faculty member of the Yale School of Music, the principal guest conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra of Yale, and a former first violinist of the Tokyo String Quartet – was named the new music director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. He will succeed  Stéphane Denève in the role.

According to the Herald Scotland, Oundjian will conduct six weeks of his first season, seven in the second, and eight concerts in his third and fourth seasons. He will also work with the RSNO on recordings, appearances throughout the UK, and international tours. Oundjian will also continue to be music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. MORE

Published February 2, 2011
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