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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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
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Inside YSM: Matthew Gray ’17MMA, horn

Matthew Gray

Meet horn player Matt Gray ’17MMA, who spoke with us recently about his experiences studying with Prof. William Purvis.

“The dynamic in the YSM horn studio is similar to that of a big family,” Matt said. “Each member of the family has strengths and weaknesses, but together we are a capable and formidable group. This sense of family and camaraderie comes directly from Prof. Purvis.

“Prof. Purvis has a style of teaching that focuses directly on the steps his students should take to assess and improve their own playing while also motivating and encouraging his students to pursue their own strengths to the fullest degree.”

While at YSM, Matt has worked in the Concert Office and has developed an interest in the administrative side of the field. MORE

Published May 5, 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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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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Winners of 2017 Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition Announced

The 2017 Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition took place on Saturday, April 8. This year’s competition yielded three winners: violist Josip Kvetek ’18MM, performing Niccolo Paganini’s Sonata per la Grand Viola; violinist Laura Park ’18MM, performing William Walton’s Violin Concerto; and percussion duo Georgi Videnov ’17MMA and Sam Um ’17MM, performing Martin Bresnick’s Grace, concerto in three movements for two marimbas and orchestra.

As winners, these Yale School of Music students will perform with the Yale Philharmonia during the 2017-18 season. The judges noted that they were very impressed with the high level of talent that was demonstrated by all performers. Violinist Rachel Ostler ’18MMA was selected as an alternate, and honorable mentions were given to hornist Scott Leger ’18MM, mezzo-soprano Anne Maguire ’17MM, and violinist Diomedes Saraza Jr ’17MMA.

The judges were flutist Tara Helen O’Connor, who serves on the faculties of the Purchase College Conservatory of Music, Bard College Conservatory of Music, and Manhattan School of Music, Jonathan Yates, music director of the Norwalk Symphony Orchestra, and cellist Robert Martin, the director of faculty and a professor at the Bard Conservatory of Music.

Published April 11, 2017
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Yale Opera presents “Così fan tutte” at Shubert Theater for 3 shows

Giasone

Chas Rader-Shieber. Photo by Bridget Elliot

New Haven Register | By Joe Amarante

If you’re not taking advantage of the best entertainment options Yale University has to offer, it’s on you. Yale Opera, for example, does a sterling job, and the next opportunity to see a polished production comes Feb. 17-19 at the Shubert Theatre.

Così fan tutte offers not only Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s impeccable music (the overture should be very familiar) but also comedy and, as classicfm.com puts it, “a satirical tale of love that takes a cynical swipe at men and women.”

Chas Rader-Shieber, the veteran opera stage director handling the two-act production for the first time since the mid-2000s, said while he’s done unconventional things with certain operas before, there’s no reason to mess with this one.

READ FULL ARTICLE

Published February 13, 2017
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Sirena Huang ’18MM wins inaugural Elmar Oliveira International Violin Competition

Sirena Huang

Sirena Huang

Violinist Sirena Huang ’18MM has won the inaugural Elmar Oliveira International Violin Competition, the final round of which was held on Saturday and Sunday at the Lynn University Conservatory of Music, in Boca Raton, Florida. Huang earned a $30,000 prize, artist management and promotional support, and a new instrument, bow, and case, according to a press release issued on Sunday by competition organizers.

In the competition’s final round, Huang performed the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with the Lynn Philharmonia under the direction of music director Guillermo Figueroa. Performances by four finalists were streamed live on YouTube and on the competition’s Facebook page.

“The 2017 judges were Andrés Cárdenes, Charles Castleman, Alexander Gilman, Gudny Gudmundsdottir, Daniel Heifetz (chairman of the jury), Ilya Kaler, and Vera Tsu Wei-ling,” the press release said. “The 20 competitors who were selected to compete in the inaugural 2017 Elmar Oliveira International Violin Competition were chosen from more than 80 applicants from 16 countries.” The competition was established by its namesake, violinist Elmar Oliveira, who is a distinguished artist-in-residence at Lynn University. MORE

Published February 6, 2017
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YSM students perform in London

From left: Sun-A Park, Laura Park, Sophia Mockler, Eric Adamshick, Joshua Newburger, and Jessica Pray

YSM students, from left, Sun-A Park, Laura Park, Sophia Mockler, Eric Adamshick, Joshua Newburger, and Jessica Pray

This past week, students from the Yale School of Music, along with YSM Dean Robert Blocker and Director of Communications and Alumni Affairs Donna Yoo, traveled to London where they gave concerts, for Yale alumni and friends, at the Royal Automobile Club and the Royal College of Music. As part of the visit, which was made possible by Helen Chung-Halpern and Abel Halpern ’88BA (each is a member of YSM’s Board of Advisors), Blocker presented a master class to graduate and undergraduate student piano trios at the Royal College of Music.

The YSM students who traveled to London are violinists Sophia Mockler ’17MM and Laura Park ’18MM, violist Joshua Newburger ’17MM, cellist Eric Adamshick ’17MM, pianist Sun-A Park ’16AD ’17MMA, and soprano Jessica Pray ’17MM. Mockler, Laura Park, Newburger, and Adamshick performed as the Béla Quartet. MORE

Published October 6, 2016
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Paweł Konik reaches finals of “Le Grand Prix de l’Opéra”

Paweł Konik | Photo by Anna Płóciennik

Paweł Konik | Photo by Anna Płóciennik

Earlier this month, bass-baritone Paweł Konik reached the final round of “Le Grand Prix de l’Opéra,” the International Voice Competition organized by the Bucharest National Opera. Konik earned a special Excellency Prize, presented by the Russian Embassy, for his interpretation of “Aleko’s Cavatina” from Rachmaninoff’s Aleko. He also performed “Vedro mentr’io sospiro” from Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and “O du mein holder Abendstern” from Wagner’s Tannhäuser.

Konik, a native of Poland, is a member of the Yale Opera program, where he studies with Doris Yarick-Cross and Richard Cross. Konik also worked on his competition repertoire with YSM faculty members Douglas Dickson, Timothy Shaindlin, and Kyle Swann. During the 2015-2016 concert season, Konik appeared in Yale Opera productions of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Massenet’s Don Quichotte. Prior to coming to Yale, Konik attended the Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music in Katowice. MORE

Published August 24, 2016
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