Vijay Gupta ’07MM, on music as a vehicle for social justice

Vijay Gupta

Violinist and YSM alum Vijay Gupta ’07MM is a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the founder and artistic director of Street Symphony, an organization that “serves to foster a dialogue which tells the unheard stories of the most marginalized communities in Los Angeles through the power of musical expression,” according to language on its website. We spoke with Vijay about the artist’s role in society.

Q: What experiences at Yale and the Yale School of Music, and in New Haven, inform the work you’re doing now with Street Symphony and in terms of how the arts can be a vehicle for social justice in a larger sense?

A: Well, it was two classes in particular. One was my Hearing class with Joan Panetti, which totally transformed the way that I teach and perform and collaborate. I was actually Dr. Panetti’s TA for my second whole year at YSM, so that was really, really special for me. And it’s kind of amazing, I kind of feel Dr. Panetti coming up in my voice and in my steps when I teach, so that’s very cool. The second class was a survey of late Beethoven by Markus Rathey, and he went through, I think, from Op. 90 until the end of Beethoven. And just being able to present in his class, and being able to look at the composers for who they were as people and not just as these marble busts of dead white guys, really, really changed the way that I approach playing. And it’s a direct correlation to the way that I lead programs when I play Beethoven or Schumann in a county jail, because our audiences are not interested in how well we play, they’re interested in the stories. They’re, in a sense, interested in the humanity of the composers. So those are two things that I got from those two classes. And of course I have to give credit to my amazing teacher, who was Ani Kavafian. She was just so wonderful and kind and got me to think about different aspects of my playing that I hadn’t even thought about before, but she also cared about me as a person, which was kind of new for me having come from the conservatory system. Oftentimes in those situations my personhood didn’t count as much as how well I played my etudes. But I played a lot of Baroque violin at school with ISM; I was playing with Robert Mealy and that was an extension of what I was getting from Markus Rathey’s class and from Joan Panetti’s class. It was a very natural extension of what was going on in the life of these composers as they were composing. And one direct example of how that’s showed up for me in my organization is in our Messiah project. We do a yearly sing-along of Handel’s Messiah in Skid Row at a homeless shelter. And we’ve actually now started placing formerly homeless Desert Storm combat veterans as our soloists, and we give them lessons all year long. And when you look at the situation in which Handel performed his Messiah, it wasn’t in a concert hall, it was in an orphan’s hospital, and the first concert released 142 men from debtor’s prison. So if we’re really doing authentic performance practice, if we’re really going to put our mouth where our money is with regard to what these composers were actually dreaming and thinking as they composed, then we also have to have the same kind of social understanding of what kind of music our community needs. It became very clear to me at school that these composers were writing for their communities. I’m sorry to go on a little bit here, but Bach’s passions would have been called engagement sing-along concerts today, because everybody in the audience knew those chorales and they stood up and sang them. So what’s our modern day Messiah? That’s the kind of question that I’m asking in my head right now as I lead my life and do my stuff.

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Published August 29, 2017
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Paolo Bortolameolli named assistant conductor at LA Phil

Paolo Bortolameolli

Conductor Paolo Bortolameolli ’13MM has been appointed an assistant conductor to Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel at the Los Angeles Philharmonic for the upcoming season. Bortolameolli previously served as a Dudamel Fellow, an initiative, Dudamel said in a press release, that “continues the LA Phil’s commitment to supporting and training the next generation of exceptional conductors.”

While at YSM, Bortolameolli was an assistant conductor of the Yale Philharmonia. He has served as a cover conductor for Marin Alsop at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and led the New Haven Chamber Orchestra during his final year at Yale.

A native of Chile, Bortolameolli has worked with the top ensembles in that country including Orquesta Filarmónica de Santiago, Orquesta Sinfónica de Chile, Orquesta de la Universidad de Concepción, Orquesta USACH, Orquesta de Cámara de Chile, and Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional Juvenil.

PRESS RELEASE
PAOLO BORTOLAMEOLLI

Published August 1, 2017
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Alumna Olivia Malin ’07MM, on choosing a career as a music educator

Olivia Malin works with students at KAPPA International High School

Trumpeter Olivia Malin ’07MM, who studied with Allan Dean and worked in the Music in Schools Initiative during her time at YSM, is entering her 11th year as a public-school music educator and teaches at KAPPA International High School in the Bronx, New York. Malin spoke with us recently about being inspired, as a student, to pursue a career in education despite the pressure she felt to focus on performance.

Q: You were a Teaching Artist in YSM’s Music in Schools Initiative. How did that program prepare you for what you’re doing now at KAPPA International High School?
A: While I was a student at YSM, I was also working in the Music in Schools Initiative. At first I stayed firmly in my comfort zone, teaching elementary/middle school brass group lessons. Midyear, I was branching out to woodwinds and percussion, and in the spring, I was running full band rehearsals when the band director wanted to do isolated lessons himself. I also began working with first- to third-graders learning piano and guitar. My second year in the program, I was placed at a high school where I got the opportunity to teach higher-level lessons and music, and to assist teaching AP music theory. The varied placement over those two years gave me a significant taste of what teaching K-12 would be like, with significant hours teaching piano, guitar, band, and general music classes. Even more important, the program was the first exposure that opened my eyes to what urban schools need, and what they don’t need, from me. At KAPPA, I now teach rock band, guitar, IB music, band, beginner band, and chorus – and I have also taught piano and general music – so the majority of classes I helped with at YSM are in fact what I teach full-time now.

Q: Did you know or think, upon enrolling at Yale, that you’d become a music teacher?
A: I have always taught private trumpet lessons, but no, I never thought I would be a full-time music teacher. We all know the stigma that exists about music teaching, and I admit I used to believe that only those performers who weren’t very good would end up as educators. It’s an easy thing to believe, since once a person becomes a teacher, it’s pretty difficult to maintain a high level of performance on their instrument, and most people don’t see the “performance level” of teaching. It’s hidden in the classroom – your audience is 30 students who don’t always applaud. One of the most difficult barriers I broke through was deciding that public-school teaching would be a higher calling than performing. There is so much outside pressure in the performance world not to become a teacher, and that pressure shows up constantly in little ways from friends, teachers, family, and the general public.

[Prof. Dean, Malin said, “is a wonderful teacher who taught me well and supported me through this decision to switch to teaching, something I think not all professors would be able to do.”] 

Q: What informed your decision to transition from focusing on performance to focusing on education?
A: What I started noticing was that my levels of happiness and self-worth after teaching at Lincoln-Bassett School or Wilbur Cross High School were significantly higher than those after an orchestral rehearsal or concert. I also noticed that I looked forward to being around the students – learning from them and laughing with them as much as teaching them content – much more than I expected. Their energy in the band room was so fresh and vibrant that I wanted more and more hours teaching in the program, and I spent extra time there after my paid time expired. The real moment, however, was when Associate Dean Michael Yaffe approached me sitting in (operations manager) Tara Deming’s office one day. He started talking about me to other people in the office, about what great teaching looked like and that he saw amazing potential in me when he saw how I lit up around students. In that short conversation, I saw something in myself that had until that point been a hobby, something I was good at and made a little money at, but which had never been a true option. Hearing him say those things out loud suddenly gave the green light to a career I hadn’t realized was a possibility – and a highly respectable possibility validated by the associate dean.

Q: What would you tell incoming YSM students who’re starting to think about what their careers might look like after school?
A: Be open to absolutely anything, say yes to everything, and be professional constantly. The music scene for you can be a combination of so many fulfilling things that it makes no sense to pigeonhole yourself early on. Don’t rule anything out simply because of generalizations – they may not apply to you! I am going into my 11th year of public school teaching. I am a proud high-school teacher in the Bronx and a trumpet player in a salsa band in Manhattan – and I wouldn’t change anything about my life.

Published August 1, 2017
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Violinist and YSM alum Jessica Oddie, on music education in the United States and abroad

Jessica Oddie

Since she graduated from the Yale School of Music, violinist Jessica Oddie ’13BA ’15MM has been living in Germany, “playing chamber music of all varieties and working in educational initiatives, supported by a DAAD [German Academic Exchange Service] fellowship to research the differences between the European and American systems of music education.” We talked recently with Oddie, who was immersed in the Lincoln Center Teaching Artist Development Labs “discovering how I can deepen my teaching artistry further,” about her time at YSM and how it informed what she’s doing now.

Q: How did participating as a Teaching Artist in YSM’s Music in Schools Initiative influence what you’re doing today?

A: My time in MISI strengthened my belief that we as artists have a strong imperative to share our passion and knowledge, not only through performance but also through teaching. MISI offered me an opportunity to be involved in my community as a musician and educator, while also providing a platform to engage with ideas about art and education with colleagues, mentors, and other professionals. MISI’s commitment to creating another musical community in New Haven, and YSM’s support for innovation in that field, inspired me to continue this work when I moved to Germany, at a time when cultural exchange, multiculturalism, and how these themes influence music education are particularly important topics.

In Germany, I’ve worked in collaborations between music schools and normal schools, bringing music education to students who would not otherwise have an opportunity to try out an instrument, including students from difficult socioeconomic or refugee backgrounds. I’ve been involved in conversations at the Musikhochschule Stuttgart and the recent Germany-wide Musikschule Kongress, exploring how music education can be inclusive of new members of European society, especially through intercultural music collaboration and exchange. I started a project at a local middle school aimed at getting young string players excited about upcoming orchestral performances in the area, by arranging orchestral repertoire for players of all levels. By playing this repertoire, whether they were beginners who were pizzing open strings or advanced students playing an excerpt from the solo line of the Beethoven Violin Concerto, students got to know the pieces from the inside out.

Q: How is the work you’re doing there similar to and how is it different than what you did in New Haven as a YSM Teaching Artist?

A: My students in Germany have an enormous amount in common with my students in New Haven. Children are children, and the joy of exploring or creating something beautiful together is the same regardless of the culture. My work is therefore largely the same. One of the most important things we as teachers can do is to affirm to children the value of their experiences and the power of their creativity, and to provide them with tools to express their own voices.

The biggest difference logistically is that funding in Germany is generally from the state, so initiatives are developed in conjunction with the local government, whereas in the United States, most are developed by entrepreneurial individuals who have an idea and find the funds to make it happen.

Q: Can you share some words about the importance of programs like the Music in Schools Initiative and the one with which you’re involved now? 

A: I believe there is no task more essential to crafting a brighter future than engaging with young people about ideas, seeking and creating meaning together, and celebrating a multitude of voices. Programs like MISI inspire creativity, connect people, and strengthen communities.

Q: What would you say to incoming YSM students who might not be familiar with the Music in Schools Initiative? 

A: Absolutely get involved! You will share a lot and learn even more, from colleagues, mentors, and most of all your students. I am constantly surprised by how much I learn through teaching. I also can’t think of a more fulfilling way to spend your Saturday mornings than working with young New Haven orchestral players.

Published July 26, 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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This young rising star from Philly just got the call-up of a lifetime

Kensho Watanabe

The Philadelphia Inquirer | By David Patrick Stearns

Kensho Watanabe can barely fathom the turn of events that found him on stage leading the Philadelphia Orchestra last weekend — with three hours’ notice.

 “I know what happened,” Watanabe said in an interview this week. “But my brain is still processing it.”

Surreal is one word that comes to mind, he said. Watanabe was notified at 5 p.m. Saturday that music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin had come down with a virus and could not conduct the 8 p.m. program at the Kimmel Center.

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Published June 29, 2017
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Central Conservatory of Music President Yu Feng visits Yale

Left to right: LIU Hongzhu, director of CCoM’s office of international affairs; CCoM President YU Feng; YSM Dean Robert Blocker; YU Hongmei, professor of erhu and director of CCoM’s department of traditional Chinese music; and YU Feng’s son YU Ji, a postgraduate conducting student at CCoM

YU Feng, the president of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, China, paid a visit to Yale University this week as part of a trip to American schools with which his has institutional partnerships. The Yale School of Music has had a relationship with CCoM since the mid-1990s, when WANG Cizhao, whose daughter, composer Fay Wang, earned a master of music degree and an artist diploma from YSM in 2010 and 2012, respectively, was the conservatory’s president. YU, who leads CCoM’s conducting department, became the conservatory’s president in February 2016.

YU Feng was accompanied on his visit to Yale by his son, YU Ji, a postgraduate conducting student at CCoM; YU Hongmei, professor of erhu and director of CCoM’s department of traditional Chinese music; and LIU Hongzhu, the director of CCoM’s office of international affairs. MORE

Published June 23, 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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Rachel Cheung ’13MM reaches finals, wins Audience Award at Van Cliburn Competition

Rachel Cheung performs with Leonard Slatkin and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra in the final round of the Van Cliburn Competition. Photo by Ralph Lauer/The Cliburn

School of Music alumna Rachel Cheung ’13MM was one of six finalists at the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, which took place May 25 through June 10 in Fort Worth, Texas. She took home $12,500 in cash prizes — $10,000 for reaching the final round and $2,500 for earning the Audience Award. As a finalist, Cheung also received a promotional package, which includes photos, additional marketing materials, and media training.

In the course of the competition in Fort Worth, Cheung, who studied at YSM with Peter Frankl, performed three different recital programs, a piano quintet with the Brentano String Quartet — YSM’s quartet-in-residence — and two concerti.

YSM alumna Sun-A Park ’16AD ’17MMA, who studied at YSM with Boris Berman, also participated in the prestigious competition, performing a recital in the preliminary round and taking home a $1,000 cash prize.

Of the 290 pianists who applied, 140 were selected for live auditions. Cheung auditioned in Seoul, in January, and Park auditioned in New York, in February. Only 30 pianists, including Cheung and Park, were invited to compete in Fort Worth.

Sun-A Park performs during the preliminary round of the Van Cliburn Competition. Photo by Ralph Lauer/The Cliburn

According to its website, the Van Cliburn Competition, which is held every four years, is widely recognized as “one of the world’s highest-visibility classical-music contests” and has been responsible for launching the careers of some of the world’s most prominent pianists.

Related:
PIANISTS SUN-A PARK AND RACHEL CHEUNG TO PARTICIPATE IN VAN CLIBURN COMPETITION

Published June 12, 2017
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YSM welcomes two artist diploma candidates to prestigious program

Sirena Huang, left, and Szymon Nehring

In the fall, the Yale School of Music will welcome two new artist diploma candidates to the program. Violinist Sirena Huang, who is currently enrolled in YSM’s master of music program, will now pursue an artist diploma. Pianist Szymon Nehring will enter the AD program having previously studied at the Academy of Music in Bydgoszcz, Poland. Huang and Nehring will join pianist Vyacheslav Gryaznov in the program, whose curriculum was revised in 2014 to serve instrumentalists and vocalists who are on the cusp of major international solo careers.

“The artist diploma is our highest performance degree,” YSM Deputy Dean Melvin Chen said. “The two entering the program in the fall exemplify the type of artist diploma candidate we are looking for — bright, inquisitive, and unique artists who are gaining recognition through top prizes in major international competitions.”

Huang, who studies with Hyo Kang, recently won the New York Concert Artists Worldwide Debut Audition for Violinists and the inaugural Elmar Oliveira International Violin Competition. Earlier this month, Nehring won the 15th Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition. He will study with Boris Berman at YSM. MORE

Published May 17, 2017
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