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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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.

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PAOLO BORTOLAMEOLLI

Published August 1, 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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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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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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Inside YSM: Vyacheslav Gryaznov ’18AD, piano

Vyacheslav Gryaznov ’18 AD

On Friday, February 24, 2017, pianist Vyacheslav Gryaznov ’18AD performed Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 1 with conducting fellow David Yi and the Yale Philharmonia. Asked about his approach to playing Shostakovich’s music, Slava said, “I love music by Shostakovich — his symphonies, ‘Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk,’ his ballets, chamber music, experimental opuses like the ‘Aphorisms’ … A lot of his pieces contain not only powerful feelings but also encrypted messages. It was the only possible way to express what he really thought. He lived in a Soviet era when a lot of people felt imprisoned, both in a moral and often in the real physical sense. Shostakovich was under a pressure which we cannot imagine. It is often understood as a restriction on his artistic freedom. But in fact this pressure, among other factors, created his unique musical individuality: this combination of being wildly against the system with a lot of extremes, but with such a huge humanity, real passion, and tenderness at the same time.”

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Published March 24, 2017
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Inside YSM: David Yi, conductor

David Yi

On Friday, February 24, 2017, YSM conducting fellow David Yi led the Yale Philharmonia and student pianist Vyacheslav Gryaznov in a performance of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1, Ravel’s “Le tombeau de Couperin,” and Brahms’ Symphony No. 3.

Asked when he became interested in conducting, David said, “I first started with the piano and then played the violin. For some reason, I always wanted to become a conductor, ever since I was a child. I always loved playing in the orchestra as a violinist/pianist. There is something great about making music with a large group of people. As a conductor, nothing is more satisfying than the moment when I realize that we are making music together.” 

In addition to his studies with Yale Philharmonia principal conductor Peter Oundjian, David’s approach to leading an orchestra has been shaped by several other notable conductors.

“Hugh Wolff at the New England Conservatory had a huge influence on my approach to score study,” David said. “Nicolás Pasquet at the Franz Liszt Conservatory in Germany helped with physical conducting. I had an opportunity to study with Riccardo Muti. He emphasized the importance of showing drama through music.”

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Published March 24, 2017
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Adams Center for Musical Arts opens

Adams Center, exterior

Adams Center for Musical Arts

The new Adams Center for Musical Arts opened today, as students, faculty, and staff returned to the Yale School of Music and Yale College to begin the spring semester. Twenty-four months after ground was broken, the complex is in use by the School of Music and by Yale College students who participate in the University’s undergraduate ensembles.

“The Adams Center for Musical Arts is a welcoming space and place for Yale’s musical community,” Yale School of Music Dean Robert Blocker said. “It was designed to enhance and enrich the creative, artistic, and intellectual process of making music together. Each space — from the smallest practice room to the beautiful ensemble halls and the student commons — was designed with the intent of supporting and sustaining the cherished musical culture that Yale has enjoyed for more than three centuries.”

Named for Stephen ’59BA and Denise Adams in recognition of their continued generosity and support of the Yale School of Music, the $57.1 million Adams Center for Musical Arts was made possible primarily through gifts from Yale alumni. The complex connects a newly renovated Hendrie Hall to the previously renovated Leigh Hall by way of a new structure that is anchored by a dedicated orchestra rehearsal room and an atrium in which students from the School of Music and Yale College can gather. MORE

Published January 17, 2017
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In memoriam: Otto-Werner Mueller, conductor

Otto-Werner Mueller conducts the Yale Philharmonia in Woolsey Hall

Otto-Werner Mueller conducts the Yale Philharmonia in Woolsey Hall

Otto-Werner Mueller, Professor of Conducting at the Yale School of Music and music director of the Yale Philharmonia from 1973 to 1987, passed away at his home in Charlotte, North Carolina on February 25. He was 89.

In a statement to the Yale School of Music community, Dean Robert Blocker said, “Under Otto-Werner Mueller’s artistic direction in the 1970s and 80s, the Yale Philharmonia emerged as one of the nation’s leading University orchestras. His accomplishments with his orchestras and his talent for nurturing young conductors have influenced the careers and lives of his students at Yale, Juilliard, and Curtis – and indeed our musical landscape.”

Mueller was a commanding presence on and off the podium due to his physical stature—he stood at six feet, seven inches tall – as well as his probing intellect and uncompromising musical standards. In addition to attracting enthusiastic audiences in Woolsey Hall, Mueller and the Yale Philharmonia recorded regularly for NPR’s “Performance Today,” made frequent appearances at Carnegie and Tully halls in New York City, and served as the resident orchestra of the Evian (France) Music Festival for two seasons. MORE

Published February 26, 2016
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Yale Philharmonia presents concerti and more in Sprague Hall Feb. 26

13-004 Yale Philharmonia — Yale School of Music 2013The Yale School of Music presents the Yale Philharmonia on Friday, February 26 at 7:30 pm. Conducting fellow Heejung Park will lead the orchestra in works by Beethoven, Lieberson, and Haydn.

The first half of the program will feature the two students in the School of Music’s newly revised Artist Diploma program: pianist Wai-Yin Wong and mezzo-soprano Evanna Chiew. Wong will open the program as the soloist in Beethoven‘s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37.

Mezzo-soprano Evanna Chiew will join the orchestra for the Neruda Songs by American composer Peter Lieberson. Written for his wife, singer Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, the work is a cycle of five songs for mezzo-soprano and orchestra set to love poems by twentieth-century poet Pablo Neruda. MORE

Published February 15, 2016
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