Yale Choral Artists to perform all-Brahms program

Tomorrow, the Yale Choral Artists will perform a program that “is intended to showcase Brahms’ mastery of the choral idiom and the incredible emotional range of his choral output,” the group’s founding director, Jeffrey Douma, said, “from the intricate counterpoint of the two a cappella motets Schaffe in mir, Gott and Warum ist das Licht gegeben, to the moving elegy Nänie, a work originally for chorus and full orchestra but performed this weekend in a piano four-hands reduction (a practice common in the era before recorded music).”

“We finish the program,” Douma said, “with the Liebeslieder, one of Brahms’ most popular works during his lifetime, adding a unique dimension by alternating between solo quartets and tutti choir from movement to movement, highlighting the individual character of each of the 18 exquisite miniatures that comprise the set.”

Douma founded the Yale Choral Artists, a professional project-based group, nearly a decade ago. “In recent years in the United States, the emergence of the professional project choir has added an exciting and rich new dimension to the choral landscape,” he said, “and I think it has been important to have that model as part of the range of ensemble singing at Yale.”

Many of the Choral Artists are products of Yale. “Just over half of YCA’s singers for this project are YSM alums from both the voice program and choral conducting program,” Douma, a professor of choral conducting at the Yale School of Music, said. “We also have two Yale College alums in the group this time.”

In addition to solo careers, members of the Choral Artists perform with such ensembles as Chanticleer, Conspirare, the Handel and Haydn Society Chorus, Seraphic Fire, the Trinity Wall Street Choir, and Voices of Ascension, among others. The vocalists’ successes are in large measure a reflection of the potential they brought to and realized during their time at Yale.

“We are fortunate to have some of the best young musicians in the world studying here,” Douma said. “Like all of my colleagues, I am so proud to be able to send them out into the world and am thrilled when we are able to invite them back to compose and perform both for the YSM community and for our broader audiences.”

Founding Director Jeffrey Douma will lead the Yale Choral Artists and faculty pianists Robert Blocker and Melvin Chen in an all-Brahms program on Saturday, Oct. 26, at 7:30 p.m., in Morse Recital Hall. The concert is free and open to the public.

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Published October 25, 2019
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Program notes offer insight into Yale Philharmonia’s Oct. 25 concert repertoire

By Rachel Glodo

On Friday, Oct. 25, guest conductor Ludovic Morlot will lead the Yale Philharmonia in a performance of Debussy’s Prélude à L’après-midi d’un faune, Szymanowski’s First Violin Concerto, with Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winner Jung Eun Kang, and Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony.

Here are the program notes that we’ll share with concertgoers and audiences watching online.

Claude Debussy

Debussy’s Prélude à L’après-midi d’un faune

The plot of Stéphane Mallarmé’s symbolist poem L’Aprés-midi d’un faune (The Afternoon of a Faun) cannot be called action-packed: “Faun awakens. Faun recounts seeing two nymphs. It may or may not have been all a dream.” The poem (translated in part below) is a series of indefinite but connected images that evoke the sensual pastoralism of Greek mythology:

These nymphs I would make last.
So rare
Their rose lightness arches in the air,
Torpid with tufted sleep.
I loved: a dream?

This was precisely the nebulous imagery that most appealed to Claude Debussy, who met Mallarmé in Paris’ salon scene in the 1880s. Like Mallarmé’s work, Debussy’s symphonic poem does not express a clear programmatic narrative. Instead, it uses orchestral and chromatic color to paint contours, suggest hazy images, and invite the listener to join the faun’s dreamworld. Debussy’s faun awakens to a sinuous flute melody, which returns throughout the piece like the nymphs’ elusive forms glimpsed through the trees.

While Debussy’s Prélude was generally well-received at its 1894 premiere, it was not until 1912 that it entered a different type of mythology. Presented by the Ballets Russes with dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky in the title role, the ballet shocked (and delighted) Parisian audiences: Nijinsky’s faun ended his afternoon with an intimate, luxurious orgasm.

Karol Szymanowski

Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 35

For 19th century listeners, a “concerto” meant a composition for a solo instrument and orchestra that highlighted the soloist’s virtuosity and artistry. It typically unfolded in three movements, each movement with its own prototypical patterns. This was, after all, what made concertos fun: everyone knew the “rules,” and it was exciting to see how a composer would play with and bend these rules. The early 20th century saw rules bent to a breaking point. Established norms—from concert attire to musical forms—were challenged and refashioned.

Szymanowski’s First Violin Concerto (1916) exemplifies this tension. For example, the concerto is through-composed—that is, it is presented as a single movement. While there are five identifiable sections, one proceeds after another with a restless energy, without pause.

Szymanowski’s musical language fuses 19th century “Romantic” elements—cantabile violin melodies, a lush orchestral palette, and impassioned melodic sighs—with the traumas of the new century: jagged, sometimes wandering solo lines, anxious flutters from the woodwinds, and above all, perhaps, the final ambiguous whispers of the violin. Wistful and ironic, the concerto’s conclusion is reminiscent of T.S. Eliot’s famous line: “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper” (1925).

Sergei Prokofiev

Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, Op. 100

Like many well-known artists, Prokofiev was shuffled around the Soviet Union during the war years, spending time in the northern Caucasus, Tbilisi (Georgia), Alma-Ata (Almaty, Kazakhstan), and Perm (in the Urals) before returning to Moscow in 1943. Though the Second World War still raged, the tide had turned for the Allied forces. In the summer of 1944, Prokofiev departed war-time Moscow for the state-sponsored “Composer’s House” in rural Ivanovo.

Despite the temptation of pastoral beauty and a cohort of fellow composers—including Shostakovich, Khachaturian, and Kabalevsky—Prokofiev maintained a disciplined schedule and produced the piano score of his Fifth Symphony in a single month. (Khachaturian recalled, “The regularity with which he worked amazed us all!”)

The result is a symphonic journey that is simultaneously expansive and tightly designed, suggesting both the shared and private experiences of nations at war. As Prokofiev told Time magazine, a little dryly perhaps, his symphony was “about the spirit of man, his soul or something like that.” Prokofiev conducted the premiere in Moscow on January 13, 1945. As the composer raised his baton, the audience heard a celebratory artillery volley: the Red Army had begun the Vistula-Oder Offensive in Poland, Nazi forces were being pushed westward, and victory was only nine months off.

Rachel Glodo is the Assistant to the Associate Dean at the Yale School of Music. She has a bachelor of arts degree from Yale University and a master of music degree in musicology from Northwestern University.

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Published October 23, 2019
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Merz Trio is a winner of the Concert Artists Guild competition

The Merz Trio. Photo by Nile Scott

The Merz Trio, which includes pianist and Yale School of Music alumnus Lee Dionne ’11BA ’13MM ’14MMA ’19DMA, violinist Brigid Coleridge, and cellist Julia Yang, was named a winner of the 2019 Concert Artists Guild Victor Elmaleh Competition. The other winners were cellist Jamal Aliyev, violist Jordan Bak, and recorder player Tabea Debus.

“Each of the winners receives management contracts with CAG, including performance opportunities with more than 40 leading orchestras, concert series, and festivals, as well as a New York showcase performance and professional career development and coaching,” according to the organization’s news release. Application materials for this year’s competition required “a general statement of your artistic intent. This should also include how you plan to use your art to make an impact outside the concert hall.”

The Merz Trio, which won first prize at the 2019 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition, “is passionate about connecting with diverse audiences through innovative concerts, multidisciplinary projects, and interactive performances,” the group’s website indicates. The trio’s work has been supported in part by Entrepreneurial Musicianship grants from the New England Conservatory, where it is in residence. The Merz Trio was formed in 2017 and won the Lerman Gold Prize and Audience Choice Award at the 2018 Chesapeake Chamber Music Competition in Easton, Maryland.

Lee Dionne. Photo courtesy of the artist

A founding member of the Merz Trio, Dionne has performed as a chamber musician and as a soloist in venues around the world and has recorded for MSR Classics and Naxos Records. He is a core member of Cantata Profana along with several fellow Yale alumni including violinist Jacob Ashworth ’13MM ’14MMA ’18DMA, cellist Hannah Collins ’06BS ’08MM ’09AD, clarinetist Gleb Kanasevich ’13MM, stage director Ethan Heard ’07BA ’13MFA, guitarist Arash Noori ’12MM ’13AD, percussionist Doug Perry ’14AD, soprano Annie Rosen ’08BA ’12MM, composer-pianist Daniel Schlosberg ’10BA ’13MM ’14MMA ’18DMA, and bass-baritone John Taylor Ward ’12MM ’13MMA ’17DMA.

In addition to degrees earned at the Yale School of Music, Dionne has a soloist diploma from the Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien Hannover, and an undergraduate degree in literature from Yale College.

The final round of the 2019 CAG competition took place on October 6, 2019, at Merkin Concert Hall at the Kaufman Music Center in New York City. Numerous YSM alumni have been among the winners of the CAG competition over the past decade. These include percussionist Mitya (Dmitrii) Nilov ’18MM; pianist Dominic Cheli ’16MM; guitarist Jiji (Jiyeon Kim) ’17MM; double bassist Samuel Suggs ’14MM ’20DMA; violinists Katie Hyun ’09AD and David Southorn ’09MM ’10AD, and cellist Mihai Marica ’04CERT ’08AD of the Amphion Quartet; violinist Sami Merdinian ’06MM ’07AD of Sybarite5; and violinist Sarah McElravy ’12AD, violist Eric Wong ’12AD, and cellist Felix Umansky ’12AD of the Linden String Quartet. The Argus Quartet, which served from 2015 to 2017 as YSM’s fellowship quartet-in-residence, was a CAG competition winner in 2017. The competition has been held since the early 1950s.

The Yale Daily News recently published a piece about the Merz Trio. Read it here.

MERZ TRIO

LEE DIONNE

Published October 17, 2019
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Faculty tubist Carol Jantsch, on exploration and perpetual study

Carol Jantsch

In 2006, Carol Jantsch was named Principal Tubist of the Philadelphia Orchestra. She further explains on her website that “she won the position during her senior year at the University of Michigan, becoming the first female tuba player in a major symphony orchestra.” We reached out to Jantsch, who joined the Yale School of Music faculty in 2012, to talk about teaching, arranging music for her instrument, and musical pursuits beyond her work with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Q: When, where, and how did you choose the tuba—or did the instrument choose you? I know your family is quite musical. Were you encouraged to pursue music as a field of study and a profession?

A: My mom forced me to start piano lessons when I was 6, and she sent me and my brother to Interlochen Arts Camp a few years later. That first summer at Interlochen I took a class called “Instrument Exploration,” where we were introduced to all the instruments and chose one to learn. I wanted something weird and different, so the euphonium fit the bill perfectly. I made the switch to tuba a few years later, when I was around 12 years old.

Q: To what extent have you learned through teaching? In other words, to what degree has working with students informed your approach to the instrument? In what ways have you grown as a musician since 2006?

A: Teaching forces you to put your values and techniques into words, and this process has been hugely educational for me. I always had strong opinions about how I wanted to sound, but now my ideas have more clarity and refinement. I’m also much more conscious of how I’m doing what I’m doing from having to explain it to others.

I feel very fortunate to have come of age as a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra. I’m constantly drawing inspiration from my amazing colleagues, and I absolutely believe that I’m a much better musician for getting to hear them for the past 13 years.

Q: I’m always curious to learn about an artist’s routines. How do you juggle individual practice, arranging, rehearsing with the orchestra and other groups, teaching, recording, and other aspects of your life?

A: I get a lot of emails and arranging done on the train to Yale!

The orchestra is and always will be my primary focus; I’m very grateful to have such a wonderful job, and it’s also the thing that enables me to do everything else. I’ll definitely get more practice time when the orchestra is playing “New World” Symphony than I will in a Mahler week, and the time for other projects ebbs and flows with my Philadelphia Orchestra responsibilities. While it can be hectic to have so many side projects, I think it’s important to make the time for them because they keep me growing as a musician and person.

Q: With limited repertoire composed specifically for tuba, you necessarily perform a good number of arrangements. How do you go about choosing which pieces to arrange for your instrument—what are the important considerations beyond a desire to play a particular piece? How much do you and your students discuss and work on arranging?

A: Just like teaching, arranging has had a profound influence on my musicianship. Arranging a piece of music is like solving a puzzle: How do you fundamentally change the nature of something while still capturing the essence of the original? What specifically makes Beethoven sound like Beethoven, or Led Zeppelin sound like Led Zeppelin—and then how do I preserve that when I write for tubas?! They’re fun questions to tackle, and I think having that sense of the big picture is really helpful as a performer. I find it so helpful in fact that I’ve started requiring my students to create at least one transcription or arrangement for their graduation recital.

Q: Is Tubular currently active? If so, what’s your set list like?

A: Yes we are! For the uninitiated, Tubular is my cover band comprised of two euphoniums, two tubas, drums, and all of us do vocals. In September, we performed the entire Beatles album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band—that was a pretty epic night. But normally our shows span a lot of eras and styles—Queen, Beyoncé, the Jackson 5, Bruno Mars, the Eagles, Kesha, Flight of the Conchords, really anything we think will be awesome and/or hilarious. I’m currently working on a ’70s rock medley that will include Styx, Heart, AC/DC, and more …

What have you been listening to and reading lately?

I’ve been on a classic rock kick because of my current arranging project! Spotify makes some pretty great playlists, and the one called “Classic Rock Workout” is pretty much solid gold; exercise or not, I highly recommend it.

Faculty tubist Carol Jantsch will perform a free Faculty Artist Series recital on Sunday, Oct. 13, at 3 p.m., in Morse Recital Hall. 

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Published October 9, 2019
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Sir Jonathan Mills to host public lectures at Yale fall 2019

Sir Jonathan Mills. Photo by Seamus McGarvey

Sir Jonathan Mills will present a series of three lectures in October 2019. Mills, who is known for his directorship, from 2006 until 2014, of the internationally celebrated Edinburgh International Festival, has also led prestigious festivals in his native Australia and is recognized around the world for his thought-provoking compositions. Mills holds a bachelor of music degree in composition from the University of Sydney and a master of architecture degree from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. He was appointed Officer of the Order of Australia in 2011 and knighted in 2013.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

“Culture and Well-being: Connections Between Health and Music”

Yale School of Public Health
This event is by invitation only

How can culture contribute to the health and well-being of human society? The sustainable provision of health care is of vital concern for governments around the world. A growing body of neurological and clinical research indicates that participation in cultural activity offers long-lasting benefits for a range of medical conditions. How can the social and economic benefits of the arts be understood and implemented by policy makers, commercial medical insurers, and clinical practitioners? How can the arts improve health outcomes for traditionally marginalized or neglected communities?

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Classical Traditions: The Many Rather than the Few

Yale School of Music, Leigh Hall, Room 211
11 a.m. | Free and open to the Yale community

The past millennium has been dominated by European science and technology, culture, and philosophy. There is some plausible speculation that an era of European hegemony might possibly be drawing to a close.

We have already begun to enter historical period in which no single culture, ideology, theocracy, or politics will be all pervasive or dominant. We are now living in a world in which knowledge comes simultaneously from various, divergent technological, ethical, cultural, and philosophical sources and locations.

In an era increasingly concerned with the politics of identity, at a time of heightened sensitivity about the social and cultural implications of certain dominant hegemonies, is it not time to celebrate, in a spirit of curiosity and generosity, the existence of many diverse and unique classical artistic traditions, rather than continue to assert the primacy of a single tradition?

 Monday, October 21, 2019

Managing the Art of the Unexpected

Yale School of Music, Leigh Hall, Room 402
4:30 p.m. | Free and open to the Yale community

How does one respond to a passionate and heartfelt demand by a group of highly motivated members of the public to cancel a tour, by an ensemble from a country whose government engages in widely acknowledged and highly controversial policies, when one is directing an international festival that the tour is slated to visit? In such circumstances, are artists to be treated as pawns in a larger geopolitical dialogue or individuals who need protection?

What happens when a war erupts in a nation from which a large-scale company of your most prominent performers is about to depart?

Drawing very directly on his personal experiences as both the CEO and Artistic Director of one of the world’s largest festivals—the Edinburgh International Festival—composer Jonathan Mills considers the sometimes challenging roles of being a chief executive and an artistic leader of an arts organization. In this lecture, Mills reflects on some of the strategic and diplomatic dimensions of running a prominent arts institution and offers some advice about the sorts of political confrontations that no one is warned about in advance of taking a job as a cultural leader.

Published October 8, 2019
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Recital as reflection: pianist and Dean Robert Blocker tells a story through a concert program

Robert Blocker

Yale School of Music faculty pianist and Dean Robert Blocker was introduced to the music of Bach as an elementary school student in South Carolina, learning from and singing with part-time music teachers in the cafeteria. Today, in spaces created in a demanding administrative schedule, Blocker finds comfort and authenticity at the piano.

Tonight, Blocker will perform a program built on reflection and appreciation. Recounting a trip to Vienna during which he visited Beethoven’s and Schubert’s grave, Blocker lamented the absence of a place where admirers can pay similar respect to Mozart, whose exact burial site in Vienna’s St. Marx Cemeteryis unknown.

Blocker said Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 4 in E-flat major, K. 282, an early sonata that opens tonight’s program, is “one of my very favorites.” He’s performed Mozart’s music frequently, and tonight’s Horowitz Piano Series concert is another opportunity to pay respect to the composer and to share with audiences something of himself.

Perhaps thinking of his own experiences with those part-time music teachers in South Carolina, and about his own grandchildren, Blocker will follow the Mozart with Ravel’s Sonatine, Op. 40 and the fairy-tale based Ma Mère l’Oye (Mother Goose Suite) for piano four-hands. Ravel dedicated the Sonatine to his friends Ida and Cipa Godebski and the suite to their piano-playing children, Mimie and Jean. Faculty pianist Wei-Yi Yang will perform the second piano part, and faculty composer Martin Bresnick will read the text that accompanies the music. Programming Ma Mère l’Oye, Blocker said, was in part a reflection on what stories and sound can mean to a child.

Brahms composed his Liebeslieder Waltzes, Op. 52 for voices and piano four-hands. Tonight, Blocker will perform the composer’s arrangement for piano four-hands without voices (Op. 52a) with faculty pianist Melvin Chen. Blocker described the love-song waltzes as “incredibly joyful pieces” and said, “Without text you can take more liberties with how you want to express your music.” Brahms’ friend Clara Schumann described the pieces as “exceptionally fetching and delightful, even without the vocal parts,” according to notes in Blocker’s piano score.

Tying Blocker’s childhood to his place at the School of Music is a grouping of music that starts with and pays homage to Bach. “I’ve always loved the music of Bach,” Blocker said, “and I’m continually reminded of how adaptable it is.” He’ll perform “Wachet Auf, ruft uns die Stimme,” the opening chorus from Bach’s cantata of the same name, Busoni’s arrangement of the music (which Bach based on a hymn by Philipp Nicolai). and faculty composer Christopher Theofanidis’ Wake Up, Called the Voice, a piece that borrows from and reimagines “Wachet Auf” and was written for and premiered by Blocker in 2016. Blocker will close his recital program with a performance of the Modern Jazz Quartet’s “Rise Up in the Morning,” an arrangement of Wachet Auf, with percussionist Jisu Jung ’19MM ’20AD. “I was a devotee of (MJQ’s) music-making in the ’70s. What they did with Bach was just magical,” Blocker said.

It’s a program that reflects on youth, on the music that has informed Blocker’s life and work, and on the friends here at the School whom he considers family. Join us tonight in Morse Recital Hall or watch and listen to the performance online.

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Published October 2, 2019
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