Sofya Gulyak opens 2019-2020 Horowitz Piano Series

Sofya Gulyak

The 2019-2020 Horowitz Piano Series will introduce audiences to a number of ascendant artists, beginning with Sofya Gulyak, who opens the series with a recital on September 18. “This wonderful pianist became noticed through her winning of important competitions, most notably the Leeds International competition in 2009, when she became the first woman ever to take the first prize at this prestigious event,” series Artistic Director Boris Berman said.

Gulyak has appeared in recitals and concerts around the world and has performed as a soloist with such ensembles as the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, among others. Gulyak’s performances and recital programs have been praised by the international music press. Her eagerly anticipated recital at YSM features a number of fascinating transcriptions. Gulyak’s program opens with Ferruccio Busoni’s virtuosic rendering of Bach’s famous Chaconne from the Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor and closes with Liszt’s transcription of the climactic “Liebestod” from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and Ravel’s La Valse, the composer’s own transcription of his orchestral masterpiece. Brahms’ Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, a monumental composition that uses an unassuming movement from a suite by Handel as a point of departure, is also on the program, as is Cesar Franck’s Prélude, Fugue et Variation, a significant triptych dedicated by the composer to his teacher Camille Saint-Saëns.

In March, Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung will present a two-piano and piano four-hands program of music by Debussy, Stravinsky, Poulenc, and Lutosławski. The husband-wife duo has been praised by Gramophone for “[applying] their effortless synchronicity to unlocking the music’s pianistic potential.”

This year’s Horowitz Piano Series also introduces audiences to Boris Slutsky, YSM’s new Visiting Professor in the Practice of Piano, to the Morse Recital Hall stage. A “distinguished artist,” in Berman’s estimation, Slutsky will perform music by Haydn, Schumann, and Chopin in December. Slutsky joins faculty pianists Berman, Robert Blocker, Hung-Kuan Chen, Melvin Chen, and Wei-Yi Yang in presenting recitals during the 2019-2020 season.

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Published September 4, 2019
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Yale Choral Artists to perform at International Festival of Arts & Ideas

Yale Choral Artists

The Yale Choral Artists, led by founding Director Jeffrey Douma, will perform music by Yale composers on Friday as part of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas. The program will feature works by Yale School of Music faculty composers Aaron Jay Kernis ’83MM and Christopher Theofanidis ’94MMA ’97DMA, former faculty composer Ingram Marshall, and alumni composers Caroline Shaw ’07MM and Michael Gilbertson ’13MM ’21DMA.

“Much of the Choral Artists’ work is devoted to new music, and after our last project featuring the music of Heinrich Schütz and Herbert Howells, we wanted to delve again into some newer works,” Douma said. “It’s an understatement to say that we have an abundance of riches here at the Yale School of Music—some of the most exciting composers in the world have studied, taught, and made music here in our own community, and many have made important and innovative contributions to the choral repertoire. The works we (will) perform on Friday are … beautiful and highly evocative: the cascade of voices in Ingram Marshall’s Hymnodic Delays, Aaron Kernis’ virtuosic Ecstatic Meditations, Caroline Shaw’s intimate and heartfelt and the swallow, Michael Gilbertson’s elegant and beautifully crafted Three Madrigals After Dowland, and Chris Theofanidis’ brilliant setting of the (musically inspired) poetry of Denise Levertov for violin and a cappella choir.”

Douma, who also serves as Professor of Choral Conducting at the School of Music and Director of the Yale Glee Club, founded the Yale Choral Artists, a project-based professional ensemble, in 2011 to “enhance and enrich Yale’s strong commitment to the choral arts.” Members of the Choral Artists perform in the United States and around the world with such organizations as Chanticleer, Conspirare, the Handel and Haydn Society Chorus, Seraphic Fire, the Trinity Wall Street Choir, Voices of Ascension, and others.

The Yale Choral Artists will perform on Friday, June 21, at 8 p.m., in Morse Recital Hall.

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Published June 20, 2019
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A Menotti opera, from radio to the stage

Gian Carlo Menotti

On May 3 and 4, Yale Opera will stage Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Old Maid and the Thief as part of a double bill in Morse Recital Hall. Menotti, who emigrated from Italy to the United States as a teenager in the 1920s, was among the first great composers of American opera. His operas, which set English libretti in a compositional style appealing to popular taste, found popularity across wide audiences. Many of his operas were produced to great acclaim on the Broadway stage. In addition to successful stage productions, Menotti was a pioneer of using the technology of the day to present his work. He is perhaps most famous for his Christmas opera Amahl and the Night Visitors, whose 1951 premiere introduced audiences to the first opera composed specifically for television. But even before the rise of televised operas, Menotti burst onto the popular operatic scene with The Old Maid and the Thief, composed at the height of popularity of the radio opera. In the late 1930s, having finished his studies at The Curtis Institute of Music and on the heels of the success of his first opera, Amelia al Ballo, Menotti was approached by NBC to compose an opera to be broadcast on the radio. The Old Maid and the Thief premiered on April 22, 1939, and was so well received by radio audiences that Menotti adapted it for the stage two years later.

The opera, a performance of which lasts about an hour, is organized in 14 short scenes. It has only four roles: Miss Todd, the spinster or old maid (mezzo-soprano); Laetitia, Miss Todd’s maid (soprano); Bob, the mysterious traveler (baritone); and Miss Pinkerton, Miss Todd’s gossipy neighbor (soprano). The plot explores the ambiguous morals and suspicious activity behind the seemingly sweet façade of a sleepy, small town. Menotti says, in the libretto, “The devil couldn’t do what a woman can—make a thief out of an honest man.”

Menotti (1911-2007) was an Italian-American composer and librettist. He is most well known for his numerous operas, for which he wrote his own libretti. He won two Pulitzer Prizes, one for his 1950 opera The Consul, and another for his 1955 opera The Saint of Bleecker Street. Menotti founded the Spoleto festivals in Spoleto, Italy, and in Charleston, South Carolina. His longtime romantic and professional partner was American composer Samuel Barber (1910-1981).

Yale Opera’s spring production pairs a fully staged version of Menotti’s The Old Maid and the Thief with Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol, directed by Dustin Wills, with music direction by Douglas Dickson and Timothy Shaindlin. Performed with piano accompaniment in the intimate Morse Recital Hall, this double bill showcases the ascendant young artists in the Yale Opera program.

Yale Opera presents Menotti’s The Old Maid and the Thief and Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol on May 3 & 4, at 7:30 p.m., in Morse Recital Hall in Sprague Memorial Hall. 

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Published April 29, 2019
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Jungah Yoon ’19MM, on performing Reinecke’s Flute Concerto

Jungah Yoon

On April 26, flutist and Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winner Jungah Yoon ’19MM will perform Carl Reinecke’s Flute Concerto in D Major, Op. 283, with Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian and the Yale Philharmonia. We spoke with Yoon about the challenges and rewards of performing such an important part of the flute repertoire.

Q: Why did you choose the Reinecke Flute Concerto as your competition piece?

A: The Reinecke Flute Concerto is unique in being the only flute concerto of the Romantic era, and many audience members will get to experience it for the first time. I feel a strong connection to this piece and believe that many aspects of it relate to my own life and personal experiences. When I perform this piece, I hope to share my story. I chose this piece especially because of the second movement, which is extremely nostalgic and heart-wrenching. Throughout the concerto, there are many passages of dialogue between the different voices—for example, between the solo flute, trumpet, and clarinet in the first movement, and a wonderful cantilena with the cello in the slow movement (or with the timpani, which features the same rhythm as the cello’s pizzicato passages). This rhythm sounds like a beating heart, or perhaps recalls a funeral march. The work encompasses a wide expressive scope, and it is an outstanding piece for the flute.

Q: Reinecke was a contemporary of Brahms and conducted several premieres of Brahms’ works. Do you hear the influence of this relationship in Reinecke’s Flute Concerto?

A: The Flute Concerto was written in 1908, and a key element to understanding the music is to consider its Romantic idiom, an old-fashioned style for its day. The work is rooted in the early 19th century language of Mendelssohn and Schumann, with whom Reinecke studied after settling in Leipzig in 1843, in stark contrast to the style and texture of some exemplary works composed during the same period—for example, Stravinsky’s Firebird (1910) and Petrushka (1911) ballets. Reinecke’s concerto shows him at his best and provides a milder taste of the early 20th century.

The work is in three movements, all rather different in character. The opening Allegro molto moderato is the most symphonic of the three and reflects the influence of Brahms. The first measures seem to emerge and join in on an already existing thought. The slow movement, Lento e mesto (“slow and sad”), is in the style of a bel canto aria, recalling Bellini, or the young Donizetti. The orchestra recedes to an accompanimental role, clearly giving front stage to the flute-as-protagonist, who sings mournfully in B minor. The finale is more upbeat than its Moderato marking might suggest. Reinecke’s keyboard influences are apparent in the overall texture, in which melody and accompaniment are clearly delineated yet rhythmically and gesturally interwoven.

Q: What have been the challenges of preparing and performing this concerto?

A: Personally, the most important aspect of my preparation is feeling that I truly know the work inside and out. Although the process is different for every performance of it, and new challenges arise, I always try to place focus on shaping the various lines, feeling comfortable with the technical elements, and, above all, sharing an expressive story with the audience.

The Romantic language of the Reinecke Flute Concerto has a lot to offer in terms of the expressive writing in the strings and the many colors in the winds and brass. The most challenging aspect of performing this piece is to project above and amid these textures, not just in the literal sense of projecting into the concert hall, but also the deeper manner of projecting my story and emotions to the audience. In this spirit, I hope to connect with the audience in a meaningful way.

Q: In what ways does your mindset change when you’re a soloist?

A: I have come to think about my sound more than I used to in the past. Playing with a big ensemble means that I have to project through the texture even in the softest dynamics, and that my sound needs to be clean and focused. Therefore, it requires a lot more energy compared to when I am playing solo, and I need to be aware of the balance and interaction as a soloist with the many textures and instruments of the orchestra.

Q: What are your thoughts on working with Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian, and on performing as a soloist with an orchestra of your peers?

A: I had the experience of working with Maestro Oundjian earlier this year, when we performed selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, as well as Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11, for which I was principal flute. I was inspired by his expressive approach and flexibility, always engaging the orchestra to actively listen better. His passion carries through to the vibe of the orchestra and encourages us all to keep an open mind to music-making. I feel grateful for the opportunity to work with Maestro Oundjian again, and to play with the Yale Philharmonia.

This experience is so meaningful to me, especially since it is my first time playing as a soloist with an orchestra. I am so happy to share the stage with my wonderful colleagues and beautiful musicians, who are so supportive and always give me positive energy. Coming to Yale was my first time studying abroad, and this enriching community of peers made me feel comfortable and at home. I look forward to playing with them and am excited for the concert!

Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian leads the Yale Philharmonia in a season-ending performance of Brahms’ First Symphony on a program that also includes Reinecke’s Flute Concerto in D major, with Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winner Jungah Yoon ’19MM, and Joan Tower’s Made in America, on Friday, April 26, at 7:30 p.m., in Woolsey Hall.

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Published April 12, 2019
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Carolyn Kuan to conduct the Yale Philharmonia

Carolyn Kuan

On Friday, April 5, Carolyn Kuan, the Music Director of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, will lead the Yale Philharmonia in a performance of Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements, Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and the suite from Appalachian Spring, and Arild Plau’s Concerto for Tuba and Strings with Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winner Jake Fewx ’18MM ’19MMA. We spoke with Kuan about the repertoire and the experience she wants the audience to have.

Q: The works by Copland and Stravinsky on this program were all composed during World War II, though with different inspirations and motivations. Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man celebrates the everyday American, and his Appalachian Spring, a ballet (and, later, the orchestral suite) for Martha Graham, is a musical portrait of new beginnings. Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements is a more direct and personal effort to capture and share impressions of war. What went into your thinking, from a musical standpoint, in putting this program together?

A: I fell in love with Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements at my first job as a conductor-in-residence at the New York City Ballet. It is one of George Balanchine’s most striking ballets and an impressive piece of the company’s core repertoire. Balanchine’s choreography comes from an in-depth understanding of the music, and for a long time I associated the piece more as a ballet than a symphonic work. Stravinsky wrote the piece in his early 60s and was revising TheRite of Spring around the same time. Influences from TheRite of Spring (written when Stravinsky was 31) can certainly be heard in the symphony, blended with elegance, maturity, life experiences, and world events. Interestingly, Stravinsky and Copland were writing their respective pieces at the same time. As artists, we are influenced by the world around us. It is fascinating to hear these two pieces in the same evening, especially in the chaotic world we live in today.

I am very excited to work with Jake Fewx and to share with the audience Arild Plau’s Tuba Concerto. Since it is just under 20 minutes, we thought preceding the concerto with Fanfare for the Common Man, which highlights the majestic brass sounds, and following it with Appalachian Spring, would be a fascinating and rare auditory journey for the audience.

Q: What background information if any do you want the audience to have before hearing these pieces performed?

A: Many people are familiar with the song “Simple Gifts,” with its opening lyrics “’Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free.” I love how Copland was inspired by the melody and borrowed it for use in Appalachian Spring. Ultimately, both Copland and Stravinsky encouraged the audience to appreciate their music without thinking too much about any potentially relevant programs or stories. For its 1946 premiere, Stravinsky insisted that the Symphony in Three Movements was absolute music, although inspired “by this arduous time of sharp and shifting events, of despair and hope, of continual torments, of tension, and at last, cessation and relief.” He wrote in one of his letters that “if passages from the program notes are used to imply extramusical connotations in my work, I have to disclaim any responsibility for such interpretations.” Supposedly, Stravinsky later provided detailed comments about the symphony, and we know he used music from a previous piano concerto, as well as music for a movie. Nevertheless, it is always wonderful to just listen to the music, and let it move you and take you on a journey. For Appalachian Spring, either before or after coming to our concert, it is fascinating to explore Martha Graham’s original choreography. Understanding Graham’s original ballet, her movements, and dance languages has certainly influenced my approach to the piece.

Guest conductor Carolyn Kuan and the Yale Philharmonia in rehearsal.

Q: Arild Plau’s Tuba Concerto—any tuba concerto, for that matter—will be a new experience for most audience members. Does that place any extra responsibility on you? 

A: For me, when it comes to a concerto, my job is to accompany and support the soloist, not unlike a piano accompanist. Almost always, soloists have spent countless hours shaping their vision and relationship with the concerto. I love sharing new sounds with the audience—sometimes in the form of unusual solo instruments such as the tuba, koto, pipa, sheng, bagpipe, etc; other times in the form of unusual sounds created by composers through fascinating instrumentation.

Q: Do you take a different approach to conducting a student ensemble than you do a more seasoned orchestra?

A: The Yale Philharmonia is an impressive orchestra, and in many ways stronger than many professional orchestras. All the orchestras I work with, including the Yale Philharmonia, play at an incredibly high level. For me, the approach is always the same, which is to make music and give everything we have in the pursuit of excellence, passion, depth, and exploration.

Q: Many recordings have been made of the works by Copland and Stravinsky that you’ll be performing with the Yale Philharmonia. Why are live performances of this music important? Why should people seek out concerts like this?

A: There are so many reasons! Attending live performances is a shared experience that is completely different than listening to music on Spotify, Pandora, or on a CD. Audience members often don’t realize they are an active and integral part of a concert experience. As performers, we can feel the energy of an audience. There is often an unspoken chemistry—as the energy between performers and audience builds, it sometimes becomes electrifying, and there is nothing quite like it. Technology has come a long way. However, watching a movie on TV is still a very different experience than seeing it in the movie theater. Even with the best sound system, there is no comparison to hearing these great symphonic works live—the glorious full strings, the exquisite beauty of a flute, the magnificent brass, the powerful drums, and so much more!

Guest conductor Carolyn Kuan leads the Yale Philharmonia in a performance of Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements, Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and the suite from Appalachian Spring, and Arild Plau’s Concerto for Tuba and Strings with Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition Jake Fewx, on Friday, April 5, at 7:30 p.m. in Woolsey Hall.

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Published April 2, 2019
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Jake Fewx ’18MM ’19MMA, on being an ambassador for the tuba community

Jake Fewx

On April 5, tubist and Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winner Jake Fewx ’18MM ’19MMA will perform Arild Plau’s Concerto for Tuba and Strings with guest conductor Carolyn Kuan and the Yale Philharmonia. We spoke with Fewx about his eagerness to challenge people’s expectations of the tuba as a solo instrument.

Q: You’re the first tubist to be a winner of the Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition. Is the tuba at a disadvantage when it comes to competitions like this?

A: This is a huge honor for me. One of the philosophies that has been deeply ingrained from my studies is that the tuba is at a disadvantage in the sense that it has several negative connotations associated with it. When an audience sees a tubist walk on stage there are several stereotypes that run through their brains (heavy, loud, brassy, oom-pah, etc.), giving them low expectations about what they are going to hear. As a classical tubist, it is always my goal to shatter these expectations by performing with a great sound and always playing with high-quality musicianship. I am very excited to have this opportunity to act as an ambassador for the tuba community and to show the world that the tuba is a beautiful solo instrument.

Q: You’ll be performing Arild Plau’s Concerto for Tuba and Strings. Is this standard repertoire for tubists?

A: It’s a little bit of a hidden gem in the tuba repertoire but is growing very quickly in popularity. There are some great recordings of it out there and it has been on several competition lists.

Q: Musically, what can you tell us about the Plau concerto? What would you want the audience to know about this piece before hearing it?

A: This piece is very emotionally dense. Plau composed this piece in memory of his wife shortly after she passed away. The music, understandably, is filled with a lot of sadness and grief. The piece, in my opinion, depicts the composer’s own emotional journey through his loss, including a quasi-funeral march at the end of the second movement, and closes with a very odd, confused scherzo, leaving the journey (open-ended) in a way. There is a lot of fluctuation in the mood of the piece, with the music evoking some very sad, soft-spoken melodies, some very fast, passionate runs, and some very mournful kinds of shouts in the upper register of the tuba. The writing for strings is absolutely gorgeous. They provide this very lush backdrop for the tuba melody to sink into and they provide some very fiery, passionate interludes between sections. There are a few melody trade-offs between the tuba and solo violin that are particularly effective. This piece is really beautiful and I can’t wait for the audience to hear it!

Q: Does the fact that there are fewer tuba concertos out there than repertoire for other instruments make it more difficult to choose solo repertoire?

A: Yes and no. The tuba’s lineage is very young compared to the rest of the orchestra and even younger when you consider solo literature. Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Concerto, written in 1954, was one of the first, if not the first, solo pieces for tuba by a major composer. There are some other excellent tuba concertos by John Williams, Edward Gregson, and more recently by Jennifer Higdon, but, generally, there aren’t a ton to choose from. Since tubists don’t get a chance to perform as soloists too often, it is very common to hear the standard concertos. The rest of the solo repertoire for tuba is increasing in size and quality as time goes on, which is providing us with more and more great, original music for the tuba.

Q: In what ways does your mindset change when you’re a soloist?

A: When playing in an ensemble I have to wear a different hat, so to speak. Solo playing allows me to be freer and more expressive, but in a large ensemble I have to act as a foundation, always striving to produce rock-solid sound, pitch, and tempo. I often act as the bottom voice of the brass section and am most often paired with the trombones; however, depending on the piece, my role can extend outside of this. We (the Yale Philharmonia) recently performed selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, and I was often paired with the basses, piano, and low winds, which kept me on my toes in terms of how I approached the performance. I’m particularly fond of chamber playing because it is kind of an amalgamation of playing styles. In a brass quintet, the tuba parts are often very active and challenging, forcing me to provide a foundation for the group while also having to provide the occasional melody. All in all, each of these mediums has helped me become a more well-rounded musician.

Q: How does it feel to be performing a concerto with an orchestra of your peers?

A: It is amazing! I am so fortunate to be in a school where I am surrounded by so many awesome, talented people. I am very humbled to have been given this opportunity. I can’t wait to get on stage and share this piece with the audience!

Guest conductor Carolyn Kuan leads the Yale Philharmonia in a performance of Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements, Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and the suite from Appalachian Spring, and Arild Plau’s Concerto for Tuba and Strings, with Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition Jake Fewx, on Friday, April 5, at 7:30 p.m. in Woolsey Hall.

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Published April 1, 2019
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Yale in New York concert celebrates YSM’s guitar and composition programs

Ben Verdery

Benjamin Verdery

In programming Music for Guitars, an upcoming Yale in New York series concert at Carnegie Hall, faculty guitarist Benjamin Verdery reflected on a November 2010 program that featured music by a host of Yale-affiliated composers. That program, by design, celebrated the legacies of the School of Music’s composition and guitar programs.

Verdery also reflected, in curating the upcoming Yale in New York program, on inspiration he found, a little more than 10 years ago, at the Rhode Island School of Design. Verdery’s son was applying to the school, whose application requirements included drawing a bicycle or some element thereof. Accepted students’ illustrations were on view when Verdery brought his son to Providence to visit the school. “It was mind-bending,” Verdery said.

“I’m going to have my friends write a piece of music—just the notes, the pitches and the rhythms,” without tempo or dynamic indications, he decided. Since then, each year, prospective School of Music students applying to study with Verdery have been required to learn and perform, as part of their audition, a piece written by one of Verdery’s colleagues, along with other repertoire. Like RISD’s bicycle-drawing admissions requirement, the commissioned audition pieces leave room for interpretation, giving Verdery some insight into the ability and creativity of prospective students.

Those who have been commissioned by Verdery to compose audition pieces, over the course of the past decade, include former YSM Dean and Prof. of Music Ezra Laderman, faculty composers Martin Bresnick and Christopher Theofanidis; Lecturer in Electronic Music Jack Vees; YSM alumni Bryce Dessner, James Moore, and Brendon Randall-Myers; Yale University Department of Music Prof. Kathryn Alexander; and current composition student Tanner Porter, among others. Audition pieces by the above-mentioned musicians will be showcased as part of Music for Guitars, the third and final concert in the 2018-2019 Yale in New York series. The concert will feature Verdery and current School of Music students and alumni, including René Izquierdo.

The program also includes works by Hindemith (who taught at the School of Music), Mudarra, and Terry Riley; arrangements of music by Bach, Scarlatti, and Schubert; and world premieres of James Moore’s Turning and Verdery’s arrangement, for guitar and string quartet, of Bernstein’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano. Izquierdo will perform Turning, which was this year’s YSM guitar audition piece. Verdery will perform the Bernstein with violinists Kate Arndt and Gregory Lewis, violist Marta Lambert, and cellist Guilherme Monegatto-all current YSM students.

The repertoire for the program reaches back to 16th century composer Alonso Mudarra’s fantasias for vihuela—which will be played on an instrument from the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments—and visits music composed since then and up to the present. The program also taps into the arranging chops of the guitarists who’ll be performing. It’s something “all of us in the world of guitar do,” Verdery said.

“There’s a lot of color and expression of what the guitar is,” Verdery said of the program. There will also be a lot of virtuosity on display—and, like the 2010 program, of which it’s a musical extension, many connections to the School of Music.

The School of Music’s Yale in New York series presents Music for Guitars on Friday, March 29, at 7:30 p.m., at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. A preview concert is scheduled for Thursday, March 28, at 4:30 p.m., in Morse Recital Hall in Sprague Memorial Hall. Admission to the preview concert is free.

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Published March 20, 2019
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Professor Paul Berry on scholarship, performance, and Brahms

Paul Berry

Paul Berry

On Sunday, tenor Paul Berry, Associate Professor (adjunct) of Music History at the School of Music and the author of Brahms Among Friends: Listening, Performance, and the Rhetoric of Allusion (Oxford University Press), and Boris Berman, the Sylvia and Leonard Marx Professor in the Practice of Piano, will present “Of Love, Death, and Reconciliation: Songs and Intermezzi of Johannes Brahms.” Prof. Berry has shared a few thoughts about scholarship and performance, conceiving and preparing with Prof. Berman for Sunday’s recital, and “the value of live music-making.” 

Like many music scholars, I had been performing for years before discovering the academic disciplines devoted to the study of music. When I selected 19th century Austro-German song as an academic specialty in the early 2000s, I thought I was doing so because the subject allowed me to pursue a long-standing interest in German-language literature, but in retrospect a deeper reason was surely that my youthful instruments were voice and piano. As my scholarly interests have grown to include instrumental chamber music, the concerns of practicing musicians have remained central to my work: how the music feels in the hand or the voice, how the composer engages those feelings toward expressive ends, and how the act of musical performance can open up interpretive arenas for players and listeners alike. Brahms’ songs and piano pieces offer the historian particularly rich opportunities to investigate these questions, in part because he and his contemporaries left behind a vast array of documentary evidence that speaks to their own engagement with performance. To fully appreciate that evidence, I find I have to keep one foot in the world of the practicing musician, singing and playing the music I study rather than simply listening to it. This is one reason I love teaching at the School of Music: I learn as much from my students and their music-making as they do from me.

It was a wonderful privilege to prepare for this recital with Boris, who combines formidable knowledge of the repertoire with decades of experience playing Brahms’ music at a superb level. All told, we spent an average of more than an hour on each song we’ll perform, considering how Brahms’ compositional structures project his interpretation of each text and how the different musical choices we might make in realizing those structures could affect the listener’s understanding of that interpretation. Perhaps the most exciting part for me, however, was selecting the songs we would perform and placing them into a coherent order. The Four Serious Songs, Brahms’s last opus, are unusual in many ways, including their texts, which are not poems but passages concerning death from Luther’s translation of the Bible. These songs are usually performed continuously as a set, but, following Brahms’ own practice of creating flexible “bouquets” of songs, we decided to take them apart and use them as primary colors, emotional focal points around which other songs and short piano pieces could be grouped in provocative ways.

The piano pieces come from the collections of short works, Opp. 116-119, completed in the 1890s, that together comprise Brahms’ crowning achievement as a composer for the instrument. The songs span his entire output as a composer—from his first maturity in the early 1860s to the pinnacle of his public career in the 1870s and 1880s—and his life-long involvement with artfully arranged folksong. Some of them are quite dark, a few playful, many rich and autumnal, others light and fresh. Heard interspersed among the Four Serious Songs, the music on this program may facilitate for the audience some reflection about love, death, and the process of change—hence the title of the recital. But any such reflection will be individual, meaningful to each listener for herself alone. This, I think, is the value of live music-making in a time of pervasive distractions and pre-packaged playlists: to provide an unexpected space, an unpredictable collision of impulses, within which the self can find renewal and out of which conversation can begin again.

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Published February 27, 2019
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Pianist and composer Renee Rosnes to perform Ellington Jazz Series concert

Renee Rosnes

Jazz pianist and composer Renee Rosnes comes to Yale this week to perform an Ellington Jazz Series concert with her quartet, which includes vibraphonist Steve Nelson, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Lenny White. The group will play music from Rosnes’ two most recent albums, Beloved of the Sky and Written in the Rocks. We spoke with Rosnes, whom DownBeat has described as “a virtuoso jazz composer,” about the music on those recordings, and more.

Q: Beloved of the Sky includes music that celebrates the Pacific Northwest (where you’re from) and laments the environmental destruction that has scarred the region. …

A: There is one piece from the recording that deals with this subject and that is “Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky,” which is the name of a painting by Canadian artist Emily Carr (1871-1945). Having grown up in British Columbia and seeing her work frequently, Carr’s paintings evoke a strong emotional response in me. Her canvases of the Canadian coastal landscapes and deep woods are familiar territory. She was an environmentalist ahead of her time and created several paintings that deal with her concern for the environment, and specifically the clear-cutting of forests (Odds and Ends, Above the Gravel Pit, Loggers Culls, Stumps and Sky, A Forest Clearing).

Q: To what degree do you hope audiences come to this music with an understanding of its origins, and to what degree can that information exist as your compositional motivation, without necessarily being a programmatic element?

A: I have no expectations with regard to the listener coming to the music with any background knowledge. It is not necessary that one understands the inspiration in order to enjoy it. With that said, I’m happy to illuminate or motivate people to learn about the various subjects that have inspired my music.

Q: For Written in the Rocks, you explored evolution, the earth’s—and various species’— beginnings. Technology specialist Dino Rosati’s liner notes informed your writing for this album, specifically for “The Galapagos Suite.” Would you talk about finding inspirations for new projects and how you go about conceiving and developing music from there?

A: Picasso once said, “The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.” This is a true statement, although often the inspiration simply comes from within—with the music coming first: a short melodic phrase, a rhythmic motif or an unusual chord progression. The sounds themselves evoke a theme or a feeling that inspires a title.

Recently, I was commissioned by Aaron Schwebel, the artistic director of Echo Chamber Toronto, to compose a jazz chamber piece for string quartet, flute, and piano. It is part of a performance series that brings musicians and contemporary dancers together on stage in collaboration with each other, and the composition will be choreographed and performed later on this year. I have never worked with dancers before, and am really enjoying the challenge of composing with movement in mind.

Q: “Goodbye Mumbai” is autobiographical in nature. Would you share briefly how this tune came to be and how you approach playing it?

A: In 1994, I was very fortunate to have discovered by maternal biological family and consequently learned of my Punjabi heritage. In 1996, I released a recording entitled Ancestors (Blue Note Records), in which many of the pieces reflected that experience. Since that time, I’ve had the opportunity to visit India once, and my trip inspired this particular piece, which feels celebratory in nature. “Goodbye Mumbai” was composed with the hope that I’ll someday return.

Q: In recording Beloved of the Sky and Written in the Rocks, to what extent did you share the above-mentioned background information with the musicians with whom you recorded (and with whom you perform) the music?

A: I always share any stories or thoughts that might accompany my compositions with the band. Sometimes there is a direct musical outcome, such as at the beginning of “Galapagos.” You can hear a musical representation of ocean waves and bird calls during the introduction. Another example is in the piece “Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky.” The “cry of the tree’s heart” that Emily Carr spoke of is sonically depicted by the “tall” dissonant chords with which the piece begins and ends. To whatever ends an individual musician embraces the narrative as a part of their improvisational statement is a free choice.

Q: We think a lot around here about the artist’s role in society and what that looks like from one individual to the next. What are your thoughts on the subject?

A: On the face of the old Canadian $20 bill there used to be a quote—in very fine print—by author Gabrielle Roy. It read, “Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?” Art is necessary because it reflects society. It is an expression of who we are and where we’ve been and where we’re headed. It is an act of human liberation, inspired by the whole spectrum of human emotion. With regard to my work, I hope that people lose themselves in the listening and allow the sounds to take them to a place of spiritual fulfillment.

The Renee Rosnes Quartet will perform an Ellington Jazz Series concert on Friday, March 1, at 7:30 p.m., in Morse Recital Hall. The performance will showcase music from Rosnes’ two most recent albums, Beloved of the Sky and Written in the Rocks.

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Published February 25, 2019
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Pianist Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner ’20AD to perform Mozart concerto with Yale Philharmonia

Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner. Photo by Chris McGuire

On Friday, Feb. 22, artist-diploma candidate Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner will perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 with Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian and the Yale Philharmonia. We spoke with Sanchez-Werner about the concerto, studying with Boris Berman (the Sylvia and Leonard Marx Professor in the Practice of Piano), performing with an orchestra of his peers, and more.

Q: How did you settle on Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 for this performance, and why?

A: Even among Mozart’s many magnificent piano concerti, this one stands out. One of only two in a minor key, K. 466 is in D minor, the same key as Mozart’s Requiem, Bach’s The Art of Fugue, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Brahms’ First Piano Concerto. When one hears that D-minor tonality, it’s natural to think of tremendous gravity of spirit. The piece has a second movement titled “Romanze,” a rare marking for Mozart, and the way the third movement ends, a surprise turn to D major that leads to a conclusion of unbridled joy, is nothing short of miraculous.

Q: Mozart wasn’t too much older than you are now when he composed and premiered this piece. Does that offer you any kind of perspective or insight into the music?

A: While the movie Amadeus is a little over the top, it is absolutely right in one way: We know that Mozart was as dynamic, free, and uninhibited a character as any. His music is synonymous with larger-than-life drama, mercurial wit, boundless love, tragedy, and youthful idealism, and it is a fallacy of epic proportions that his music is merely “pretty” or “beautiful,” as it is so often labelled, with understandable reverence. His music speaks to someone my age as it would to someone of any age. It is relatable to all.

Q: This concerto was composed and received its premiere 234 years ago. Today, there are umpteen recordings of the piece. Why is important for people to hear it performed live and what would you want the audience to know before hearing you play it?

A: I am deeply excited to have written my own cadenzas for this concerto, my first time doing so. A compelling reason to hear this performance live is that you will hear something new! Mozart often didn’t have time (or need) to write down his cadenzas, frequently improvising them in performance, and this D minor is indeed one of those concerti without a cadenza in his hand. This leaves a grand opening for pianists to choose what cadenzas they will play—the most common choice is to play Beethoven’s, but occasionally you will hear those of Brahms, Clara Schumann, or Hummel. But improvising or writing your own cadenza is such a daunting, wondrous, and personal statement, and as Robert Levin would argue, the most true to capturing the Mozartian spirit.

Q: Tell us about working with Prof. Boris Berman on the concerto and in general. How has he informed your approach to music-making?

A: Studying with Boris Berman has been a revelation. His enlivening musical concepts, and his thorough and enriching method of instilling them, has already had an indelible impact on my artistry. He wants pianists to be as informed about all walks of life as we are capable on the keyboard. I have memories of his whisking me away to the clavichord in his studio when I played him Bach, of his showing me videos of Spanish dancing and telling me saucy tales of young romance when I played him Debussy, of his discussing orchestration to emulate brass and wind instruments when playing Stravinsky. Since he has himself performed this concerto, we have shared great joy working on it together.

Q: What are your thoughts about performing alongside your peers (members of the Yale Philharmonia)?

A: This is something I am truly looking forward to. I’ve only been at Yale for a few months, but my wonderful colleagues have already made it feel like a second home. I’m also presently performing piano-trio repertoire with the concertmaster (Kate Arndt ’19MM), so playing with her for this concerto will be fun. Another Yale “peer” in the audience will be my mom—she lived in Trumbull College as part of the Class of ’77, one of the first, pioneering classes in which Yale accepted women. She has always enjoyed watching me perform, but I have a feeling she’ll enjoy this concert in particular.

Q: Beyond learning and practicing the notes, what goes into your preparation when studying a new score? (Is this concerto new to you?)

A: While I have performed several other Mozart concerti before, this is my first time with the D minor. Regarding my process of learning new concerti, I have made the switch to doing all of my practicing with the full score from the get-go (rather than only consulting it while practicing from a two-piano reduction, as I did when I was younger). This allows me to internalize the orchestration much earlier and better emulate the articulations and tone colors of other instruments.

Q: What, in your opinion, is the role of the artist in society?

A: Art is a cooperative affair, and musicians can and have contributed to a bold history of social engagement. I take pride in attempting to carry on such traditions of using music as a means of breaking down cultural and political barriers. As an example, in a cross-­cultural exchange for peace on U.N. World Day for Cultural Diversity, I played with the fearless Iraqi National Symphony in Baghdad. Raising funds for the Children’s Cancer Hospital, we performed music by American, Iraqi, and European composers for an international audience of diplomats, Iraqis of all ages, and U.S. soldiers. My hope is that the simple, yet meaningful process of our warmhearted collaboration and musical communication (since music is our common language) deepened the bond between two cultures. I have done similar work in Rwanda, France, Canada, and the United States and seek to do much more.

Q: What have you been reading lately?

A: After re-reading Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, written by the ever-illuminating Doris Kearns Goodwin, I have recently turned to her autobiographical memoir, Wait Till Next Year, which tells the story of her upbringing through the lens of her family’s devotion to the Brooklyn Dodgers. This is why I was delighted to find out after a recital I gave last week in Chicago, that the subsequent event in that arts series would be a talk by her. I wish I could’ve stayed and met her! Books by great historians are a fascination of mine.

Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner will join Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian and the Yale Philharmonia on Friday, Feb. 22, for a performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466, on a program that also includes Kodály’s Dances of Galánta and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 6 in D major, Op. 60.

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Published February 19, 2019
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