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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Ensemble of YSM clarinetists to perform at Carnegie Hall

David Shifrin

It’s been 235 years since Mozart composed his Adagio in B-flat major for two clarinets and three basset horns. That is, clarinet ensembles have been a thing for centuries. In the mid-20th century, concertgoers in the United States heard performances by large clarinet choirs. YSM faculty clarinetist David Shifrin has organized a pair of concerts geared toward introducing today’s audiences to that tradition. Since Mozart wrote his Adagio, Steve Reich, Peter Schickele, and Jeff Scott have written for clarinet ensemble. Works by other composers have been so arranged.

The second concert in this season’s Yale in New York series, Shifrin said, will trace “the tradition of the sound of clarinet ensembles,” calling on current YSM students, alumni, and undergraduates from Yale College. The program, which includes music by the above-mentioned composers and others, will put on display the “versatility of the instrument as well as the homogeneity of sound.” Nearly two-dozen clarinetists will participate, along with two percussionists who will perform on Scott’s Expeditionary Airmen (Three Day Pass) and arrangements of Benny Goodman’s versions of tunes by Eubie Blake and Henry Lodge. An arrangement of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, Shifrin said, will present concertgoers with “a living, breathing version of an organ,” with each stop played by a human and featuring the full range of clarinets, from the contrabass clarinet—which Shifrin described as the “size of a small vehicle”—to the piccolo clarinet.

By design, the program will show off the range of colors and styles that attracted Shifrin and other musicians to the instrument. It will also show off the musicians who have passed through Shifrin’s YSM studio and those who are currently studying at Yale. “To have this level of virtuosity, clarinetists coming together to play in an ensemble, is a rare type of event,” he said.

YSM faculty clarinetist David Shifrin will present Music for Clarinets as part of the School’s Yale in New York series, with a free preview concert at Yale on Thursday, Feb. 14, and a performance in Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall on Friday, Feb. 15.

PREVIEW CONCERT
YALE IN NEW YORK

Published February 6, 2019
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Pianist Roberto Prosseda, on making music in the 21st century

Roberto Prosseda

Pianist Roberto Prosseda will perform a program music by Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Schubert on a Feb. 13 Horowitz Piano Series recital. We recently spoke with Mr. Prosseda about modern modes of communication, musical expression, and the repertoire he’ll perform here at Yale.

Q: You’ve found benefits in modern modes of communication and talked about the importance of direct, in-person experience. “Today we tend to live through too many filters: for many people it now comes more naturally to communicate their states of mind and everyday experiences through social networks, rather than by meeting a friend directly in person,” you’ve written. “Live music, both for those who play and those who listen, is an experience of far greater depth, able to open channels of communication that are profound and direct.” Would you talk about how we, as artists and audience members, should use the tools at our disposal and when we should put them down?

A: Tools such as the internet and smartphones are very useful also for musicians, of course. For example, we have the possibility to find rare scores online (also browsing the digital catalogues of several libraries), or to compare several recordings of the same piece using streaming services: they are invaluable resources that past generations could not use. But today there is a concrete risk that we become slaves to our smartphones and lose the ability to keep our concentration and to enjoy “real life”: a coffee with a friend is a much more rewarding experience than a Facebook chat with the same friend. In the same way, a live concert is not comparable with a CD, and a live piano lesson is something completely different from watching a master class on YouTube. To prevent the risk of being addicted to smartphones or social media, I suggest to my students some “digital detox” during practicing sessions, switching off the mobile phone and the computer, as we do when we attend a concert.

Q: Technology has been an area of interest to you. To that end, you conducted an experiment with a robot-pianist called Teo Tronico in which you each performed the same piece of music and studied the resulting performances. What did you learn about your own playing and interpretations in that exploration?

A: The project with the pianist robot, Teo Tronico, was conceived to explain the differences between a real “human” interpretation and a literal reading of the score. Comparing my own playing with the mechanical performances of the robot was a good way for me to become more aware of those differences, and to deepen the research towards the dramaturgic and poetical elements of music—something that a robot is not able to achieve, yet.

Q: You’ve written, “A cold and calculated performance in which the only aim is to avoid mistakes will prove much more ‘wrong’ than a spontaneous, profound and not faultless performance.” In what ways do you apply this lesson to your own practice and playing and how do you communicate this idea to students who might aspire to a kind of “performance perfection”?

A: The above mentioned robotic performances should never be a model for us, but nevertheless there are students who think that “perfection” consists in just playing the right notes, literally respecting what is written in the score. From my point of view, the priority in making music is the intensity, depth, and sincerity of our musical expression. “Reading the score” also means knowing all the historical conventions, the meaning of each gesture corresponding to the indications written in the score. A wrong note played with the “right expression” is much better than a right note played with a wrong expression. But, while the score indicates the right notes in an incontrovertible way, the “right expression” is something that also relates to our own sensitivity, culture, and even creativity. And the same sign on the score (a staccato dot, or a slur) can have different meanings according to the context. When we perform a composition, we are at the same time film directors, actors, and photographers. It is fundamental to be aware of states of mind, expressive attitudes, dramaturgy, and rhetoric. Often, during lessons, I like to talk about the “depth of field” between the theme and the accompaniment, about the “focus” of a given melodic contour, of the temporal and spatial distance of the themes. The piano is, in fact, also a time machine, as it can “set” a theme in the present, the past, or the future, also defining the context in which it appears (reality, dream, memory, hope, illusion).

Q: Many of your projects have included an interdisciplinary element. Have these been informed by your curiosities, a desire to offer audiences something unique, or both?

A: When Franz Liszt, about 180 years ago, invented the format of the “piano recital,” this was a great innovation, breaking the traditional schemes and improving the connections between artist and audience. But I am quite sure that if Liszt were performing today, he would not give a piano recital in the way we are used to. The piano recital still works perfectly for audiences who are used to listening to classical music (and I still give about 30 piano recitals per year for those audiences), but there are alternative ways to present classical music in live formats, which fit better for other kinds of audiences. As a performing artist, I feel a responsibility to deliver a social and cultural service also to “the rest of the world.” There are millions of people who use Facebook and YouTube but will never enter a classical music auditorium if first we don’t help them “taste” and discover the intensity of a live classical music concert. Using multimedia formats or video teasers online can be an effective way to reach a wider audience and to give them the tools to understand and enjoy classical music.

Q: What is it about Mendelssohn’s music that’s been of particular interest to you?

A: I’ve always felt a close affinity with Mendelssohn’s lyricism. His music expresses a very wide range of moods, always keeping a perfect balance between complexity and freedom. I very much like Mendelssohn’s ability to write complex musical textures, never losing his unique linearity and rhythmical energy that are trademarks of his style. Then, I have always felt a special attraction for the “musical discoveries”: the piano repertoire still presents many unknown masterworks, and Mendelssohn’s piano output is, incredibly, lesser known than the one of Schubert, Schumann, or Chopin. For this reason, about 20 years ago I started researching Mendelssohn’s rare and unpublished pieces and got more and more enthusiastic about his music. After my first two CDs dedicated to Mendelssohn’s unpublished piano works were released, I started performing and recording the rest of his piano production, as even some published works are still quite unknown to the public and are seldom recorded. In the meantime, more unpublished manuscripts came to light, and in 2009 Breitkopf & Härtel published the new Mendelssohn Thematic Catalogue (MWV) by Ralf Wehner, which is now the reference for any Mendelssohn scholar. In recent years I’ve gradually completed recordings of Mendelssohn’s piano works, now released by Decca in a 10-CD box set. Soon after the release, I learned about a new discovery: a “Kleine Fuge,” MWV U 96, which was found among the papers of Mrs. Henriette Voigt (dated September 18, 1833). Of course, I recorded it as well, and it was digitally released worldwide on February 1.

Q: The program you’ll perform here at Yale features repertoire that was written over a 50-year period, roughly. What did this period yield in terms of innovations in the piano repertoire and the instrument itself? What do you hear of the period and the region in this particular repertoire? 

A: Those 50 years have probably been the most intense ones in the history of piano. Between 1785 and 1835, in fact, composers such as Haydn, Mozart, Clementi, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Chopin, and Liszt gave their contributions to the evolution of the piano and its repertoire. The instrument had a very fast and radical evolution: the keyboard range expanded from five octaves to seven octaves and more; the action also underwent drastic developments, as did the sound production, thanks to the increased tension of the strings and the different materials used for the hammers and the other parts of the instrument. The piano language evolved in a parallel way, as composers themselves pushed piano makers to experiment with new models, and at the same time the possibilities offered by the newly built pianos inspired the composers to innovate their own ways to write for piano. For my recital, I chose the three composers to whom I’ve dedicated most of my studies: Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Schubert. The recital will open with two of the most revolutionary piano works written by Mozart: the Fantasia K. 475 and the Sonata K. 457 in C minor, published together as a diptych in 1785. Here, Mozart is very radical in using chromatic harmonies and experimenting with deep contrasts, which make this music incredibly dramatic and modern. After the Mozart I will continue with two of Mendelssohn’s masterworks: the Fantasia Op. 28 and the Rondo Capriccioso, along with some of my favorite Lieder ohne Worte. The concert will end with Schubert’s Four Impromptus Op. 90, written in the last year of his life (1828). The No. 1 in C minor has several elements in common with Mozart’s Fantasia K. 475. It will be interesting to compare the way Schubert uses similar harmonic and rhythmical patterns to reach completely new poetic results.

Roberto Prosseda will perform music by Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Schubert on Wednesday, February 13, in Morse Recital Hall. 

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ROBERTO PROSSEDA

Published February 4, 2019
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