Yale Philharmonia to perform music by student composers

The Yale Philharmonia, in rehearsal.

On Dec. 6, guest conductor and YSM alumnus Julian Pellicano ’07MM ’09MM will lead the Yale Philharmonia in a program of new orchestral music by the School’s student composers. As part of the New Music New Haven series, New Music for Orchestra is an annual occurrence, but each performance is distinctly different and offers audiences the opportunity to see brand-new works by YSM’s innovative and talented composition students.

Every year the concert features the orchestral works of different student composers, each of whom has a unique musical style. Tanner Porter ’19MM, whose work Here Comes the Rain will be performed on Dec. 6, said, “One of the things that makes the Yale composition department so particularly wonderful is the fact that everyone is working in largely different sound worlds. While musical tastes and interests overlap, the ways in which we internalize our influences and create from our experiences renders totally diverse works. Our many compositional styles are sure to give this concert a fantastic array of soundscapes to experience.”

New Music for Orchestra presents an exciting program to its audience, but it also provides YSM’s composition students an invaluable learning tool by enabling them to work closely with an orchestra throughout the rehearsal process. “The only way to learn orchestration is to hear your own work,” faculty composer and New Music New Haven Artistic Director Hannah Lash has said. “You can study scores all you want, but there’s nothing like having that hands-on experience.”

There is also something very special about having music performed by an orchestra of one’s peers, in this case the Yale Philharmonia. Ryan Lindveit ’19MM, who will present his piece Pray Away on the concert, said, “I love working with musicians who are around my age, because they are more likely to understand the particular set of cultural circumstances that led to my creating the music on their stands.” About his piece, Lindveit said, “Taking for granted my deeply held belief that music can be a vehicle for emotional transformation, Pray Away is a musical metaphor for unpeeling layers of personal shame to find authenticity.”

The concert on Dec. 6 will feature works by Porter, Lindveit, Aaron Levin, Grant Luhmann, Frances Pollock, Anteo Fabris, and Nate May. Asked about the importance of presenting new music in live performance settings, Porter said, “In my experience, the orchestra is one of the most powerful engines a listener can inhabit. Many of my most meaningful musical memories are from live concerts, where I witnessed the music I’d loved in recordings take shape as it reverberated through the space. But there’s nothing like falling in love with a new piece as you hear it for the first time, and in an orchestra hall—where you can not only listen to but sit inside of and feel the music as it forms.”

Guest conductor and YSM alumnus Julian Pellicano ’07MM ’09MM leads the Yale Philharmonia in a program of new orchestral music by the School’s student composers on Thursday, Dec. 6, at 7:30 p.m., in Woolsey Hall. This New Music for Orchestra program, presented by New Music New Haven, is free and open to the public.

Published November 30, 2018
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Russian Liederabend to showcase Yale Opera singers

On Wednesday, Dec. 5, Yale Opera will present a Russian Liederabend (“evening of songs”) featuring a wide array of Russian vocal music, from solo songs and arias to ensemble pieces. The program will include works by such composers as Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Glinka, Shebalin, Pakhmutova, and Rachmaninoff.

With Yale Opera’s production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin slated for two performances in February, Russian was a natural choice for the language of this year’s Liederabend. Integral to both projects is Emily Olin, Lecturer in Voice and Opera at the School of Music, who organized the Liederabend and will perform as the evening’s collaborative pianist. Olin put together the concert program with current Yale Opera singers in mind, tailoring musical selections to students’ individual voices.

In addition to her musical guidance, Olin has taught weekly Russian language classes and diction coachings throughout the semester. Soprano Laura Nielsen ’20MM described Olin as “an incredible resource” for the singers in the opera program. “In addition to her warm and loving personality,” Nielsen said, “she has a wonderful way of communicating subtle differences in pronunciation and helping us non-native speakers improve our Russian.”

Singing in Russian presents challenges for many singers. For Nielsen, one of the most difficult aspects of learning Russian music has been becoming proficient in reading Cyrillic. “I have only just started to be able to absorb this new alphabet and the new sounds that it includes,” Nielsen said. “I have to do so much extra work in reading that it makes learning a piece much more challenging than learning a piece in English, Italian, or French.” In many undergraduate vocal programs, it is not unusual for students to focus on Italian, French, and German repertoire, and to skip Russian works entirely. “I am so grateful to have been exposed to so much more Russian music this year,” Nielsen said.

In addition to showing off their newly enhanced Russian language skills, Yale Opera singers look forward to sharing rarely heard repertoire. “I am singing a wonderful aria from a Russian adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew by Vissarion Shebalin, written in 1957,” Nielsen said. She hopes people will come to broaden their musical horizons and to hear “the best of what each of the singers has to offer.”

Yale Opera’s Russian Liederabend, on Wednesday, Dec. 5, at 7:30 p.m., in Morse Recital Hall in Sprague Memorial Hall, is free and open to the public.

Published November 29, 2018
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Melvin Chen to perform piano arrangements of orchestral works

Melvin Chen, faculty pianist and Deputy Dean

Melvin Chen

Faculty pianist and Deputy Dean Melvin Chen’s 2018 Horowitz Piano Series recital program features Otto Singer II’s solo piano arrangement of Brahms’ Third Symphony, Sibelius’ piano arrangements of his Finlandia and Valse Triste, and Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales. We spoke with Prof. Chen, whose background includes piano and violin studies, about the repertoire and his recital preparation.

Q: How did you arrive at a program of piano arrangements (with the exception of the Ravel)?

A: I’ve always loved orchestral music—when I was playing the violin, one of my favorite things to do was to play in an orchestra. So while I’m almost always a pianist now, my love of orchestral music hasn’t diminished, and this is my way of staying in touch with the orchestral repertoire as a performer.

Q: What are some of the more challenging aspects of these arrangements? 

A: The Sibelius pieces feature music that is quite direct and powerful, although in different ways, so the piano arrangements retain those qualities. The Brahms is a different beast—the textures are thick and contrapuntal, so I find it quite difficult to handle on the piano, not just physically, but also mentally.

Q: Has your approach to practicing changed at all as a result of playing piano arrangements of orchestral music?

A: Of course when one plays orchestral arrangements, you can’t get the original instruments out of your head. So it informs the way I practice these pieces, and stretches my technique. For example, how can I create the legato of the strings, or illustrate the differences in timbres of each of the wind instruments?

Q: What do these arrangements tell us about the compositions—that is, what do they reveal that we might not hear the same way in orchestral performances?

A: Because of the nature of the piano, these works, especially the Brahms, are revealed in a more skeletal way. I think it’s easier to hear the large scale structures.  Also, because there is only one person playing, there are expressive possibilities that can be realized in a way that might be impossible for an orchestra to achieve.

Q: Ravel orchestrated his Valses nobles et sentimentales a year after the work had its premiere as a piano collection. Has the composer’s orchestral arrangement informed your approach to the original?

A: Ravel was such a master of orchestration that knowing how he orchestrated each waltz gives you a clear idea of what he was thinking about the color and mood he was going for. In a way, a pianist can feel like he is receiving a coaching from Ravel!

Q: What would you want the audience to know about the program before listening to it?

A: I’m interested in thinking about the purpose of these arrangements. There are mundane reasons why someone would make a piano transcription of an orchestral piece—it was a way of getting to hear new works before there was technology like the CD or Spotify. But for the audience, does hearing a piano transcription change the way you hear the orchestral piece? In the case of the Ravel, was there something missing from the piano version that prompted him to want to orchestrate it?

Faculty pianist and Deputy Dean Melvin Chen performs Otto Singer II’s arrangement of Brahms’ Symphony No. 3, along with works by Sibelius and Ravel, on Wednesday, Nov. 28, at 7:30 p.m., in Morse Recital Hall.

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Published November 26, 2018
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Oundjian explores “Also sprach Zarathustra” with Nietzsche expert

Karsten Harries, left, and Peter Oundjian

Peter Oundjian has conducted Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra many times. Never, though, has he dived so deep into Nietzsche’s text, which inspired the tone poem. “It’s a very rare thing to have the opportunity to speak with someone who’s lived with Nietzsche your entire life,” he said to Karsten Harries on Saturday, during a discussion at Harries’ Hamden home. Harries, the recently retired Howard H. Newman Professor of Philosophy at Yale (Harries is also a Yale alumnus and now Professor Emeritus), taught courses on Nietzsche, among others, and on the philosophy of art and architecture. He is also impressively well-versed in music.

In program notes for the work’s 1896 premiere in Frankfurt, Strauss wrote: “I did not intend to write philosophical music or to portray in music Nietzsche’s great work.”

“He chose which passages would suit his tone poem,” Oundjian, Principal Conductor of the Yale Philharmonia, said, paging through his score.

“There is a clear intellectual progression,” Harries said, a German-language copy of Nietzsche’s text in-hand. “He bends the Nietzsche text to his own ends.” Strauss, Harries pointed out, studied philosophy, aesthetics, and art history in Munich.

With a performance of Also sprach Zarathustra playing, Oundjian and Harries analyzed the music alongside Nietzsche’s text, discussing the notion of eternal recurrence—the idea that “time is a circle,” Harries said, paraphrasing from Zarathustra—and other elements of Nietzsche’s autobiographical narrative.

“It sounds completely like Wagner,” Oundjian said of the second section (“Von den Hinterweltlern”) of Strauss’ tone poem.

“Strauss is looking back,” knowing he has to distance himself from that, Harries said. “He thinks of Wagner as the Hinterweltlern (the “backworld”).” Similarly, Harries said, “Nietzsche clearly struggles with his proximity to Wagner.”

Just as the past is reflected in Strauss’ Zarathustra, the present and the future, and the conflict inherent in living with both in mind, is of importance in both Strauss’ and Nietzsche’s work. “To be human is to be open to the future,” Harries said. Joy, though, is only available in the present. To be human is also to engage with “the rabble,” he said, referring to Zarathustra’s descent from the mountaintop. Nietzsche’s famous line “God is dead” marks Zarathustra’s arrival at humanity.

As the recorded performance of Zarathustra arrived at “Das Tanzlied,” Harries gave Oundjian something to think about. While the music seems to offer a nod to the waltzes of Johann Strauss II (no relation), Harries dismissed that analysis. “I see very much the alpine element and the beer-hall element,” he said. Decades before he composed Zarathustra, Richard Strauss’ Alpine Symphony had captured his fascination with the mountains. As for beer, Strauss’ mother, Josephine, was part of the Pschorr (now Hacker-Pschorr) beer-making family in Munich. Oundjian hadn’t made those connections. Harries’ opinion, Oundjian said, was a “complete enlightenment for me.”

As the recorded performance came to an end, Oundjian, conducting the music (something Harries had said seemed a difficult undertaking), remarked, noting Strauss’ harmonic manipulations, “He can’t resist being a genius.”

Earlier in the conversation, Oundjian had asked Harries, somewhat rhetorically and pointing to the Zarathustra text, “Is it possible that he could express all this musically?”

“I would argue that he was a very astute reader of Nietzsche,” Harries said.

Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian leads the Yale Philharmonia in a performance of Strauss’ Nietzsche-inspired tone poem, Also sprach Zarathustra, and Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15, with Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winner Sophiko Simsive ’18MM ’19MMA, on Thursday, Nov. 15, in Woolsey Hall.

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Published November 12, 2018
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Pianist Sophiko Simsive ’18MM ’19MMA, on performing with the Yale Philharmonia

Sophiko Simsive. Photo by Marco Broggreve

Asked about Brahms’ First Piano Concerto, which she will perform with the Yale Philharmonia on Thursday, Nov. 15, Sophiko Simsive ’18MM ’19MMA does not get into musical details. “I’ve been trying to think in a more abstract way,” she said, explaining, “I like to relate to pieces on a personal level.” Simsive described herself as “a musician that always tries to identify the emotion in a piece” and wants the audience to feel that though her performance. “I feel very strongly about this piece,” she said. “I want to bring out my personality and I’m trying to bring out the story I’m trying to tell with it.”

While Simsive has long been familiar with the concerto, it was not until she played a piano arrangement of the orchestra part, for a March 2017 recital here at YSM by Dong Won Lee ’18MM, that she started “thinking deep and really getting my hands on” the piece.

Just hours removed from her first rehearsal with the Philharmonia, Simsive said, “I feel very much part of the orchestra.” Thursday’s concert in Woolsey Hall, she said, will be a high point of her time here at Yale, largely because she will be performing alongside colleagues. “I feel completely like I’m playing at home,” she said.

At the first rehearsal, Simsive said a few words to members of the Philharmonia. “I felt so grateful for the opportunity to play with the Yale Philharmonia. I wanted to let them know that for me it felt like playing chamber music with each and every one of them.” Simsive has worked with many musicians in the YSM community and pointed out that she played piano, celeste, and organ as a member of the Philharmonia in September.

As the soloist on Thursday’s concert, Simsive is looking forward to sharing a bit of herself with the Woolsey Hall audience. “I can tell a lot of different stories,” she said, “but they have to feel something—and that something is my life at Yale.”

Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winner Sophiko Simsive ’18MM ’19MMA will perform Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15, with the Yale Philharmonia on Thursday, Nov. 15, at 7:30 p.m., in Woolsey Hall. The program also includes Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra.

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Published November 12, 2018
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Wei-Yi Yang to perform all-Schumann program

Wei-Yi Yang

On Wednesday, Nov. 7, faculty pianist Wei-Yi Yang ’95MM ’96AD ’99MMA ’04DMA will perform an all-Schumann program that includes the composer’s Kinderszenen, Kreisleriana, and Fantasie in C major. We spoke with Yang about the repertoire and his approach thereto.

Q: What is your connection to Schumann’s music? What about his piano writing resonates with you and why (if that can be articulated)? How and why did you choose these three works?

A: I always have a special place in my heart for Schumann’s music. Right now, my heart is saturated with it. Schumann’s obsessive, at times possessed, ways of expressing his emotions never fail to amaze me. I find it helpful to approach the heart of his music by approximating the obsession that drove him. I return repeatedly to his lieder and movements from his chamber music to mine his creative energy — though it was the piano that served as the extension of his soul in his earlier period. Inspired by his forlorn love for Clara and the difficult circumstances surrounding their forced separation, these opuses are Schumann’s ultimate love letters to her. Deciphering such personal and intimate pieces requires a certain psychological projection; it is uneasy study and work, but personally, I find a certain voyeuristic pleasure in this effort.

Q: What do these pieces require of you, physically (technically), mentally, and emotionally?

A: So much of this music is spurred by fragility, obsession, and whimsy, but at its heart lies one of the most challenging interpretive aspects: it is the portrayal of loneliness. In handling the many varied moments of heightened intensity, the succession of moods requires enormous imagination and sound resources. Often, I remind myself in practice: the hands need to move, but the ears need to move faster.

Q: These pieces were written during the same period. What do they tell us about Schumann’s life and work at that point? This music is informed by E.T.A. Hoffman’s Kreisler, inspired by the work of Beethoven, dedicated to Liszt and Chopin, and reflective of Schumann’s feelings for Clara. What do they require from an audience?

A: Schumann had a voracious appetite when it came to his attention to literature. In many ways, this repertoire represents his diary or love letters to Clara in musical form; I would further liken these pieces to three types of literary manifestation: if Kinderszenen were a collection of haiku miniatures, then Kreisleriana would be a novella rooted in violent schizophrenia, while the Fantasie represents an arching epic. Shifting between desires, fears, resignation, make-believe triumph, and longing, these are deeply personal works that cover enormous emotional terrain and can only be defined, and united, by conflicts between dreams and reality and mood swings. As a performer, I find it necessary to feel open and vulnerable, and let all guards down; as for the listeners, I would recommend the same.

The Horowitz Piano Series presents faculty pianist Wei-Yi Yang in an all-Schumann program that includes the composer’s Kinderszenen, Op. 15, Kreisleriana, Op. 16, and Fantasie in C major, Op. 17.

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Published November 2, 2018
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Soprano Leah Brzyski ’19MM, on preparing for Yale Opera’s Fall Scenes productions

Leah Brzyski

Each year, Yale Opera presents two programs of scenes from beloved and important works. Parts are assigned at the beginning of the academic year, giving singers relatively little time to learn, memorize, and inhabit their roles—sometimes more than one and in different languages. We spoke with soprano Leah Brzyski ’19MM about her preparation for this year’s programs and about developing as a singer and performer here at YSM.

Q: What roles will you be performing in this year’s Fall Scenes program, and what has the preparation experience been like?

A: This year I could not be more excited for our scenes production because I have the opportunity to perform two of my dream roles: Blonde from Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Ophelia from Ambroise Thomas’ Hamlet. While the characters are quite different, each has such a strong willfulness and passion about them that makes digging into their music so appealing. The preparation for my roles this year has been really rejuvenating. After being gone all summer, coming back to dive headfirst into these powerful pieces has been such a driving force behind the semester.

Now that memorized runs are done, we’re into our staging period, which is my favorite! We finally get to explore not just how [the characters] speak and sing, but how their bodies would react to a situation or another person. Not to mention our Stage Director, Chris Murrah, is one of the most artistically genius people I have ever met. He is full of unique insights and always allows us the freedom to explore and play rather than micromanaging every action we do on stage.

Q: What is the benefit and what are the challenges of having to learn multiple roles, in different styles and in different languages, in a short amount of time?

A: Every year we are assigned our roles and are given three weeks to learn and memorize all of our music. At the end of the three weeks we perform a memorized run for the voice faculty so that they can see how we’ve progressed. This process is always more than a little hectic—to memorize the notes, rhythms, language, but more so the characterization of your assignments in such little time. Just being able to physically produce the right sounds is nowhere near enough. You have to know what motivates [the characters], how they interact with the other characters, why they say and sing what they do, and so much more.

Last year I remember feeling like it was an impossible feat, but after hours and hours of weekly coaching, lessons, group rehearsals, and individual practice time, the music becomes so ingrained in you that every year we all manage to meet the deadline, (sometimes to our own surprise!). This quick learning process has actually benefited me in so many ways. Oftentimes, last minute opportunities to sing a concert or a role come up and you might only have a week or even a few days to accept and learn your music. Practicing that skill in a comfortable learning environment makes taking on professional tasks like that so much more manageable. This summer it helped me learn five roles in just a few months and prepare arias in different languages without much stress at all. This year, I noticed that the memorization of my music was so much easier, even though I had much more to learn. It’s a skill most of us don’t get to practice on our own time, so having it as part of the curriculum makes it a mandatory part of our skillset.

Q: What’s required of you, in terms of moving from one role to another in the course of one Fall Scenes production? How do the faculty help with this process?

Brzyski as the Queen of the Night in Yale Opera’s 2018 production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”

A: The ability to switch back and forth between such contrasting roles is absolutely demanding. To go from singing a role in French about a woman who has gone mad to the point of suicide because of lost love to suddenly switching to singing a comedic maid who is cunning and pedantic and lighthearted in German is one heck of a transition. But, in a way, all of those unique qualities help you differentiate as a performer what it feels like to be one character versus the other. Last year, singing the all-consuming and powerful role of Queen of the Night as well as the loving and tender Fairy Godmother in Cendrillon at first seemed like an overwhelming transition. But those qualities help make up the identity of each character. After living in her shoes, I would never start thinking in French or singing in the same Fairy Godmother-esque floated lines when performing Queen and vice versa. At the end of the day, it’s the differences that make the switch easy. The faculty all help in this process of course, perfecting our diction, demonstrating style differences between composers, and creating characterization of our roles.

Q: In what ways have you learned from your peers throughout this process and in the Yale Opera program in general? How, in the past year, have you developed as an artist and in what ways has YSM’s opera program informed that growth?

A: I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to this amazing group of artists. There is never a rehearsal or recital or class where I don’t learn something from my peers. We all come from such unique and enriched backgrounds that it’s like a treasure trove of skills all sitting in the same classroom. I might hear someone singing an aria I have learned but they do something different in a cadenza or approach a note in such an amazing way that I can use and apply to my own singing. So often in our movement classes, when we’re improvising, someone will take a risk and do something completely unexpected, which makes you feel more willing to take risks yourself and work off of that energy. Many people here also speak several foreign languages and it’s so amazing to be able to ask for insight on translations and specifics on pronunciation from someone who is native to that language.

I owe the Yale Opera program so much of who I am as an artist. In our undergrad training, we broadly cover so many topics, languages, requirements, etc. But here, there is such great attention to detail given to specific skillsets that are absolutely necessary in order to succeed as an opera singer. French, German, Italian, and Russian diction are taught with such finesse and accuracy that sometimes I wonder how I stumbled my way through before my two years here. Most important, however, I have grown because I have been given the opportunity to act as an artist and take artistic liberties that I wouldn’t have been given at another university, such as picking my own recital repertoire, teaching voice students, singing for top managers in the business, and performing mature roles that challenge me. Not only am I a more technically savvy singer because of the skilled guidance of my voice teacher, Doris Yarick-Cross, but I am also a more confident and independent musician. Our faculty members are some of the most experienced, intelligent instructors in their field. Learning from them every day has most definitely paid off.

Yale Opera presents its annual Fall Scenes programs on Friday & Saturday, Nov. 2 & 3, in Morse Recital Hall. 

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Published October 24, 2018
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Yale percussionists prepare for “Symphonie fantastique”

Left to right: YoungKyoung Lee, Russell Fisher, and Jisu Jung

Just a few hours before guest conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni arrived on campus to start rehearsing the Yale Philharmonia for Friday’s concert in Woolsey Hall, the orchestra’s percussion section played through several passages of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique. The work, a wildly imaginative piece of program music that calls for a giant ensemble including four timpanists (in the third movement, specifically), will close Friday’s program and introduce concertgoers who are unfamiliar with Berlioz’s score to the heights of the composer’s creativity and the brilliance of his orchestration.

“We can’t help but remind ourselves to be sticking with the story of the music or how Berlioz was while he was writing this piece,” percussionist Jisu Jung ’19MM said.

The program notes (by Liam Viney, ed. Aaron Levin) for Friday’s performance explain: “In the printed program of the first performance, Berlioz provided an outline of the plot: the love-sick hero (presumably himself) is plagued by images of his beloved and troubled by a spiritual sickness. He … is constantly visited by his beloved’s image, accompanied by extreme emotional reactions. Eventually, disillusionment sets in during the third movement, and he poisons himself with opium to assuage the anguish of his unrequited love. Delirium sets in, and he descends into the horrific dream world of the fourth and fifth movements.”

In Berlioz’s Treatise on Instrumentation and Modern Orchestration, percussionist Russell Fisher ’20MMA said, the composer “describes different instruments, he describes also the emotional responses that go along with them. You can really see that in this piece in particular.” And, Jung, said, “You can see how detailed he was when he was writing this.” Fisher added, “There’s very little left up to interpretation.”

“He even suggests sticking,” percussionist YoungKyoung Lee ’19MMA pointed out, which is “really rare, especially at this time.” Symphonie fantastique was composed and premiered in 1830, revised thereafter, and published in 1845.

As they rehearsed the timpani parts in the fourth movement (“March to the Scaffold”), percussionist Arlo Shultis ’20MMA offered, “YoungKyoung’s part and mine are so interlocked. Since I’m playing second timpani, I’m really watching her and watching the conductor, as well.” Shultis and Lee are using similar mallets and the same stickings.

With equal attention to time, sound, and consistency, Fisher and Jung ran through their bass-drum parts in the fifth movement (“Dream of the Witches’ Sabbath”), Fisher executing crescendos and Jung providing attack and decrescendos, with percussionist Kevin Zetina ’20MM playing the chimes. Discussion was had about dynamics, or course, though those will largely be up to Zeitouni, and, to a degree, to Woolsey Hall. That Zeitouni trained as a percussionist will likely factor in to how extreme those dynamics will get. “Our goal,” Jung joked, “is: Play until you get the hand,” the hand being a conductor’s “that’s too much” signal.

Returning to a more serious note, Jung said she and her colleagues (including Shiqi Zhong ’19MM, who doesn’t play on the Berlioz) are “very, very tight.” They bring the skills required of outstanding chamber musicians to the Philharmonia. “We just develop this huge trust in each other,” Fisher said.

Jean-Marie Zeitouni leads the Yale Philharmonia in a performance of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique and music by Saint-Saëns and Debussy on Friday, Oct. 26.

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Published October 23, 2018
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Boris Berman to perform program of Haydn and Prokofiev sonatas

Boris Berman

Boris Berman recently said that his Oct. 24 Horowitz Piano Series recital is “another step in (my) exploration of Prokofiev.” Berman, a faculty pianist at YSM and the series’ Artistic Director, has recorded the composer’s complete solo piano music, published a book titled Prokofiev’s Piano Sonatas: A Guide for the Listener and the Performer (Yale University Press), and served as an editor of Shanghai Music Publishing House’s critical edition of Prokofiev’s piano sonatas. In April 2016, Berman organized “Prokofiev at 125,” a concert in which his students performed transcriptions of the composer’s ballet music. Reviewing an all-Prokofiev recital Berman gave at New York’s 92nd Street Y, and with the pianist’s recordings in mind, New York Magazine’s Peter Davis offered, “For a grand tour through the total Prokofiev, I can’t imagine a more observant or articulate guide.”

For his Oct. 24 recital, Berman has paired Prokofiev’s late piano sonatas with Haydn’s “London” Sonatas. In Prokofiev’s piano music, Berman said, he sees connections to the composer’s immediate predecessors, and to the Classical style—”perhaps more so with Haydn than with Mozart.” The three “London” Sonatas (Nos. 50-52), Berman said, are very different from one another, and some of that music indeed looks forward, beyond Classicism. The Prokofiev sonatas—Berman will perform No. 9 and No. 7—are also different in their personalities, the former more introspective and the latter more muscular, in Berman’s words.

Personality will be very much on display in Berman’s recital, in historical terms. When Prokofiev “burst onto the concert scene,” Berman said, the composer and his music shocked some concertgoers. “Some of his premieres were downright scandalous,” Berman said.

In addition to his recital, and to celebrating Haydn and Prokofiev, Berman is always eager to champion the Horowitz Piano Series, which he said is “one of very few piano recital series in the country.”

“Some of the greatest musicians of our time” have performed as part of the Horowitz series, he said. Yale is home to the papers of legendary pianist Vladimir Horowitz, who died in 1989. Guest performers on the Horowitz series have included Emanuel Ax, Ran Dank and Soyeon Kate Lee, Angela Hewitt, Olga Kern, Radu Lupu, and Murray Perahia, to name just a handful. The series, Berman said, is “a great treat for all of us, right here on campus.”

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Published October 16, 2018
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Yale Philharmonia to perform Shakespeare-inspired program

Peter Oundjian. Photo by Sian Richards

Programming a Yale Philharmonia concert is always about providing context for each piece. To open the 2018-2019 Philharmonia season, Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian has put together a program of repertoire inspired by the words and works of Shakespeare: Berlioz’s Overture to Béatrice et Bénédict, based on the Bard’s Much Ado About Nothing; Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music, which uses text from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice to celebrate the power of music; and selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. “There is a lot of extraordinary music that was inspired by arguably the greatest poet of all time,” Oundjian pointed out, explaining that “it’s the element of curiosity and adventure that make this kind of program so interesting.”

The challenge members of the Philharmonia have taken up with this program is, in Oundjian’s words, “to basically sound like many different orchestras in one evening. You need to be able to be many, many characters and describe many scenes.” For the Berlioz, he said, the musicians “need sheer virtuosity.” The Serenade to Music, for which the Yale Glee Club and the Yale Voxtet will join the orchestra, is intense in its serenity and introspection. (Reportedly, Rachmaninoff, who performed on the same program in 1938 that featured the premiere of the Serenade to Music, was reduced to tears by the piece’s beauty.) “This piece is magical,” Oundjian said, looking forward to collaborating with the Glee Club and Voxtet. “It’s a thrill to hear wonderful vocal groups. There’s nothing more immediate or direct than the singing voice.”

Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, “one of his absolute masterpieces,” Oundjian offered, carries the listener from the tender to the tragic. For this performance, the Philharmonia will use Oundjian’s arrangement of the composer’s ballet score, whereas most orchestras perform one of the three concert suites that Prokofiev created. “The order of events, in the suites, is not respected,” Oundjian explained. “(Prokofiev) didn’t try to make the suites chronologically correct.” In creating his arrangement, Oundjian sought to offer a symphonic expression of the ballet. “I wanted people to be able to follow the story,” he said. The Philharmonia will tell that story, and those being told by Berlioz and Vaughan Williams with inspiration (and words) from the Bard.

Members of the Philharmonia, Oundjian said, are “extremely sensitized to deep human emotions. They’ve had to find a way to connect with deep human emotions because they play an instrument.” Together, they are able to convey and express what a composer—three composers, in the case of this program—sought to share with concertgoers. They enjoy the process of putting a program together and letting it take on a life of its own on stage in Woolsey Hall. “By the time the concert comes, there’s a camaraderie that they’ve discovered in a very short time,” Oundjian said. “There’s absolutely a sense of discovery and spontaneity.”

Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian leads the Yale Philharmonia in a program of music inspired by Shakespeare on Friday, September 28, at 7:30 pm, in Woolsey Hall.

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Published September 20, 2018
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