YSM faculty mezzo-soprano Janna Baty, on collaborating with faculty pianist Peter Frankl

Janna Baty

On Wednesday, Nov. 8, YSM faculty pianist Peter Frankl will give one of his last performances at Yale before retiring at the end of the semester. He’ll be joined for an all-Schumann program by faculty mezzo-soprano Janna Baty and baritone Randall Scarlata. We asked Prof. Baty about collaborating with Prof. Frankl, and about her colleague’s contributions to the Yale community and beyond.

Q: What about working with Peter Frankl is inspiring and artistically nourishing?

JB: He is utterly engaged and dedicated to getting the music right. He is exacting in his own work, which inspires me in mine. He is also deeply in love with vocal literature, which (alas!) cannot be said of all pianists, and understands its conventions and techniques. He has a Geiger counter-like sensitivity to the placement of consonants and an in-depth knowledge of every inch of the poetry, which means he colors his accompaniments perfectly. Schumann is especially good with Peter, as the singer and pianist are effectively two sides of the character’s brain. It’s an immersive and even overwhelming experience to work with him, one for which I’m enormously grateful.

Q: What are your conversations about music like?

JB: They range from matter-of-fact (tempi, rubati, choices of repertoire) to gossipy! We both adore opera and spend a disproportionate amount of time talking about this production and that, this singer and that. It’s always so much fun. Our musical conversations — meaning, poetry — are mostly just that, expressed in the music. When you get it, you get it.

Q: What do you learn — and what have you learned — about music and your own artistry from working with Peter? (In a sense, what kind of teacher is he?)

JB: My first collaboration was with Peter and Claude Frank singing Brahms’ Liebeslieder-Walzer as a graduate student (calling it a collaboration is a stretch … it was a public recital at the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, but for us singers it was a master class!) and, more than 25 years later, this recital is the most recent. I’ve learned that sincerity, dedication, honesty, and passion onstage are all that matter. The other junk — egos, publicity, the public reaction — just doesn’t matter. When you are completely committed onstage, the audience comes with you.

Q: What do you hope audiences take away from the concerts you perform with Peter Frankl?

JB: That vocal chamber music is every bit as viable an art form as any other type of piano repertoire. It is, in so many ways, the most important form of chamber music of all, because it includes words. Peter treats collaborations with singers no differently than he treats collaborations with other artists, which is validating to singers like myself and so important for the public to see. I wish all pianists had this dedication to and skill with the repertoire!

Q: How would you describe Peter’s artistic contribution to the YSM community and beyond?

JB: Immeasurable. He is a treasure and will be missed profoundly. But I have a feeling we’ll see him around here again someday! Are you listening, Peter?

Peter Frankl will perform a Horowitz Piano Series recital on Wednesday, Nov. 8, at 7:30 pm, in Morse Recital Hall. He’ll be joined by faculty mezzo-soprano Janna Baty and baritone Randall Scarlata in an all-Schumann program. Learn more and buy tickets.

Published November 7, 2017
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YSM faculty pianist Peter Frankl to retire after 30 years, having inspired generations

Peter Frankl

By Lucile Bruce

Peter Frankl will retire at the end of this semester, concluding his remarkable 30 year career at the Yale School of Music, where he has touched the minds — and more important, the hearts — of hundreds of students.A virtuoso performer and beloved teacher, Frankl was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1935, into a musical family. His parents were semi-professional musicians who played piano at home. They took their son to many concerts and he remembers hearing “many great artists like Klemperer, Bernstein, and my idol, the pianist Annie Fischer.”

Frankl began playing the piano at age 5. “It has been my passion in life ever since,” he said.

He made his London debut in 1962 and his New York debut with the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell in 1967. Since then, he has played on the world’s top stages with the most celebrated orchestras and eminent conductors, including Abbado, Boulez, Davis, Haitink, Maazel, Masur, Muti, and Solti. His world tours have taken him to Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. He has appeared more than 20 times at London’s BBC Proms and at many major festivals. Inspired as a young musician by the legendary Leó Weiner, his chamber music teacher, Frankl is also a well- known chamber music performer. For years, the Frankl-Pauk- Kirshbaum Trio traveled the world, and Frankl’s many chamber music partners include the world’s most renowned artists.

It was Boris Berman, professor of piano and coordinator of the piano department at YSM, who invited Frankl to come to Yale, first in 1987 as a visiting teaching artist.

Until that time, Frankl’s occupation was mainly concertizing; he rarely taught, even master classes. “It never occurred to me to teach on a regular basis,” he said. “However, Yale’s reputation attracted me greatly and I decided to give it a try.”

He harbored a deeper reason, however, for teaching. “By then I was 52 years old,” he explained. “I had the impression that the young generation of pianists were more interested in reaching technical perfection than in involving themselves in the emotional and spiritual meaning of what each composer wanted to express in their works.

“Somehow I started feeling responsible towards the future of music-making,” he continued. “Instead of grumbling about this, I wanted to do something positive.”

He thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere at YSM, including the School’s “relatively intimate size.” As two esteemed piano faculty members were approaching retirement, Yale offered to extend Frankl’s appointment. He gladly accepted.  MORE

Published November 6, 2017
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New oratorio by Martin Bresnick to be premiered at International Festival of Arts & Ideas

Martin Bresnick. Photo by Nina Roberts

A new oratorio by School of Music faculty composer Martin Bresnick will be premiered at Yale on June 20 as part of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, which commissioned the piece. The oratorio, Whitman, Melville, Dickinson — Passions of Bloom, will be performed again on June 21 at the Yale Summer School of Music/Norfolk Chamber Music Festival. The oratorio, which celebrates the work of its namesakes — Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, and distinguished literary critic Harold Bloom, the Sterling Professor of the Humanities and English at Yale — will be performed by the Yale Choral Artists and members of the Yale Philharmonia. Vocal soloists include YSM faculty tenor James Taylor, who’ll sing Bloom’s words. The oratorio is modeled on Bach’s St. John Passion. Bresnick assembled the libretto using poems by Whitman, Melville, and Dickinson and excerpts from Bloom’s The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime.

Talking about the poetry of the 19th century writers he’s celebrating, Bresnick said, “These particular works have been part of my mental universe since I was a young student. Still others I only recently got more closely acquainted with.” He’s been familiar with Bloom’s work for many years. In the mid-1980s, Bresnick composed music for the PBS series Voices & Visions, which, through interviews with such experts as Bloom, explored the lives of American poets. At that moment, Bresnick said, he felt that Bloom, who earned his Ph.D. from Yale in 1956, had established himself as a kind of Marlon Brando of critics, inasmuch as the “degree of passion and devotion he brought to his explanations” was “almost poetic.” It was while working on For the Sexes: The Gates of Paradise, based on the William Blake poem, that Bresnick got to know Bloom and appreciate the shared “commonalities in our origins and points of departure.” In incorporating excerpts from The Daemon Knows into his oratorio, Bresnick had permission from Bloom to use “anything I wanted.”

Modeling the oratorio on Bach’s St. John Passion was a logical step considering that Bloom’s voice in the piece is not unlike that of the Evangelist — the narrator — in Bach’s passions. And Taylor, Bresnick pointed out, is a “well-known Evangelist in the world of the two Bach passions.” In addition to Taylor, Bresnick said, “I needed some very special singers.” Enter the Yale Choral Artists.

“Several of the soloists for this performance also happen to be YSM alumni, from both the Institute of Sacred Music’s voice program and from Yale Opera, including two former students of Jimmy’s — Paul Tipton and Sherezade Panthaki,” YCA founding director and YSM professor of choral conducting, Jeffrey Douma, said. School of Music alumni who’ll be performing include mezzo-soprano Katherine Maroney ’06MM, soprano Megan Chartrand ’13MM, soprano Sarah Yanovitch ’15MM, tenor Colin Britt ’10MM, tenor Gene Stenger ’15MM, and tenor Steven Soph ’12MM. Bass-baritone Tipton ’10MM will sing Melville’s words, while Maroney and soprano Panthaki ’11AD will sing text by Dickinson. Additional vocal soloists include tenor Brian Giebler, who’ll sing words by Whitman, bass Glenn Miller, who’ll sing the words of Captain Ahab, from Melville’s Moby-Dick, and baritone Thomas McCargar, who’ll sing the words of Melville’s Ishmael.

“During his composition process,” Douma said, “Martin often showed me excerpts of the solo writing he was developing, and would describe the kinds of voices he was hearing. This helped me choose singers from within the ranks of the Choral Artists best suited to each role.”

Bresnick’s oratorio, Douma said, “references not only Bach but also Brahms and other composers. People who know the St. John Passion will hear distinct echoes of its opening chorus (“Herr, unser Herrscher”) in Martin’s opening chorus (“Shine! Shine! Shine!”). For me as conductor, knowing that Bach was a starting point for Martin has influenced my thinking about the melodic writing in the piece and its relationship to the text. Martin may not be quoting Bach, but his careful attention to the natural rise and fall of the language and his singularly expressive way of emphasizing particular words reminds me very much of Bach’s use of melody, especially in the extended recitatives we hear in his passions. It has reinforced how important it will be for the audience to connect with the language in a very direct way.”

Of the literary works that inspired the oratorio, Douma said, “I love all three of the writers who inhabit this piece, but I will admit that my understanding of each of them — especially Melville — has been enriched greatly by the process of preparing this music.”

Originally, Bresnick said, he conceived a piece that would celebrate Bloom’s writings on Whitman. “I found that that wasn’t congenial for me,” he said. “That wasn’t enough.” The piece “needed more contrast.”

Bloom, Bresnick said, is “very shy about the fact that this whole thing, in some ways, is about him.”

Whitman, Melville, Dickinson — Passions of Bloom will receive its world-premiere performance, as part of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, on Tuesday, June 20, at 8 pm, in Morse Recital Hall at the Yale School of Music. The oratorio will be performed again on Wednesday, June 21, at 7:30 pm, at the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival.

INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ARTS & IDEAS PERFORMANCE
NORFOLK PERFORMANCE

Published June 15, 2017
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Willie Ruff retires having given “conservatory without walls” a home at Yale

By Lucile Bruce

Willie Ruff

Willie Ruff was born in 1931 in Sheffield, Alabama, a rural town on the south side of the Tennessee River. As a child, he showed an aptitude for music and immersed himself in the musical resources of his community. A neighborhood boy shared his drum set with young Willie and they became lifelong friends. The pianist at church became his piano teacher. But the best music he heard was the drumming in the African Pentecostal church half a block from his house. “We would sit on the ground outside the church and listen to the people playing those drums,” Ruff recalled. “It was the most exciting, the most moving music. I heard them in my sleep.”

Across the river from Sheffield stands Florence, the hometown of W.C. Handy, the “Father of the Blues.” Handy visited Ruff ’s elementary school classroom, played for the children, and accompanied their singing. “W.C. Handy was a big presence in my world,” Ruff recounted. “When I saw him on stage in my school, talking about the importance of our musical heritage, I said, ‘I want to do that.’ I think I have.” MORE

Published May 1, 2017
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Paul Hawkshaw awarded Fulbright for Bruckner research, residency in Vienna

Paul Hawkshaw

Professor of Musicology Paul Hawkshaw will be a Fulbright Visiting Scholar in Vienna in the spring of 2018. During his residency, he will teach classes at the University of Vienna’s Institute of Musicology and at the city’s University of Music and Performing Arts, in addition working at the Austrian National Library on a project titled A Bequest and a Complex Legacy: Untangling Anton Bruckner’s Revisions in Later Times, which aims to sort out the many different revisions of Bruckner’s music that have resulted from, in Hawkshaw’s words, “unauthorized tampering in Bruckner’s scores by well-meaning students and friends of his.”

According to Hawkshaw, the International Bruckner Society recently began a new Collected Works Edition under the auspices of the Austrian National Library and the Vienna Philharmonic. The New Anton Bruckner Collected Edition will eventually include new definitive scores of Bruckner’s complete works. Hawkshaw, who serves on the society’s editorial board, will work on three of the symphonies: numbers Seven, Eight, and Nine.

“In some cases,” Hawkshaw said, “previous editions had errors as a result of misreading the sources. For others, new, more reliable manuscript sources have surfaced since the older printed scores appeared.” MORE

Published April 5, 2017
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Christopher Theofanidis receives Grammy nomination

Christopher Theofanidis

Christopher Theofanidis

Yale School of Music faculty composer Christopher Theofanidis’ Bassoon Concerto has been nominated for a 2017 Grammy Award in the Best Contemporary Classical Composition category. The piece was recorded by bassoonist Martin Kuuskmann ’02MM and the Northwest Sinfonia, under the direction of Barry Jekowsky.

“Anything like this, which has a visibility beyond the immediate circle of concert music, that’s a really good thing for the field,” Theofanidis ’94MMA ’97DMA said. “It’s kind of like the thing that both your musical and nonmusical friends know.”

Talking about his Bassoon Concerto, Theofanidis said, “It’s a piece that I wrote 20 years ago that had never had a recording until now.” Kuuskmann, whom he’s known since their time at Yale, “really championed the piece.” MORE

Published December 7, 2016
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YSM guitarists launch record label, issue new releases

verdery_ben

Benjamin Verdery

In June, Elm City Records released new albums by Yale School of Music faculty member Benjamin Verdery and alumnus Solomon Silber ’14BA ’16MM. The record label was founded by the two guitarists as a platform for “giving the public so much more than a traditional CD,” Silber said. “That’s the new paradigm we’re trying to create.”

Four projects were released with the label’s launch: The Ben Verdery Guitar Project: On Vineyard Sound, which features music by Yale composers as well as a piece by Verdery himself; Silber’s latest release, Mano a Mano; a documentary film about Australian composer Nicole Murphy’s Stolen, a work written for Silber and chamber ensemble that was inspired by Richard James Allen’s poem A Scheme for Brightness; and a recording (with accompanying video) by Verdery’s students of Terry Riley’s Y Bolanzero. The label’s website also features audio clips, videos of Verdery and Silber performing music from their new albums, and extensive liner notes.

Two additional recordings by Silber, Diabolico and Waterfront Sessions, are also available through Elm City Records. MORE

Published July 27, 2016
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In memoriam: musicologist Philip F. Nelson

Philip Nelson

Philip Nelson | Photo by Eugene Cook, 1974

Musicologist and a former Dean of the Yale School of Music Philip F. Nelson died yesterday, June 10, 2016 at the age of 88. A native of Waseca, Minnesota, Nelson graduated with a B.A. degree in music composition from Grinnell College in Iowa in 1950, and an A.M. (1956) and Ph.D. (1958) in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He also received the Diplôme of the Université de Paris in 1957, and studied conducting with M. Louis Forestier at the Conservatorie National de Paris at the time as a Fulbright Scholar.

Nelson was Chair of the music department at SUNY Binghamton from 1963, until his appointment as the Dean of Yale School of Music in 1970. Under Philip Nelson’s visionary leadership, the Yale School of Music began its transformation as a major professional music school. Among his distinguished faculty appointments were, Krzysztof Penderecki, Otto-Werner Mueller, Phyllis Curtin, and Claude Frank. The Tokyo String Quartet was named the artists-in-residence in 1976, and the quartet remained an integral part of the life and development of the School until its retirement from the international concert stage in 2013. MORE

Published June 11, 2016
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In memoriam: Phyllis Curtin, soprano

Phyllis Curtin

Phyllis Curtin

Renowned American soprano Phyllis Curtin passed away on Sunday, June 5 at age 94. From 1974 to 1983, she taught voice at the Yale School of Music, overseeing the opera program. Curtin also served as Master (now Head of College) of Branford College from 1979 to 1983. Curtin was the first female Master of Branford College.

During her career on the stage in the 1950s and 60s, Curtin performed for the New York City Opera, as well as in many world-renowned opera houses such as the Metropolitan Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Vienna State Opera, Covent Garden, and La Scala. Her repertoire included Verdi’s Violetta and Alice Ford, Strauss’ Salome, as well as Mozart’s heroines, for which she received much praise. The New York Times recently asserted that, “Ms. Curtin was noted for the purity of her voice, the sensitivity of her musical phrasing and the crystalline perfection of her diction.” MORE

Published June 11, 2016
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In memoriam: Robert E. Nagel Jr., trumpet

New York Brass Quintet From left: John Swallow, Allan Dean, Paul Ingraham, Robert Nagel, Thompson "Toby" Hanks

New York Brass Quintet
From left: John Swallow, Allan Dean, Paul Ingraham, Robert Nagel, Thompson “Toby” Hanks

Trumpeter Robert E. Nagel Jr. passed away on Sunday, June 5 at the age of 91. He was a member of the Yale School of Music faculty from 1957 to 1988, and was named Professor Emeritus in 1988.

He is best known as the founder and director of the renowned New York Brass Quintet. In addition to paving the way for brass chamber music, Nagel was an active and highly respected performer as well as a prolific composer. In 1959, Nagel founded a publishing company, Mentor Music, in an effort to make brass music more available to the public. He leaves a legacy of numerous seminal recordings such as the 1961 recording of L’Histoire Du Soldat (conducted by Igor Stravinsky) and Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 (conducted by Pablo Casals).
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Published June 9, 2016
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