Rolston, Brentano quartet members talk about mentee-mentor relationship

Rolston String Quartet

Since September 2017, the Rolston String Quartet, a group that was coached at the 2016 Yale Summer School of Music/Norfolk Chamber Music Festival by the likes of the Brentano and Emerson string quartets before winning that year’s prestigious Banff International String Quartet Competition, has been the Yale School of Music’s fellowship quartet-in-residence. The opportunity to be mentored by the Brentano String Quartet, YSM’s quartet-in-residence, and to mentor undergraduates studying at the University’s Department of Music, while maintaining an active performance schedule, has been fruitful.

Rolston cellist Jonathan Lo pointed to collaborations with such distinguished School of Music faculty members as composer Hannah Lash, clarinetist David Shifrin, and flutist Ransom Wilson as invaluable opportunities. Of the Brentanos, Lo said, “They have been some of our foremost musical inspirations.” He described the Brentanos as “incredible musicians,” quick to share his appreciation for the chance “to be able to play for musicians of their caliber … one of the finest quartets in the world.”

Brentano violinist Mark Steinberg talked about the freedom YSM’s fellowship quartet-in-residence has at YSM to discover itself. “We give them regular coaching,” Steinberg said, “but we don’t overwhelm them.” The world doesn’t simply need more quartets, he said, but “we’re in a world that needs a string quartet with something urgent to say.”

Brentano String Quartet

Brentano String Quartet

Ideas are in plentiful supply at Yale, and “the University as a whole is open to (the Rolstons),” Steinberg said. “Everything that’s going on is fodder for your own thinking. The resources at Yale are incredible that way. It’s a really fertile place.”

The Rolstons’ residence, which ends in May 2019, has allowed them to pass some of their shared experience on to other, younger musicians. “For us to be able to work with the undergraduate students,” and to gain teaching experience, “is very invigorating for us,” Lo said. “Any serious ensemble should consider the (fellowship) program, because it offers a great balance of resources and input. It’s been everything that we could have hoped for.” 

 

ROLSTON STRING QUARTET

BRENTANO STRING QUARTET

Published September 7, 2018
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Willie Ruff awarded honorary doctorate

Willie Ruff receives an honorary doctorate from University President Salovey. Photo by Michael Marsland

As part of Yale’s 317th Commencement, which took place on May 21, the University awarded honorary degrees to “10 individuals who have received distinction in their respective fields.” Among the recipients was Willie Ruff ’53BM ’54MM, who retired in May 2017 having spent 46 years on the School of Music faculty.

Presenting Ruff with an honorary doctor of music degree, University President Peter Salovey said, “You have shared the wonders of music with the world. Introducing new audiences to the transcendent power of jazz; you discovered the echoes of distant times and faraway places in this quintessential American art form. In your ‘conservatory without walls,’ generations of young people have been inspired by jazz legends. Scholar, storyteller, and musician, in gratitude for your creativity and charisma, we are privileged to present your third Yale degree, Doctor of Music.”

The “conservatory without walls” to which Salovey referred is the “‘invisible institution’ through which African American music has been nurtured and developed over time,” explained Lucile Bruce in the Spring 2017 issue of Music at Yale. In 1972, a year after joining the faculty at his alma mater, Ruff brought 40 jazz legends to Yale — among them Duke Ellington, Marian Anderson, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charles Mingus — and launched the Duke Ellington Fellowship and the Ellington Jazz Series.

Throughout his extraordinary career, Ruff has introduced audiences around the world to jazz. With pianist Dwike Mitchell, Ruff — a horn and bass player — brought the art form to the Soviet Union in 1959 and to China in 1981.

Ruff’s scholarship has yielded remarkable insight into musical connections, and his eagerness to share his experiences and knowledge has enlightened many. His 1991 memoir, A Call to Assembly: The Autobiography of a Musical Storyteller, earned him an ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for Music Writing.

At the School of Music’s 2017 Honors Banquet, Ruff was given Yale University’s Nathan Hale Award. “He’s changed all our lives,” YSM Dean Robert Blocker said.

Ruff came to the Yale School of Music to study with Paul Hindemith — because he had read that Charlie Parker would have done the same. More than half century later, the School and the University continue to recognize and appreciate his remarkable legacy.

READ THE MUSIC AT YALE FEATURE
WATCH A VIDEO ABOUT WILLIE RUFF

Published May 23, 2018
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Central Conservatory of Music President Yu Feng visits Yale

Left to right: LIU Hongzhu, director of CCoM’s office of international affairs; CCoM President YU Feng; YSM Dean Robert Blocker; YU Hongmei, professor of erhu and director of CCoM’s department of traditional Chinese music; and YU Feng’s son YU Ji, a postgraduate conducting student at CCoM

YU Feng, the president of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, China, paid a visit to Yale University this week as part of a trip to American schools with which his has institutional partnerships. The Yale School of Music has had a relationship with CCoM since the mid-1990s, when WANG Cizhao, whose daughter, composer Fay Wang, earned a master of music degree and an artist diploma from YSM in 2010 and 2012, respectively, was the conservatory’s president. YU, who leads CCoM’s conducting department, became the conservatory’s president in February 2016.

YU Feng was accompanied on his visit to Yale by his son, YU Ji, a postgraduate conducting student at CCoM; YU Hongmei, professor of erhu and director of CCoM’s department of traditional Chinese music; and LIU Hongzhu, the director of CCoM’s office of international affairs. MORE

Published June 23, 2017
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Inside YSM: Sun-A Park ’16AD ’17MMA, piano

Sun-A Park

Pianist Sun-A Park ’16AD ’17MMA was recently selected to compete at the prestigious Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, which is scheduled to take place in late May and early June in Fort Worth, Texas. Asked how studying with Boris Berman at YSM has prepared her for that opportunity, Sun-A said, “Professor Berman encouraged me to make the most musical decisions, provided insights into the repertoire I am performing, and stirred an intellectual curiosity within myself. I don’t know if he has prepared me just for this opportunity. He always believed in me and helped to maximized my abilities.” MORE

Published May 5, 2017
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Inside YSM: Matthew Gray ’17MMA, horn

Matthew Gray

Meet horn player Matt Gray ’17MMA, who spoke with us recently about his experiences studying with Prof. William Purvis.

“The dynamic in the YSM horn studio is similar to that of a big family,” Matt said. “Each member of the family has strengths and weaknesses, but together we are a capable and formidable group. This sense of family and camaraderie comes directly from Prof. Purvis.

“Prof. Purvis has a style of teaching that focuses directly on the steps his students should take to assess and improve their own playing while also motivating and encouraging his students to pursue their own strengths to the fullest degree.”

While at YSM, Matt has worked in the Concert Office and has developed an interest in the administrative side of the field. MORE

Published May 5, 2017
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Yaffe receives sustainability award, Purrington debuts “A Clarion Call”

YSM Associate Dean Michael Yaffe

Yale School of Music Associate Dean Michael Yaffe received a Certificate of Outstanding Recognition on Friday, April 21, from Yale University’s Office of Sustainability. Yaffe was recognized at the 2017 “State of Sustainability” Breakfast for his dedication to championing “inclusion and justice” at YSM, in the local community, and beyond.

“Michael Yaffe has worked to enrich the New Haven schools through the Music in Schools Initiative,” Office of Sustainability Director Ginger Chapman said.

According to language on its website, the Office of Sustainability’s mission “is to advance sustainability within the Yale community by acting as a catalyst for information exchange and facilitating capacity building, innovation, streamlined operations, and preparation of tomorrow’s sustainability leaders.”

“A city that provides families with active music-making is a more cohesive city,” Yaffe said. “Music is an emotional language that gives meaning to society and has the potential to bring confidence and commitment” to conversations such as those about health, equity, and future generations. MORE

Published April 21, 2017
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Inside YSM: Noah Kay ’18MM, oboe

Noah Kay

Oboist Noah Kay ’18MM recently talked with us about being drawn to YSM and Prof. Stephen Taylor’s studio by his experiences at the Yale Summer School of Music / Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, and about his time, so far, here at Yale. Here’s what Noah had to say.

“Attending Norfolk in the summer of 2014 definitely fueled my interest in Yale and what it has to offer. Having the opportunity to work in close quarters with such great faculty and students in such a great environment was really beneficial, and it opened my eyes to how enriching an experience playing chamber music can be. Prof. Taylor’s attitude toward music is something that really attracted me to his studio. Having spent a semester here, I can say that I really value the fact that he approaches everything with humor. The oboe can be a tremendously stressful instrument (mostly because of our reed-making plight), and he has taught me how to stay upbeat and positive even when things are not going as smoothly as I’d like. Lessons with him are all about diving deep into the music and figuring out how to polish an interpretation even further, and my mental process when practicing or learning a piece has taken on much more refinement as a result. MORE

Published March 24, 2017
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Inside YSM: Matthew Keown, percussion

Matthew Keown, percussion

We asked percussionist and current DMA candidate Matthew Keown ’16MM to share his thoughts about the new Adams Center for Musical Arts.

“As a percussionist at YSM, I am lucky enough to have my studio located in the heart of the new building,” he said. “The door to our foyer leads directly to the new student lounge, our beloved watering (coffee) hole. The quality of a practice space affects musicians more than one might imagine. The natural light let in through large windows in our practice rooms energizes the musician and helps foster a greater sense of focus. The sound of our new rooms varies with the shape of the space to provide diverse, quality sonic experiences.”

The new spaces also serve the logistical needs of the YSM percussion studio.

“As percussionists,” Matt said, “we are constantly moving equipment from one space to another, and the generosity with which the new building was designed, in respect to this need, is greatly appreciated. Each door in our percussion suite was specially designed to comfortably fit five-octave marimbas and 32” timpani. The percussionist’s favorite part of the new building, though, is the elevator. On any given day in the old Hendrie Hall, I am told, you could spot percussionists carrying timpani upstairs. I think I speak for all current and future percussionists (sorry those of past generations) when I say thank you for this convenience!”

Matt’s performance of YSM faculty composer David Lang’s “the anvil chorus” was recently featured in a video of the Adams Center’s name being carved into the face of the new complex.

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Published March 24, 2017
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Inside YSM: Wil Wortley ’18MM, trombone

Wil Wortley ’18MM

Meet YSM student Wil Wortley ’18MM, who recently talked with us about switching his focus from euphonium to trombone.

“I’ve kind of had it in my head to focus more on trombone (as opposed to euphonium) since later in high school, because a teacher of mine kept pushing me to do so,” Wil explained. “The two instruments are similar enough that with a little individual practice I was able to play in the trombone choir at Eastman, where I did my undergrad. Eventually, I began taking secondary lessons beginning my junior year as I considered playing trombone more seriously. As grad school approached, I made the transition for a simple reason: There are more job opportunities on trombone than euphonium, although that isn’t saying much. The actual switch has been easy in some ways and difficult in others. The obvious difficulty is the difference in the technique mechanism. Moving a big ole piece of metal back and forth while trying to hit the right spot at the right time is exactly as hard as you’d think it would be. Luckily, the sound production is similar, which allowed me to very easily become an OK trombone player. It’s been much harder to learn some of the subtle differences between the horns, because, in a way, the similarities actually mask some of the differences. My professor here at Yale, Scott Hartman, has been tremendously helpful. We don’t really focus on the fact that I used to play euphonium, which is great. He always looks at what we’re working on from a musical perspective while managing to think about the technique required in a very logical and consistent way. The trick to balancing or integrating those two aspects of music-making is something I aspire to learn.”

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Published March 24, 2017
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Inside YSM: Dana Kelley, Argus Quartet

Dana Kelley, viola

We recently asked new Argus Quartet violist Dana Kelley about her experience joining a quartet whose other three members have been playing together for three and a half years.

“The process of joining a pre-existing quartet has been both exciting and challenging,” she said. “On one hand, it’s great to jump into a group that is already in motion. The other three members, Jason, Clara, and Joann, know each other very well and understand each other’s musical tendencies and preferences. They’ve also had the opportunity to experiment with rehearsal techniques and develop a group sound, as well as create an image and goals for the quartet. Being able to become a part of Argus after much of the groundwork has been laid has been a privilege for me. 

“On the other hand,” Dana said, “I am now adding my own personal and musical quirks to the equation. I only met the other three members recently, so we are learning not only how to play music together, but also how to communicate and get along with one another. Fortunately, I felt immediately welcome upon joining Argus. They’ve even tolerated my offbeat humor so far! Every rehearsal and performance has been a chance for us to learn more about and understand one another. String quartet playing is so much about the unspoken bonds and the development of trust between the musicians; the more time we spend together, the stronger these bonds will become.”

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Published March 24, 2017
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