Music’s Newest Career Track has a Social Conscience

21CM | By Diane Haithman

Sebastian Ruth

Sebastian Ruth

The word “outreach” in the performing arts conjures up visions of the local orchestra performing for underserved communities – then rushing back to the concert hall in time for the 8 p.m. curtain.

But a new crop of classical music entrepreneurs wants to make social activism the main event. Musicians are forming more ensembles outside the orchestra in pursuit of new models of giving back. They are devoting their careers to music as social entrepreneurship.

Sebastian Ruth is a violinist, violist and the founder of Providence, R.I.’s Community MusicWorks, which provides music education for at-risk kids. The landscape was different 19 years ago when he founded MusicWorks. “When we started in the late ’90s, our work was much more of a marginal activity,” Ruth says. “I would say people were not flocking to do this kind of work. That seems to have shifted pretty dramatically.”


Published June 7, 2016
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NYT: Yale Composers Showcase Their Works at New Music New Haven

Ani Kavafian, Lisa Morre, and David Shifrin | Photo by Chris Lee

Ani Kavafian, Lisa Moore, and David Shifrin | Photo by Chris Lee

The New York Times | By Vivien Schweitzer

It’s rarely a compliment to describe a composer as “academic”: the word is usually applied to those perceived as being sequestered on campus creating esoteric, dreary works. Conversely, being too “accessible” (i.e., not challenging enough) has also been deemed a negative. But there’s nothing pejoratively “academic” or “accessible” about any of the Yale faculty composers featured during a concert on Wednesday at WQXR’s Greene Space in SoHo.

David Lang, Hannah Lash, Christopher Theofanidis, Aaron Jay Kernis and Martin Bresnick represent an accessible aesthetic that draws on multiple stylistic influences. Some of their music has been championed by Bang on a Can, the lively genre-bending collective whose three founders, all Yale alumni, include Mr. Lang. The vocalist Helga Davis hosted Wednesday’s event, part of the NY Phil Biennial, and interviewed each composer and Alan Gilbert, the Philharmonic’s music director, onstage. MORE

Published May 26, 2016
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The Duke, Dizzy & Eubie return to Yale in film, jazz event Friday

Conservatory-vNew Haven Register | By Joe Amarante

Willie Ruff, the music faculty member at Yale who was playing jazz with the greats back when there were dance halls in many towns, is jazzed up about Friday’s event at Morse Recital Hall that will pair a TV documentary with a live performance.

The 7:30 p.m. event, titled “Conservatory Without Walls,” begins with a “lost” video documentary originally created by WTIC-TV in Hartford, later to become WFSB-3. After intermission, 11-year-old drum prodigy Kojo Odu Roney will take the stage with the Antoine Roney Trio: saxophonist Antoine Roney (Kojo’s father), guitarist Billy “Spaceman” Patterson and bassist Rashaan Carter.

“I just learned of the existence of (the documentary),” said Ruff in a phone chat. “Actually, it was two half-hour shows that John Sablon and Brad Davis (had done).”

Ruff, 84, said there was a constellation of jazz stars at the event, which he organized in 1972 and led to the Ellington Jazz Series that includes this event.

“It was Duke Ellington and his whole orchestra, and 39 other people — Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Ray Brown, Slam Stewart, Cootie Williams,” said Ruff. “It was 40 individuals being honored by the university with an Ellington medal. And they stayed on the campus here; actually, the events on campus lasted three days…”

Ruff said the TV station’s crew was bowled over by the talent present.

“They were overwhelmed by all those people assembled. So while Duke’s band or Eubie Blake … was playing on the stage at Woolsey Hall, they had cameras on them and cameras downstairs in the dressing room, where they were interviewing Dizzy Gillespie and Stanley Dance, the (jazz) journalist.”

Ruff and organizers had been forbidden from making a documentary for copyright reasons, but “you can’t copyright the news, so these two TV men working together and separately made a half-hour show and they had so much material left that they made another half-hour show.”

Ruff said the 1972 videotape was discovered by an archivist recently, but there was “hardly anything you could play it on.” So Yale’s Film Study Center sent the material to a California company to digitize it. And folks there were too young to know who was in the film, so Ruff was called in to help out, and he discovered a bit of lost treasure.


Published May 16, 2016
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‘Traveling the World’ in Music Haven/IRIS concert

music haven

Yaira Matyakubova, ’06 AD (Photo courtesy of Kathleen Cei — Music Haven)

New Haven Registrar | By Joe Amarante

For families helped by Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, this city is aptly named. And with the Music Haven nonprofit also getting involved, it’s a place of new musical horizons.

The Whalley Avenue music education group, home to the Haven String Quartet, is presenting a series of workshops and concerts for IRIS families, including a concert by the quartet at 6 p.m. Friday night at Fair Haven School, 164 Grand Ave.

Students will also perform in the free concert, “Traveling the World with the Haven String Quartet,” open to newcomers and any other members of the public. There will be an instrument “petting zoo” for children to try out.

According to a Music Haven release, the first collaboration with IRIS was last month, when Senior Resident Violinist Yaira Matyakubova took a group of Music Haven students to the IRIS after-school program at Fair Haven School to play for a group of refugee children who are new to New Haven.

The idea for the project came from some of the youngest Music Haven students, during a discussion about refugees, the release said. The kids decided they wanted to share music with recent refugee children, since language isn’t a barrier in music. Matyakubova came here from Uzbekistan when she was 16, a memory that replays when she sees the children of IRIS.

Music Haven recently received a $5,000 Neighborhood Cultural Vitality Grant (a short-term initiative of the Mayor’s Community Arts Grant Program) to support the collaboration with IRIS.


Published April 26, 2016
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Musical America’s New Artist of the Month: Michael Gilbertson

Michael Gilbertson | Photo by Ron Cohen Mann

Michael Gilbertson | Photo by Ron Cohen Mann

Musical America | By Susan Elliott

The annual Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute, which ran January 2529, introduced seven young composers whose works, chosen in a competitive screening, were poured over, polished, and finally performed before a paying public. All of these young men and women had something to say, but one in particular stood out.

Michael Gilbertson is a Juilliard grad currently working on his PhD [editor’s note: DMA] in composition at Yale, where he counts Aaron Jay Kernis and Martin Bresnick among his teachers. His Sinfonia, based, as he describes it, on “motives and themes from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons” and excerpted for the purposes of the Institute, combines multiple harmonic strains, in the early 20th-century jazz/impressionist vein, with a solid rhythmic core. Its canvas is vast, enriched with full but never overblown orchestral color. Lines are lyrical, subtly interwoven. Small wonder that Music Director Osmo Vänskä chose it to close the program that bore the fruits of the week’s work. MORE

Published March 3, 2016
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The New Yorker: Fish Out of Water

Lang-by-David-Serling-webThe New Yorker | By Alex Ross

On the day of the Golden Globe Awards, in January, the composer David Lang, who teaches at the Yale School of Music and won a Pulitzer Prize for his radiant choral work “The Little Match Girl Passion,” found himself in a Chevy Suburban on a side street in Beverly Hills, creeping toward the Beverly Hilton. He had been nominated, in the Best Original Song category, for a piece called “Simple Song #3,” which appears in Paolo Sorrentino’s film “Youth.” His competitors were Sam Smith, Brian Wilson, Wiz Khalifa, and a team led by Max Martin. Lang was at a far remove from the Manhattan new-music world where he has long been a fixture, notably as a co-founder of the Bang on a Can collective.

Lang, who is fifty-nine and has a droll, sanguine manner, was with his wife, the artist Suzanne Bocanegra. “This tux belonged to my dad,” he said. With his shaved head and his round architect-style glasses, he could be mistaken for a studio big shot. “But, more often, people ask me to park their cars,” he said. He grew up in Los Angeles, the son of a doctor and a librarian, but in his youth he had only glancing contact with movie culture. As a teen-ager, in the nineteen-seventies, he worked as an usher at a theatre in Westwood; one of his duties was to attend to patrons who had thrown up during “The Exorcist.”


Published February 26, 2016
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YaleNews: School of Music launches ‘Music and Social Action’ Coursera course

ruth_sebastian-h-webYaleNews | By Bess Connolly Martell

The Yale School of Music launched its first massive open online course (MOOC), titled “Music and Social Action,” on Yale’s Coursera platform Feb. 22. Taught by Sebastian Ruth, the Yale College Class of 1957 Visiting Professor of Community Engagement, the course explores questions about musicians’ responses to the condition of the world.

The course, which took 13 months to develop, is being offered in an “on demand” format, and as such does not have to be viewed sequentially. “This process has deepened my own understanding of this material and has presented an interesting challenge to think through what makes compelling learning online,” says Ruth. “We hope we have crafted a learning experience that is rich and three dimensional.”


Published February 24, 2016
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SF Gate: Eighth Blackbird and 6 composers, working together

Composition Collective Sleeping Giant

Composition Collective Sleeping Giant

SF Gate | By Joshua Kosman

Coming into Sunday’s concert by the perennially inventive new-music ensemble Eighth Blackbird, I was a little unclear about the nature of the programming. Was “Hand Eye” — the six-part evening-length work by the composers’ collective Sleeping Giant that constitutes the entire program — a collection of individual works, or a single suite whose movements had been written individually?

The answer, it turned out, was yes.

Among the many exciting aspects of this undertaking, presented by Cal Performances in UC Berkeley’s Hertz Hall, perhaps none was more striking than the formal blurriness on display. The six pieces, each running between 10 and 15 minutes, stand alone, but they also call out to each other in various ways.

Although each piece bears the name and the stylistic thumbprint of a different composer, there are obvious similarities in musical language and dramatic strategy. Thematic ideas go underground in one piece, only to resurface unexpectedly much later. And in performance, Eighth Blackbird ran the pieces together so that the end of one and the beginning of the next was never clearly marked. MORE

Published February 19, 2016
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Yale Opera’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ to chase midwinter’s chill

midsummerNew Haven Register | By Joe Amarante

When Yale Opera honcho Doris Yarick-Cross signed a director for the School of Music’s big February production, she didn’t just get a big name, but one with a pedigree that, it turns out, inspired the show’s Norwegian conductor when he was a boy.

Director Claudia Solti is the daughter of late-great conductor Georg Solti and former BBC presenterValerie Pitts. Sir Georg is best known for his work with opera companies in Europe and as longtime music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. His daughter is making her Yale Opera debut with this opera about “the fickle nature of romantic love,” as she put it.

And in a release, Yarick-Cross said she chose Bergmann because, “I was convinced that his joyous, convincing and skillful handling of the orchestra was exactly what was needed for our production.”

The new production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Benjamin Britten’s atmospheric opera adapted from Shakespeare’s revered play, will take place Feb. 19-21 at the Shubert Theatre on College Street. MORE

Published February 12, 2016
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William Christie appointed OAE Emeritus conductor

William Christie

William Christie |By Elinor Cooper

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment have added American conductor William Christie ’69 MM to their prestigious list of Emeritus conductors.

The OAE have never had a permanent conductor, rejecting the usual hierarchy of an orchestra in favour of a democratic set up.

Conductors are instead invited to perform by members of the orchestra, which allows the OAE to take advantage of a huge range of expertise. MORE

Published January 28, 2016
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