Brentano String Quartet to perform program of “Lamentations”

Brentano String Quartet

The Brentano String Quartet, left to right: violinist Serena Canin, cellist Nina Lee, violinist Mark Steinberg, and violist Misha Amory. Photo by Ian Christmann

Commenting on a concert program called “Lamentations,” Brentano String Quartet violinist Mark Steinberg explained, “There exists an old tradition of professional lamenters, who, as a service to those who grieve, digest and transfigure that grief in giving it voice,” asking, “What greater faith in art can be imagined?” The program, Steinberg said, “celebrates that art of cathartic expression in songs of lamentation from Purcell through Bartók and Carter, evincing strength and vulnerability in equal measure, through the intimacy and immediacy of the string quartet.”

The Brentano String Quartet, YSM’s outstanding ensemble-in-residence, will perform its “Lamentations” program at Yale on Tuesday, Jan. 29. We spoke recently with the group’s violist, Misha Amory, about the program.

Q: What are the origins of this program? How did you and your colleagues conceive “Lamentations” and choose the repertoire?

A: This project is a brainchild of Mark’s and has two origins behind it. One is the idea that music of mourning or lamentation is everywhere in our canon, composed and expressed in all periods and in all styles, and Mark felt it would be interesting to gather up examples of this into a single program so that we can appreciate how a diverse body of music can spring from a single, universal urge. The other idea propelling the project is perhaps more of a practical one, which is that each of these little pieces, taken on its own, is awkward to fit into a conventional string quartet program, which typically consists of three or four substantial works in several movements. In that type of program, smaller works might end up marginalized or lost in the bigger picture. This program enables us to perform these beloved pieces in a setting where their power is not dimmed, but rather thrown into relief.

Q: What other works of art, if any—literature, visual art, etc.—have you considered as you’ve developed this program?

A: We have not referred to works of art or literature that are not directly connected to the pieces on the program. That said, almost every piece on the program has some point of reference beyond “pure music.” The Haydn [“Eli, Eli” from the Seven Last Words of Christ] of course is music depicting the spirit of Christ’s final utterances, meant to provide time for meditation during the Good Friday service; Lekeu’s Molto Adagio is similarly religiously themed. [Purcell’s] Dido’s Lament connects us to Virgil’s Aeneid, an epic poem of antiquity, and more nearly to the world of Baroque opera, intertwining the sensibilities of two artistic periods pre-dating the string quartet. Shostakovich’s Elegy is his own transcription for string quartet of the extraordinary aria from his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk: like the Purcell, it displays the grief of a solitary and unloved one, and like the Purcell it is from an opera based on a great literary work of the past. The Gesualdo madrigals have their own poetic texts (of course not heard in a quartet performance), and madrigal form is the most literary of music, with every note and turn of phrase intimately connected to and entwined with its text. All in all, this program has deep ties to many primary strands in Western culture.

Q: Mark has asked, rhetorically, “What greater faith in art can be imagined?” What has music meant for you during times of grief and what is it about music that it can reach us so deeply?

A: This question needs a whole book to answer! I believe, personally, that the power of music in this sense is somehow connected to its non-verbal nature. Nobody can escape the experience of grief, and yet it will come to each person differently. Likewise, virtually no one is unaffected by music, but each listener will hear his own version. Music does not explicitly state its meaning in performance, leaving the listener to construe it according to her own lights. Sometimes music can be consoling, sometimes unbearable to one who is grieving; either way, it unquestionably penetrates deep into the psyche.

Q: What have conversations between you and your colleagues been like as you’ve rehearsed this repertoire? In what ways have you explored the composers’ motivations and intentions?

A: Mark once told me a story about being coached by Fritz Maag, a great cellist and musical thinker who was on the faculty at Indiana University. Mark was in a student group that was playing the grief-stricken opening of the finale of Beethoven’s Op. 95, a devastating passage of just a few bars. Mr. Maag memorably said, “As human beings, I hope you never have to experience the suffering contained in this music … but as artists, you have to be able to imagine it.” This is about as good a set of marching orders as there is for a musician aspiring to meaningful expression. We are always method actors of a sort, trying not just to understand the composer’s intention, but to crawl into his mind, to become him, or the person he is depicting. Of course it is part of every performer’s job to be well-grounded in the biographical and stylistic details of the composer he is performing, and I believe that this knowledge casts a kind of penumbra that deepens the performance and gives it resonance.  However, the chief part of our labor consists in engaging with the piece itself, at a molecular level: pondering the expressive aspects of a subphrase, meditating on the contours and textures of a single work by a single person, identifying what makes it unique by dwelling within it as a primary source. In fact, to spend too much time examining external considerations (for example, events in the composer’s life in the year of the composition) can have an oddly distracting, or diluting, effect on our work. We do best when we scrutinize the composer’s motivations and intentions as seen in the music that is on the page, before our eyes.

Q: Does this repertoire require a unique performance headspace? To what extent is each of you experiencing catharsis through playing this music and is that something you’ve discussed?

A: This program of lamentations is certainly concentrated on a special theme, a special state of mind. At the same time, the fabric of Western music is shot through with threads of grief and mourning—it is a powerful and ever-present trait in the music we play, and I can’t think of an important work that doesn’t contain at least moments of sorrow. So it would be fair to say that the feeling of playing music of this sort is almost second nature to us. I expect that an audience member might be surprised if he could enter into our thoughts as performers during a program, how they might seem dry and practical in comparison to the music itself. This is the double nature of being a performer, to take care of the laundry list of details while never losing sight of the transcendental nature of the art that confronts us.

Having said that, we find that the audiences that have heard this program do indeed enter into a “unique headspace,” which is very much what we hope for. Taken as a body of work, the pieces on the program slow down time; they invite a meditative state and ask for the listener’s compassion as she contemplates these manifold expressions of grief and loss expressed from so many different times and places. The catharsis will take place, it is hoped, in the minds of those who are listening.

The Brentano String Quartet will perform its “Lamentations” program on Tuesday, Jan. 29, at 7:30 p.m., in Morse Recital Hall.

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Published January 22, 2019
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Members of YSM community earn Grammy nominations

Missy Mazzoli. Photo by Marylene Mey

Grammy Award nominations were announced on Friday, Dec. 7, and several members of the Yale School of Music community made the list. Please join us in congratulating these outstanding musicians.

Composer Missy Mazzoli ’06MM was nominated in the Best Contemporary Classical Composition category for her work Vespers for Violin, performed by Olivia de Prato. In the same category, faculty composer Aaron Jay Kernis ’83MM received a nomination for his Violin Concerto, performed by violinist James Ehnes, conductor Ludovic Morlot, and the Seattle Symphony.

Yale Philharmonia Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian was nominated in the Best Classical Compendium category for Vaughan Williams: Piano Concerto, Oboe Concerto, Serenade to Music, Flos Campi, on which he conducted. The recording was produced by Blanton Alspaugh.

Conductor Martin Pearlman ’71MM was nominated in the Best Classical Instrumental Solo Category for Biber: The Mystery Sonatas, on which he conducted. The recording features violinist Christina Day Martinson and Boston Baroque.

Composer John Adams ’MUSHD received a nomination in the Best Opera Recording category for Adams: Dr. Atomic.

The Boston-based chamber orchestra A Far Cry, which includes alumni violinists Liesl Schoenberger Doty ’11AD and Miki-Sophia Cloud ’08MM, was nominated in the Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance category for Visions and Variations.

In the Best Orchestral Performance category, three nominations have ties to YSM. The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s recording Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 11, conducted by Andris Nelsons, includes alumni violinist Sheila Fiekowsky ’75MM and cellist Owen Young ’87MM. The San Francisco Symphony’s recording Schumann: Symphonies Nos. 1-4, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, includes alumni violinists Gina Cooper ’87MM and John Young ’MM. And the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s recording Beethoven: Symphony No. 3; Strauss: Horn Concerto No. 1, conducted by Manfred Honeck, includes alumni violinists Irene Cheng ’94MM and Louis Lev ’90MM and alumni trombonist Rebecca Cherian ’81MM.

Published December 10, 2018
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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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Emily Kruspe Joins Rolston String Quartet

Emily Kruspe

We spoke recently with violinist Emily Kruspe about joining YSM’s fellowship quartet-in-residence, the Rolston String Quartet, whose other three members have been working together for five years. Kruspe succeeds violinist Jeffrey Dyrda, who left the quartet to pursue new career opportunities.

“I’ve played a lot with professional ensembles, but never with a group so specialized as a quartet,” Kruspe said. “The other three have been playing together since 2013, and pretty much exclusively with each other, so they are extremely aware and good at reading each other’s body language, among many other things. The challenge for me is fitting in enough so as not to disrupt what has already been so well established, yet to have my own personality and voice in the group. In our rehearsals, there is actually a lot of discussion and demonstration. Not everything can be picked up by listening and imitation—ideas must be translated in other forms.”

Kruspe discussed the challenges of learning repertoire that the rest of the ensemble already knows. “Up until very recently, I have been playing pieces the quartet has rehearsed, been coached on, and performed,” Kruspe said. “To fit into an established interpretation of a work that has already been meticulously analyzed is difficult, but very rewarding. I am using parts of my brain I have never exercised before! What makes a lot of the challenging stuff easier is that these three musicians are among the easiest people to play with. They are very accommodating and clear, and it simplifies a lot for me.”

Kruspe also spoke about the opportunity to be mentored by the Brentano String Quartet, YSM’s quartet-in-residence. “Working with the Brentano Quartet—what can I say—I feel extremely fortunate. They are among the best quartets in the world, and are such wonderful people. I am so looking forward to working with and learning from them.”

ROLSTON STRING QUARTET

BRENTANO STRING QUARTET

Published June 21, 2018
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YSM Alumni News | May 2018

Pianist Tanya Bannister CERT was named president of the Concert Artists Guild. She succeeds Richard S. Weinert, who plans to retire in June after 18 years at the organization.

Violinist Qi Cao ’10MM won a position with the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra and will join the ensemble in September 2018. Cao has been a member of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra for five years.

The Jasper String Quartet. Photo by Dario Acosta

The Jasper String Quartet, which includes violinists John Freivogel ’10AD and Sae Chonabayashi, violist Sam Quintal ’10AD, and cellist Rachel Henderson Freivogel ’10AD, had their album Unbound named one of The New York Times’ “Top 25 Classical Albums of 2017.” The recording includes works by YSM alumni Judd Greenstein ’04MM, Caroline Shaw ’07MM, Missy Mazzoli ’06MM, Ted Hearne ’08MM ’09MMA ’14DMA, and David Lang ’83MMA ’89DMA and was released on the Sono Luminus and New Amsterdam labels.

Composers Michael Gilbertson ’13MM ’21DMA and Ted Hearne ’08MM ’09MMA ’14DMA were named co-finalists for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Music. Gilbertson was nominated for his work Quartet, which was commissioned by the Verona Quartet, Concert Artists Guild, and BMI Foundation, and Hearne was nominated for his work Sound from the Bench, which was commissioned by Volti and The Crossing.

Darren Hicks

Darren Hicks ’14MM was appointed associate principal bassoonist of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Hicks has been a fellow at the New World Symphony, in Miami Beach, Fla., for the past three years.

Alumna Molly Joyce ’17MM and incoming students Alexis C. Lamb ’20MM and Peter Shin ’20MMA received ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) Foundation Morton Gould Young Composer Awards.

Violinist Dennis Kim ’98MM was named concertmaster of the Pacific Symphony in Orange County, Calif. Kim has served as concertmaster of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra since 2015.

Composers Yoshiaki Onishi ’07MM ’08AD and Carl Schimmel ’99MM were awarded Guggenheim Fellowships for music composition.

Two alumni received awards from the Richard Tucker Music Foundation. Bass-baritone Christian Van Horn ’02MM ’03AD received the Richard Tucker Award, and bass David Leigh ’14MM received a Sara Tucker Study Grant.

Published May 9, 2018
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Schumann course culminates in performance

Prof. Michael Friedmann

School of Music Prof. Michael Friedmann’s course Schumann’s Chamber Music: Performance and Analysis, which is open by audition to instrumentalists studying at the School of Music and at Yale College, focuses on combining analytical research with practical performance issues. The class culminates in a performance of what Friedmann describes as “a precious and surprisingly undervalued body of repertoire.”

Friedmann, Professor of Musicology and Theory at the Yale School of Music, specializes in the music of Schoenberg, Schumann, and Beethoven, analysis of post-tonal music, ear training, and chamber music coaching. He received a special citation from the Society of Music Theory for his 1990 book Ear Training for 20th-century Music (Yale University Press).

“My approach links analysis to performance,” Friedmann said, “because performers usually rush to get performances ready without the opportunity to make genuine contact with all dimensions of the phrase structure, relation of tonal design and thematic form, and motivic interaction. They also learn how to distinguish the principal elements from countersubjects or other secondary elements. Moreover, a refined awareness of emotional content, and mercurial shifts of emotional ‘topic,’ which directly affect sound and pacing, is often bypassed in favor of a monolithic rendering of the notes.”

Friedmann concentrates on Schumann’s chamber music because “students may not immediately get the opportunity to play this repertoire as they would comparable music of Brahms, Beethoven, and others.”

This year’s concert, which is scheduled to take place on Dec. 12, at 7:30 pm at the Whitney Humanities Center, will feature performances of Schumann’s Märchenerzählungen, Op.132; Piano Trio No. 3 in G minor, Op. 110; Violin Sonata No. 1 in A minor, Op. 105; and Piano Trio No. 2 in F major, Op. 80.

Published December 12, 2017
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Yale Percussion Group to perform music by Matt Keown and recent graduates

Left to right: YoungKyoung Lee, Matt Keown, and Sam Um

In early November, six members of the Yale Percussion Group arranged themselves in a line and rehearsed a snare-drum piece by current DMA candidate Matt Keown, who guided his colleagues, measure by measure, through the rudimental-style drumming that he grew up with. “My first instrument was a drum pad,” Keown ’16MM said, explaining that he followed his father, Alan Keown, into the practice of percussion — specifically, marching percussion, a world that for most is far-removed from the styles and techniques that Matt and his colleagues are studying with YPG Director Robert van Sice at YSM.

In composing Mélange, so named because it commemorates his time at YSM, Keown said, “I was really worried about it,” because “there’s still this stigma that marching percussion is ‘less than’ art music.” Keown also said he “had to be really careful about how difficult to make it,” given that his colleagues didn’t grow up with the style. While “it’s technically really challenging,” he said, “if they didn’t like it, they wouldn’t work on it.” In addition to the music in Mélange, there is a theatrical element, based on the visual aspects of drum-corps performances.

If Keown was worried about his colleagues warming to his piece, van Sice was not. “They’re all over it,” the YPG director said.

On Sunday, Nov. 12, van Sice will lead the YPG in a program that’s rich in music by YSM alumni — including percussionist Leonardo Gorosito ’11MM ’12AD and composer Andy Akiho ’11MM — in addition to works by Philippe Manoury and Alejandro Viñao.

The program begins with Seeds, a piece by Gorosito and Rafael Alberto for various shakers that’ll be played by Keown and Yale College student Adrian Lin, whom van Sice called the “adopted younger brother of the YPG.” The first half also includes Akiho’s Pillar IV, which van Sice described as “groove music,” Manoury’s Le livre des claviers (II. Duo de marimbas), and Keown’s Mélange. The second half of the program features Viñao’s Water.

During rehearsals for the performance, van Sice talked about the approach he’s taken, over the past 20 years, in developing artists who think, always, like the most musically selfless of chamber-music practitioners. Playing chamber music, van Sice has said, is like “group parachuting.”

“Music and the art of playing music is something that is larger than we are,” he said, explaining, proudly, that the members of the YPG “know how to musically interact with other people.” And while that might seem like a no-brainer, it’s not necessarily the case elsewhere. Flowery talk is common in chamber-music circles, van Sice said, “but we really do try to walk that walk.”

The professionalism on display during YPG rehearsals is its own reward. As much as he gives them direction, van Sice said, “they inspire me back. They’re an inspiring group to work with.”

BUY TICKETS TO THE NOVEMBER 12 YALE PERCUSSION GROUP CONCERT

Published November 8, 2017
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Argus Quartet, pianist Dominic Cheli share first prize at Concert Artists Guild competition

The Argus Quartet (photo by Ben Gibbs) and Dominic Cheli (photo by Gallia Kastler)

The Argus Quartet, the ensemble that served from 2015 to 2017 as YSM’s fellowship quartet-in-residence, and pianist Dominic Cheli ’16MM, have been named joint first-prize winners of the annual Concert Artists Guild Victor Elmaleh Competition. The quartet and Cheli will each receive a $5,000 cash prize and a management contract and will be presented in recital at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, in addition to other opportunities.

The final round of the competition took place on October 17 at Merkin Concert Hall at the Kaufman Music Center in New York City and was judged by a nine-person jury. Two YSM students won prizes at last year’s Concert Artist Guild competition. Guitarist Jiyeon “Jiji” Kim ’17MM won the top prize, and double bassist Samuel Suggs ’14MM ’20DMA was named the organization’s New Music/New Places Fellow.

The Argus Quartet, which was founded in Los Angeles in 2013, was named the first-place winner in the Senior Strings division of the University of Michigan’s M-Prize Chamber Arts Competition in May, which earned the group a $20,000 cash award and a residency at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance during the 2017-2018 academic year. At YSM, the Argus Quartet was the first ensemble to be mentored by the School’s ensemble-in-residence, the Brentano String Quartet. The Argus Quartet is currently the graduate quartet-in-residence at The Juilliard School.

Cheli, who studied at the Yale School of Music under the tutelage of pianist Peter Frankl, has performed at such venues as Carnegie Hall, Le Poisson Rouge, and Sheldon Concert Hall in his hometown, St. Louis. He is currently an artist diploma candidate at the Colburn Conservatory of Music, where he studies with Fabio Bidini. Cheli recently recorded a CD of music by Muzio Clementi at the Yale School of Music for an album that was released on the Naxos label.

ARGUS QUARTET

DOMINIC CHELI

Published October 19, 2017
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Violinist and YSM alum Jessica Oddie, on music education in the United States and abroad

Jessica Oddie

Since she graduated from the Yale School of Music, violinist Jessica Oddie ’13BA ’15MM has been living in Germany, “playing chamber music of all varieties and working in educational initiatives, supported by a DAAD [German Academic Exchange Service] fellowship to research the differences between the European and American systems of music education.” We talked recently with Oddie, who was immersed in the Lincoln Center Teaching Artist Development Labs “discovering how I can deepen my teaching artistry further,” about her time at YSM and how it informed what she’s doing now.

Q: How did participating as a Teaching Artist in YSM’s Music in Schools Initiative influence what you’re doing today?

A: My time in MISI strengthened my belief that we as artists have a strong imperative to share our passion and knowledge, not only through performance but also through teaching. MISI offered me an opportunity to be involved in my community as a musician and educator, while also providing a platform to engage with ideas about art and education with colleagues, mentors, and other professionals. MISI’s commitment to creating another musical community in New Haven, and YSM’s support for innovation in that field, inspired me to continue this work when I moved to Germany, at a time when cultural exchange, multiculturalism, and how these themes influence music education are particularly important topics.

In Germany, I’ve worked in collaborations between music schools and normal schools, bringing music education to students who would not otherwise have an opportunity to try out an instrument, including students from difficult socioeconomic or refugee backgrounds. I’ve been involved in conversations at the Musikhochschule Stuttgart and the recent Germany-wide Musikschule Kongress, exploring how music education can be inclusive of new members of European society, especially through intercultural music collaboration and exchange. I started a project at a local middle school aimed at getting young string players excited about upcoming orchestral performances in the area, by arranging orchestral repertoire for players of all levels. By playing this repertoire, whether they were beginners who were pizzing open strings or advanced students playing an excerpt from the solo line of the Beethoven Violin Concerto, students got to know the pieces from the inside out.

Q: How is the work you’re doing there similar to and how is it different than what you did in New Haven as a YSM Teaching Artist?

A: My students in Germany have an enormous amount in common with my students in New Haven. Children are children, and the joy of exploring or creating something beautiful together is the same regardless of the culture. My work is therefore largely the same. One of the most important things we as teachers can do is to affirm to children the value of their experiences and the power of their creativity, and to provide them with tools to express their own voices.

The biggest difference logistically is that funding in Germany is generally from the state, so initiatives are developed in conjunction with the local government, whereas in the United States, most are developed by entrepreneurial individuals who have an idea and find the funds to make it happen.

Q: Can you share some words about the importance of programs like the Music in Schools Initiative and the one with which you’re involved now? 

A: I believe there is no task more essential to crafting a brighter future than engaging with young people about ideas, seeking and creating meaning together, and celebrating a multitude of voices. Programs like MISI inspire creativity, connect people, and strengthen communities.

Q: What would you say to incoming YSM students who might not be familiar with the Music in Schools Initiative? 

A: Absolutely get involved! You will share a lot and learn even more, from colleagues, mentors, and most of all your students. I am constantly surprised by how much I learn through teaching. I also can’t think of a more fulfilling way to spend your Saturday mornings than working with young New Haven orchestral players.

Published July 26, 2017
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Szymon Nehring wins Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition

Szymon Nehring. Photo by Piotr Markowski

Incoming YSM artist diploma candidate Szymon Nehring was named the first prize-winner of the 15th Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv, Israel. In addition to winning the Arthur Rubinstein Award (Gold Medal), Nehring won the Best Performer of a Chopin Piece, Advanced Studies, and Junior Jury prizes, as well as the Audience Favorite in the Periphery prizes for Or Yehuda and Jezrael Valley. In addition to earning $49,000 in cash awards, Nehring will perform numerous recitals as part of a concert tour organized by the Arthur Rubinstein International Music Society, which administers the competition. One of those performances, on October 26, will take place in Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. MORE

Published May 16, 2017
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