Yale Choral Artists to perform at International Festival of Arts & Ideas

Yale Choral Artists

The Yale Choral Artists, led by founding Director Jeffrey Douma, will perform music by Yale composers on Friday as part of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas. The program will feature works by Yale School of Music faculty composers Aaron Jay Kernis ’83MM and Christopher Theofanidis ’94MMA ’97DMA, former faculty composer Ingram Marshall, and alumni composers Caroline Shaw ’07MM and Michael Gilbertson ’13MM ’21DMA.

“Much of the Choral Artists’ work is devoted to new music, and after our last project featuring the music of Heinrich Schütz and Herbert Howells, we wanted to delve again into some newer works,” Douma said. “It’s an understatement to say that we have an abundance of riches here at the Yale School of Music—some of the most exciting composers in the world have studied, taught, and made music here in our own community, and many have made important and innovative contributions to the choral repertoire. The works we (will) perform on Friday are … beautiful and highly evocative: the cascade of voices in Ingram Marshall’s Hymnodic Delays, Aaron Kernis’ virtuosic Ecstatic Meditations, Caroline Shaw’s intimate and heartfelt and the swallow, Michael Gilbertson’s elegant and beautifully crafted Three Madrigals After Dowland, and Chris Theofanidis’ brilliant setting of the (musically inspired) poetry of Denise Levertov for violin and a cappella choir.”

Douma, who also serves as Professor of Choral Conducting at the School of Music and Director of the Yale Glee Club, founded the Yale Choral Artists, a project-based professional ensemble, in 2011 to “enhance and enrich Yale’s strong commitment to the choral arts.” Members of the Choral Artists perform in the United States and around the world with such organizations as Chanticleer, Conspirare, the Handel and Haydn Society Chorus, Seraphic Fire, the Trinity Wall Street Choir, Voices of Ascension, and others.

The Yale Choral Artists will perform on Friday, June 21, at 8 p.m., in Morse Recital Hall.

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Published June 20, 2019
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Christopher Theofanidis’ “Drum Circles” to be premiered by YSM percussionists

Christopher Theofanidis

On March 9, the Oregon Symphony, led my Music Director Carlos Kalmar, will premiere Drum Circles, a concerto for percussion quartet and orchestra by YSM faculty composer Christopher Theofanidis. Drum Circles was commissioned by a consortium of six organizations, including the Aspen Music Festival, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Colorado Symphony, Curtis (Institute) Symphony Orchestra, Hartford Symphony Orchestra, and Oregon Symphony.

“Much of Drum Circles centers around the joy of sound and collaboration,” Theofanidis said. The title of the five-movement work stems from its stage setup, which will feature the quartet—YSM alumni Ji Hye Jung ’09MM, Matthew Keown ’16MM ’22DMA, Svet Stoyanov ’07MM, and Sam Um ’17MM ’18MMA—and three of the orchestra’s percussionists surrounding the full ensemble in a large circle. One of the challenges Theofanidis faced in composing Drum Circles was keeping audiences’ attention on the percussion quartet throughout the piece. While composers of any concerto must work to maintain such a balance, “having many players potentially decentralizes that focus,” Theofanidis said.

The sound qualities of the percussion instruments the piece utilizes also came into play. Theofanidis observed that a potential imbalance between soloists and orchestra might be “even more pronounced with a percussion-quartet concerto with orchestra, where many of the sounds of the soloists are not pitch oriented, but the sounds of the orchestra all around them are.” In navigating these challenges while writing the piece, Theofanidis “kept coming back to the idea of dialogue and delight.”

Theofanidis decided from the beginning that the piece should be accessible to orchestras — “portable” in the sense that it would require instruments that most orchestras already have. “To have four players on the road with an enormous amount of gear didn’t make sense either artistically or economically and would have probably limited the opportunities for the work to get done,” he said. Still, the piece calls for some nonconventional instruments including an amplified typewriter, wooden slats, and spring coils — “plenty of bells and whistles, so to speak,” Theofanidis said.

While composing Drum Circles, Theofanidis checked in periodically with percussionists at YSM, incorporating their feedback into the writing and part-distribution process. “More than any other musicians, percussionists are collaborators,” Theofanidis said. “They were careful to let me know that they wanted their orchestral-percussion colleagues to very much be a part of the piece, not just a background group of players.”

Once the piece is performed with an orchestra for the first time, Theofanidis will be able to add any finishing touches the work might call for. “The great thing about having a consortium of six orchestras as part of the premiere is that we can continue to tailor the piece and get it ‘just so,’” he said.

CHRISTOPHER THEOFANIDIS

Published March 7, 2019
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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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Ascendant composers prepare new works for Yale Philharmonia performance

Left to right: Alishan Gezgin, Krists Auznieks, Eli Greenhoe, Fjola Evans, Liliya Ugay

On Thursday, Dec. 7, conducting fellow David Yi will lead the Yale Philharmonia in a program of new orchestral works by several of YSM’s graduate-student composers. We spoke recently with composers Alishan Gezgin (The Passage), Krists Auznieks (Grace), Eli Greenhoe (Wrest), Fjola Evans (Lung), and Liliya Ugay (To the Lost World) about composing and preparing their pieces for performance.

Q: What does it mean to you that the orchestra performing your piece is an ensemble of your peers? 

Gezgin: For me, being a composer is most meaningful when I can connect sounds and ideas to real human beings I know and care about. It’s a gift, how deeply embedded this piece feels in the Yale community. Everything in the piece emerges from my time here, the conversations and experiences I’ve shared with friends and teachers, and the countless new ideas those exchanges have brought me.

Auznieks: It is always a pleasure working with people who share your life experience; they are the ones who are most likely to understand the cultural context of where the piece is coming from, and in that sense they are also the best judges of the music.

Greenhoe: I already feel so lucky to have the opportunity to attend YSM and study among friends and colleagues who are some of the finest musicians I know of. To have the opportunity to write a piece specifically for them to play, and knowing the profound depth of musicality among the student body here, is a rare opportunity and (to borrow a cliché) a total dream-come-true.

Evans: I’m really excited to have written this piece for an orchestra of my classmates. Getting to attend the Yale Philharmonia concerts in Woolsey Hall while writing my piece was great. It’s rare that you get to see the ensemble you are writing for perform in the same hall your piece will be premiered — being there helped me to viscerally imagine what I wanted my piece to sound and feel like.

Ugay: It means that the musicians of the orchestra are able to connect to my music in a personal way, as many of them know me as a person and/or have already worked with me/played my music before. It deepens the mutual understanding and eases communication between the orchestra and the composer, something a composer can (usually) achieve only by working with one orchestra for years. MORE

Published November 30, 2017
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Faculty composer Hannah Lash, on YSM’s annual New Music for Orchestra program

Hannah Lash

On Dec. 7, conducting fellow David Yi will lead the Yale Philharmonia in a program of new orchestral works by the School of Music’s graduate-student composers. The annual New Music for Orchestra program is part concert and, to the composers whose music is performed, part workshop.

“The only way to learn orchestration is to hear your own work,” faculty composer and New Music New Haven Artistic Director Hannah Lash said. “You can study scores all you want, but there’s nothing like having that hands-on experience.” Part of that experience is hearing, in person and in context, what works and what may not. “There’s nothing like learning from your own mistakes.”

For Lash and her faculty colleagues in YSM’s composition program, the annual program reflects the work students have done throughout the semester and in some cases before that. It’s also a snapshot of work that will continue. The School’s faculty composers mentor students in conceptual and practical areas. “We feel really compelled to share our experience,” Lash said.

And while the graduate-student composers are the beneficiaries of that wisdom, members of the Yale Philharmonia become ambassadors of the music that’s being composed today. “For any player who has any anticipation of potentially playing in an orchestra,” Lash said, “it’s really, really important that they have a first-hand experience (with music) that has been written by their contemporaries” — in part to help dispel the notion that orchestras are simply vehicles for music of the past. “They, too, are benefiting from this,” Lash said of the instrumentalists, “not just their composer peers.”

The New Music for Orchestra program presents an opportunity for audience members, too. Each year, Lash sits among them without identifying herself. “Optimistically,” she said, “the response has been positive. They’re curious and sort of don’t know what to make of (watching) the next generation of composers find their legs a little bit.”

On Dec. 7, that next generation of composers will add new music to the orchestral repertoire.

Stay tuned for interviews with the graduate-student composers whose work will be performed as part of the Dec. 7 New Music for Orchestra program.

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Published November 29, 2017
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Faculty composers Aaron Jay Kernis and Christopher Theofanidis, on New Music New Haven

Aaron Jay Kernis, left, and Christopher Theofanidis

The New Music New Haven series kicks off on Thursday, Sept. 28, with a program that features violinist Chee-Yun and music by faculty composers Aaron Jay Kernis and Christopher Theofanidis and graduate-student composers. We spoke recently with Kernis and Theofanidis about their work, and about the series and its value to audiences and to the School’s composition program.  

Q (for AJK): First Club Date is a new piece. What was its genesis and/or inspiration and what are you exploring in the work?

AJK: My son Jonah is a young (14-year-old) cellist and loves jazz. There so little jazz or jazz-influenced repertoire for cello that I wanted to fill that gap a bit, so this piece runs the gamut of inspiration from ragtime to funk and Jonah’s favorite new band, Snarky Puppy.

Q (for AJK): Three of the work’s five movements will be performed on Thursday, Sept. 28. How does hearing a new piece typically inform further work on that music?

AJK: From the first rehearsal before the August premiere, I was collaborating with my son and Matt Haimovitz (who performed the premiere), tightening it, tweaking the cello part, and coaching him to be funky. I keep on at that until I feel the music is completely right – then I can let it go and move on.

Q (for CT) Flow, my tears was composed 20 years ago in memory of Jacob Druckman. Do you let a work live on its own or do you revisit it as it’s performed anew by different players?

CT: It’s one of the great joys of composing – coming back to an older work and hearing it performed by different artists of different ages, sensibilities, metabolisms, and life experiences. They each bring their own take and timing to it, and sometimes it is really amazing to me that music can stretch as much as it does in these differing interpretations. Although I usually am done writing and reworking the actual notes of pieces by the premiere (or shortly thereafter, if I make minor adjustments), I often do change my ideas about the pacing of the work based on later performances. In this case, apart from the scores of performances it has already had, it has also been performed on different instruments – the violin, viola, cello, and guitar, and even each of those instruments has its own way of breathing and its own logic, which affects the work and my own sense of what works best.

Q (for CT): The Violin Fantasy is a reframing of the second movement of your Violin Concerto. How does the solo part differ, if at all, from the original, and what persuaded you to present the piece as a stand-alone work?

CT: The solo part is exactly the same, but the orchestral part is a reduction into a piano part, so it is quite a bit different than the original version. It was fun finding a way to make 85 instruments work in just the piano, though! The violinist for whom it was written, Sarah Chang, wanted to do the second movement on a 30-city tour as part of a concert recital, but it had to be just for violin and piano. Thirty cities was an offer I couldn’t refuse! The piece was played in Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow, in Thailand, in Japan, in South America – and all over the world.

Q (for both): How does teaching inform your work and vice versa?

AJK: I learn so much from my students, and their interests sometimes lead me into places and music I hadn’t know about. Also, they’re so good, how can one help but be inspired by their talent and inventiveness?

CT: One of the most important qualities in being a composer is being a good “editor” of yourself and your materials. I think teaching helps you become better at recognizing things that are happening in music and what is ultimately of value – your editorial sense kicks in when looking at other people’s music often more quickly than when looking at your own. I am much better now after so many years of teaching at stepping outside myself and looking objectively at what I am doing in my own music.

I think the decades of practical experience and the great journey in the arts that one lives are the most useful elements in teaching students. You see just how many ways things can work and be said musically, and it gives you a lot of ideas of how to help people who are just starting on their journey. Also, we all benefit from being truly who we are – not trying to be someone else- living what is most important to us – and I think that is maybe the most important thing we can pass on to a student as a model.

Q (for both): What opportunities does the New Music New Haven series afford students, particularly in terms of hearing works by their peers and receiving feedback? What does it mean to YSM’s composition students to have their work performed by peers and alongside music by their teachers? And what should audiences know, in general, about YSM’s composition department and students and the work that’s being produced here?

AJK: New Music New Haven is vital to bring student composers together with their performer colleagues (sometimes bringing about life-long collaborations), then getting critiques from composer peers and faculty. It’s one of the most important and vital elements of their education at YSM. Listeners should know that YSM has hosted and produced a few score of brilliant young composers over the years who have gone on to splendid careers out in the world. These concerts also give a window into the work of some of the most interesting established composers in the world (including the faculty), so these presentations are a spirited way to experience beautiful, fascinating music right here in New Haven (and via streaming).

CT: The students have works scheduled, rehearsed, coached by faculty, performed, and recorded (both audio and video) in our program – and then afterward, we all talk about the piece together as a group in the subsequent weeks, which helps everyone learn from the process. It is a rich experience from beginning to end and is kind of an idealized working situation for students to create; it is protective but realistic.

We try to foster a real sense of community in the greater program because these 12-15 composers will be running into one another for the rest of their lives and need one another; we choose people of an enormously broad stylistic variety and way of thinking and then try to cultivate respect and support between each of the composers.

The first New Music New Haven concert of the season takes place on Thursday, Sept. 28, at 7:30 pm, in Morse Recital Hall. Learn more about the program, which is free and open to the public, and the series.

Published September 27, 2017
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Katherine Balch named composer-in-residence at California Symphony

Composer Katherine Balch ’16MM was recently named the California Symphony’s Young American Composer-in-Residence. Over the course of a three-year residency, which begins in August, Balch will work closely with the ensemble and its music director, Donato Cabrera, to premiere and record three new large-scale orchestral works.

“My residency with the California Symphony will entail both the commissioned new works and outreach,” Balch said. “I’ll be writing three pieces for the orchestra of increasing size and scope over the course of three seasons. The first season, I will write a concert opener for the season finale concert in May. The second season, I’m hoping to write a concerto for a longtime collaborator and friend, and we are dreaming big for the third season.”

Balch, whose orchestral works have been performed by such prestigious ensembles as the Minnesota Orchestra and American Composers Orchestra, described her approach to writing for orchestra. MORE

Published April 20, 2017
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YSM alumni take home Grammys

Michael Daugherty. Photo by Grant Leighton

Michael Daugherty. Photo by Grant Leighton

Yale School of Music alumnus Michael Daugherty ’82MMA ’87DMA received three 2017 Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 12, for his Tales of Hemingway for cello and orchestra, which was recorded by cellist Zuill Bailey and the Nashville Symphony conducted by Giancarlo Guerrero. The piece won in the Best Classical Instrumental Solo, Best Contemporary Classical Composition, and Best Classical Compendium categories.

Tales of Hemingway was commissioned and premiered by Guerrero and the Nashville Symphony, whose live recording of that performance was released on an album with Daugherty’s American Gothic and a 2015 revision of his Once Upon a Castle, a work for organ and orchestra whose solo part was performed by YSM alumnus Paul Jacobs ’02MM. Guerrero recently conducted the Yale Philharmonia in a program that included Wagner’s Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde and Shostakovich Symphony No. 10.

Percussionist David Skidmore ’08MM earned a 2017 Grammy as a member of Third Coast Percussion, whose recording of works by Steve Reich won in the Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance category. MORE

Published February 13, 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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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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