Yale in New York concert celebrates YSM’s guitar and composition programs

Ben Verdery

Benjamin Verdery

In programming Music for Guitars, an upcoming Yale in New York series concert at Carnegie Hall, faculty guitarist Benjamin Verdery reflected on a November 2010 program that featured music by a host of Yale-affiliated composers. That program, by design, celebrated the legacies of the School of Music’s composition and guitar programs.

Verdery also reflected, in curating the upcoming Yale in New York program, on inspiration he found, a little more than 10 years ago, at the Rhode Island School of Design. Verdery’s son was applying to the school, whose application requirements included drawing a bicycle or some element thereof. Accepted students’ illustrations were on view when Verdery brought his son to Providence to visit the school. “It was mind-bending,” Verdery said.

“I’m going to have my friends write a piece of music—just the notes, the pitches and the rhythms,” without tempo or dynamic indications, he decided. Since then, each year, prospective School of Music students applying to study with Verdery have been required to learn and perform, as part of their audition, a piece written by one of Verdery’s colleagues, along with other repertoire. Like RISD’s bicycle-drawing admissions requirement, the commissioned audition pieces leave room for interpretation, giving Verdery some insight into the ability and creativity of prospective students.

Those who have been commissioned by Verdery to compose audition pieces, over the course of the past decade, include former YSM Dean and Prof. of Music Ezra Laderman, faculty composers Martin Bresnick and Christopher Theofanidis; Lecturer in Electronic Music Jack Vees; YSM alumni Bryce Dessner, James Moore, and Brendon Randall-Myers; Yale University Department of Music Prof. Kathryn Alexander; and current composition student Tanner Porter, among others. Audition pieces by the above-mentioned musicians will be showcased as part of Music for Guitars, the third and final concert in the 2018-2019 Yale in New York series. The concert will feature Verdery and current School of Music students and alumni, including René Izquierdo.

The program also includes works by Hindemith (who taught at the School of Music), Mudarra, and Terry Riley; arrangements of music by Bach, Scarlatti, and Schubert; and world premieres of James Moore’s Turning and Verdery’s arrangement, for guitar and string quartet, of Bernstein’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano. Izquierdo will perform Turning, which was this year’s YSM guitar audition piece. Verdery will perform the Bernstein with violinists Kate Arndt and Gregory Lewis, violist Marta Lambert, and cellist Guilherme Monegatto-all current YSM students.

The repertoire for the program reaches back to 16th century composer Alonso Mudarra’s fantasias for vihuela—which will be played on an instrument from the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments—and visits music composed since then and up to the present. The program also taps into the arranging chops of the guitarists who’ll be performing. It’s something “all of us in the world of guitar do,” Verdery said.

“There’s a lot of color and expression of what the guitar is,” Verdery said of the program. There will also be a lot of virtuosity on display—and, like the 2010 program, of which it’s a musical extension, many connections to the School of Music.

The School of Music’s Yale in New York series presents Music for Guitars on Friday, March 29, at 7:30 p.m., at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. A preview concert is scheduled for Thursday, March 28, at 4:30 p.m., in Morse Recital Hall in Sprague Memorial Hall. Admission to the preview concert is free.

PREVIEW CONCERT
YALE IN NEW YORK

Published March 20, 2019
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YSM Student News | March 2019

Sophiko Simsive. Photo by Marco Broggreve

Composers Ryan Lindveit ’19MM, Paul Mortilla ’20MM, Tanner Porter ’19MM, and Miles Walter ’20MM were awarded Charles Ives Scholarships from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

As the winner of the Music Academy of the West’s 2018 Solo Piano Competition, Sophiko Simsive ’18MM ’19MMA will embark on a recital tour that includes appearances in London, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Pianist Gabriele Strata ’19MM was the winner of the 35th Concorso Pianistico Nazionale Premio Venezia (Venice Prize) and was awarded the Plaque of the President of the Italian Republic and the Medal of the Italian Senate.

Published March 12, 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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YSM faculty composer Aaron Jay Kernis wins Grammy Award

Aaron Jay Kernis

Several Yale School of Music alumni took home Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 10. Please join us in congratulating the following musicians on this exciting accomplishment.

Faculty composer Aaron Jay Kernis ‘83MM won a Grammy Award in the “Best Contemporary Classical Composition” category for his Violin Concerto, which was performed by violinist James Ehnes, conductor Ludovic Morlot, and the Seattle Symphony. Ehnes won a Grammy in the “Best Classical Instrumental Solo” for his performance.

Violinist Sheila Fiekowsky ’75MM and cellist Owen Young ’87MM earned Grammy Awards as members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the “Best Orchestral Performance” category for the ensemble’s recording of Shostakovich Symphonies Nos. 4 and 11. For that recording, which was engineered by Shawn Murphy, Nick Squire, and Tim Martyn, the Boston Symphony Orchestra also won in the “Best Engineered Album, Classical” category.

Erica Brenner ’89MM earned a Grammy Award for producing Songs of Orpheus, a recording that features tenor Karim Sulayman and Apollo’s Fire, conducted by Jeannette Sorrell, in a performance of music by Monteverdi, Caccini, d’India, and Landi. The recording won in the “Best Classical Solo Vocal Album” category. Brenner, who studied flute at YSM, is a member of the Recording Academy.

Published February 11, 2019
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YSM Alumni News | January 2019

Reena Esmail. Photo by Rachel Garcia

Conductor Jordan Brown AD led his first concert as Music Director of the New Sussex Symphony in November.

This Love Between Us: Prayers for Unity by composer Reena Esmail ’11MM ’14MMA ’18DMA, a work originally commissioned by the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, was given its West Coast premiere by the Los Angeles Master Chorale in November at Walt Disney Concert Hall. In January, Esmail was named a 2019 United States Artists Fellow and was the Grand Prize winner of the S&R Foundation’s Washington Award. Trombonist Brittany Lasch ’12MM was among the Foundation’s Washington Award winners.

Joseph Fala ’17MM, who is in his second year as an Organ Scholar at Duke Chapel, performed a recital in December at Duke University.

Pianist Vyacheslav Gryaznov ’18AD performed two cycles by Rachmaninov at Sudler Hall in November as part of a concert series titled Reflections of the Russian Exodus, presented by the European Studies Council.

Sarita Kwok. Photo by Kate Lemmon

Gordon College named violinist Sarita Kwok ’05MMA ’06AD ’09DMA the Adams Endowed Chair in Music. A celebratory performance was given by faculty and students of the college’s Department of Music in November.

Oboist Anna Mattix ’98MM and composer Caroline Mallonee ’00MM are featured on the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s newest recording. Mattix is the soloist on Vox Humana, a work commissioned for her, and Mallonee composed Whistler Waves on a commission for the BPO’s associate principal cellist.

Proving Up, an opera by composer Missy Mazzoli ’06MM, was listed as one of the year’s “Best Performances” in The New York Times’ “The Best Classical Music of 2018.”

Conductor Julian Pellicano ’07MM ’09MM led the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in a performance of John Williams’s score for Home Alone as part of the VSO at the Movies series in December.

Baritone David Pershall ’10MM ’11AD sang the role of Silvio in Pagliacci at the San Francisco Opera in September.

Violinist Igor Pikayzen ’11MM ’12AD was featured in “Sounds for a Starry Night,” a concert held in December at the Westport Woman’s Club. Proceeds from the performance contributed to scholarships for Staples High School seniors.

Dantes Rameau

Bassoonist Dantes Rameau ’07MM, founder of the Atlanta Music Project, which provides free music education in neighborhoods where school music programs are limited, was named one of the Top 30 Professionals of 2018 by Musical America.

In association with the Royal Canadian College of Organists, Sarah Svendsen ’15MM performed a recital and led a youth-oriented workshop on the pipe organ in November.

Tubist Antonio D. Underwood ’87MM was a featured keynote speaker at Hagerstown Community College’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Diversity Celebration in Januray.

Published January 24, 2019
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YSM composer presents “Stinney: An American Execution” in New York

Baltimore premiere of Stinney: An American Execution. Photo by Will Kirk, Homewood Photography

While pursuing degrees and performing at the Yale School of Music, students also actively engage in collaborations outside of Yale, and work to affect change in their communities and beyond. YSM composer Frances Pollock ’19MM has worked in conjunction with the Prototype Festival, French Institute Alliance Française, and Harlem Stage to present the opera Stinney: An American Execution, for which she wrote the score and co-wrote the libretto. Stinney was originally premiered in Baltimore in 2015, where Pollock earned a master’s degree from the Peabody Conservatory. Speaking about the premiere, Pollock said, “Part of our audience came to the show because of their profound dedication to new music. The other part came out of a profound dedication to the fight for human rights. I caught my first glimpse of how art can be a powerful unifier in a moment when there doesn’t seem to be a way to move forward.” Hailed by the Baltimore Sun as a “bold, bracing opera that pulls no punches and never flinches,” Stinney will be performed this weekend at Flourence Gould Hall in New York City.

Stinney tells the story of George Junius Stinney Jr., who was executed at age 14 for a crime he didn’t commit. According to the Prototype Festival website, “Having been wrongly accused and convicted of the rape and murder of two white girls in Alcolu, SC, in 1944, George became the youngest person legally executed in 20th-century America. Stinney tells the story of George, his family, his community, and the jury of ten white men that sent an innocent black boy to the electric chair. A new opera with roots in both gospel and electronic techniques, Stinney: An American Execution spotlights the anger and agony of the entire populous of Alcolu, connecting the dots to our own socio-political climate in 2019 and the pervasive ‘fear of the other.’”

We recently spoke with Pollock and the production’s music director, Alex Blake, about the opera and its importance in today’s world.

Q. What do you think is the role of an artist in tackling issues of racism and oppression? 

Blake: I feel like art should reflect the times that we are in and should reflect the struggles of a people. Art allows artists to reach people, a way to present difficult topics, and a way for audiences to enter into a conversation without feeling defensive or feeling like they have to respond to a topic in the moment. We tell stories and we open up dialogue in an emotional sense that push beyond the academic or intellectual spaces.

Pollock: The thing that I’m most interested in right now is challenging the systems in which art is created. In telling charged stories, we as artists must be aware of our limited perspective and make sure we are working with collaborators who will challenge that perspective in the creative process. For this project, it was crucial to decentralize the role of the composer and focus on establishing a team that is invested in crafting the story. For me personally, being in touch with the Stinney family and including them at every step was the only way to make sure that we were telling the story in a way that truly listened.

We are also trying out a new model for royalties on this opera. As the opera goes on, most of the royalties will go directly to the Stinney family. The cast and creative team will also continue to receive collaborative royalties as the show progresses. This model ensures that the team is recognized for role in the creative process even as the show goes forward.

Q. Why is this opera important? Do you think it is particularly important now, in our current social and political climate? 

Blake: This opera is extremely important. We have seen more and more cases of the struggles and interactions between police and people of color, including Black children. From a socio-political sense this piece definitely brings up questions that we need to respond to as a population in these times right now.

Musically, this opera is important because it involves a story of a community that rarely feels represented in classical music and more specifically in opera. To hear the story of someone in the community and to see members of that community represented on stage is an experience that has not been offered to people of color, and that representation is essential when we talk about the relevance of opera to an American populous.

The status quo for opera is dominated by heteronormative caucasian stories told from a singular perspective. This story about this African American boy and the American systems that have been detrimental to the success and progression of marginalized populations are beautifully represented in Stinney.

Pollock: I totally agree with Alex. It’s also important to challenge the spaces of western art music—spaces that are still predominantly white and predominantly wealthy. There is nothing wrong with canonic repertoire itself nor the audiences that attend these performances, but often these spaces pride themselves on being elite. Elitism often leads to exclusion, and the history of elitism in opera manifests in whole communities being excluded from classical music spaces.

Q. What led you to begin this project? 

Blake: Frances Pollock called me and told me about this opportunity to perform Stinney in New York. I had already read about the first run-through and was both elated and horrified to be asked to be a part of it—you see, this is my first experience conducing an opera, and I remember asking if she was sure that I would be a good fit. I’m very honored and excited to be a part of telling this story.

Pollock: I have been interested in the conversation that surrounds race relations in the South since I was in high school. In college, I spent a little while working with the Innocence Project in North Carolina and became profoundly aware of systemic racism in the prison system. When I moved to Baltimore and began teaching in the public schools, I was faced with the reality that many of my students lived with daily—that low-income communities of color were chronically under-supported and over policed, which perpetuated the cycle of the school-to-prison pipeline. At the same time, I was confronted with the status quo of classical music training, training that felt wholly unaware of the social injustices that were taking place right outside the ivory walls of the conservatory. (Co-librettist) Tia [Price] and I started writing Stinney to start having a conversation with our colleagues.

Stinney: An American Execution will be performed on January 12, at 5 p.m., and January 13, at 3 p.m, with tickets starting at $30. On January 10, at 7:30 p.m., co-presenter Harlem Stage will host a moderated panel discussion, Democratic Ideals and Racism: An Examination of the Cradle to Prison Pipeline, on the creative responses of artists as they witness, experience, and analyze the collective trauma of being Black in America. The discussion will feature members of the creative team of Stinney, and tickets start at $5.

Published January 10, 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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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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YSM Alumni News | November 2018

Molly Joyce. Photo by Nadine Sherman

Flutist Amanda Baker ’00MM returned to Yale in April 2018 to become Senior Associate Director for Young Alumni for the Yale Alumni Fund. She was also a guest lecturer this spring at the University of Hartford, where she taught “Entrepreneurship in the Arts,” and continues to teach flute at Eastern Connecticut State University.

Double Bassist Mark Elliot Bergman ’97MM received a Performing Arts Fellowship in Music from the Wyoming Arts Council, one of four recipients in the state. Bergman’s winning original compositions include Ondine, The Temple, and Shenandoah Suite, a string trio commemorating the 75th anniversary of the founding of Shenandoah National Park.

Violist Emily Grace Brandenburg ’17MMA was named Administrative Assistant at the McDuffie Center for Strings at Mercer University in Macon, Ga. MORE

Published November 7, 2018
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Miki Sawada ’14AD brings music to rural audiences

Miki Sawada

Political divisions have had many musicians thinking about the artist’s role in society. “As a musician, what is the way forward?” pianist and YSM alumna Miki Sawada ’14AD began asking herself two years ago. “Playing piano like I’d always played piano was no longer an option.”

Sawada, an accomplished concert performer and music educator, decided that the way forward was to use the piano as an instrument of healing, a gathering place where people of all backgrounds could enjoy music together. The way forward was to bring performances to people who may not ordinarily have access to them. In August 2017, Sawada launched the Gather Hear project, which involved, to begin, touring Alaska for three weeks in a van with a piano and a filmmaker, documenting the journey and giving a total of 25 performances in the cafés, bars, parks, and schools of largely rural communities. Eventually, Sawada intends to tour all 50 states.

“Alaska has an almost mythical quality,” Sawada said. The state’s vastness and the sparseness of its communities appealed to Sawada, and the close-knit nature of people in rural areas allowed her to find collaborators. In addition to her own solo playing and engaging with audiences, Sawada connected with a young local musician at each venue. She ended up performing with students of all levels, from beginner violinists to high school pianists.

Booked into unorthodox and often noisy venues, Sawada’s biggest fear before embarking on the tour was that no one would want to sit quietly and listen. “The night before I left, I got cold feet,” she said. She thought, “What if no one wants to hear me?” But her experience was quite the opposite. “There was total silence,” she said, noting “a change in the room” when she began to play, wherever she was.

While the Gather Hear Tour was sparked primarily by a desire to connect with diverse audiences, Sawada had long been interested in taking classical music beyond the confines of the concert hall. “I always envied my friends who could take their instruments and perform in pop-up concerts,” she explained. While taking a piano on tour requires some extra labor, Sawada has shown that it can be done. The instrument with which she toured Alaska is a hybrid keyboard with no strings to tune, equipped with its own amplification. However more difficult the instrument is to transport than a flute, the piano is a necessary, central focus of the project — a gathering place where people are encouraged to stop and listen, and to participate in the music-making.

Following the Alaskan tour, Sawada turned her attention to West Virginia, where Gather Hear performances featured a new work by composer and fellow YSM alumnus Brendon Randall-Myers ’14MM, a West Virginia native. Randall-Myers’ new work, A Kind of Mirror, combines classical repertoire with original music. Created to reflect the mission of the Gather Hear project, A Kind of Mirror calls for audience participation, with theatrical prompts shaped with the help of director Daniel Pettrow. At one point, an audience member is asked to make tea on stage, and the ending of the performance involves a large amount of bubble wrap.

While performances of A Kind of Mirror are somewhat structured, there is room for collaboration. “The show is built in a way so that piano players in the audience could potentially, spontaneously take the stage,” Sawada said, “or if I meet a classical musician in town when I arrive at a tour stop, I could work a collaborative performance with them into the show.”

Sawada seems flexible when it comes to life on the road, which she has found enjoyable. States on the radar for future Gather Hear tours include Missouri, Michigan, and Florida. Sawada may even attempt to tour all three within the next year. She is in no rush, however. “If it takes 50 years, that’s fine,” she said. “It will be interesting to see how the project changes over time.”

MIKI SAWADA

Published November 6, 2018
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